The following blog post developed out of a larger research project that explored best practices for building a sense of community within online/blended classrooms. That study was supported by a Faculty Fellowship from CI’s Teaching & Learning Innovations Group, and was conducted by Kellie Prather (undergraduate student at CI), Brandon Burns (undergraduate student at CI), Maia Smidt (undergraduate student at CI), and J. Jacob Jenkins (Assistant Professor of Communication at CI).
This post is part one of three part series.
There is no doubt about it: Modern technology has changed the way college students learn.
More students than ever before are completing a portion – if not all – of their degree requirements through online and blended classes. This can be a wonderful reality for nontraditional students, students who don’t live near a certain program or university, and so on. Yet many of the students who take an online or blended course for the first time discover the course isn’t exactly what they expected it to be.
Through our current study of online/blended classrooms (which is being completed alongside Brandon Burns, Maia Smidt and Jacob Jenkins, and is also being supported through CI’s Teaching & Learning Innovations Group), we’ve discovered two specific misconceptions that students commonly have about online/blended classes.
We feel it is important for students to recognize these misconceptions, lest they fall prey themselves. And we feel it is equally important for instructors to recognize these misconceptions, so that they might curb student expectations as early as possible.
Misconception #1: “Online/blended classes are less challenging.”
Some students might opt to take a class they are less than enthusiastic about in an online or blended learning format because they assume this method will be less challenging. Through our research, for example, several faculty members discussed that students who dislike math will choose to take their general education math requirement online. This is disconcerting because students who don’t enjoy math typically dislike it because they find it challenging. They assume that an online course will be less difficult for them because they won’t have to devote four hours every week to sitting in the classroom.
These students soon realize, however, that whether they choose to sit through a traditional classroom or log into an online classroom, they are still required to learn the same material they wished to avoid. Even more, if they are attempting to learn a subject they inherently find difficult, they might actually find it harder to succeed without a professor in the room with them. For this reason, those students run the risk of becoming increasingly frustrated with the subject, and often end up learning less than they would have in a traditional classroom environment.
If a student is tempted to take an online/blended course for the sole reason that they find it challenging, this is a telltale sign they should probably do the just opposite. There’s a good chance this student will do better in an environment that offers immediate help, feedback, and accountability without the wait that a virtual classroom may bring.
For all the potential benefits online and blended courses offer, being easy is not one of them.
Misconception #2: “Online/blended classes require less of a time commitment.”
In addition to thinking online/blended courses are less challenging than traditional courses, many students mistakenly believe these classes will require less of a time commitment. This assumption couldn’t be further from reality. While the meeting times of an online/blended course may not be the same as its traditional counterpart (i.e., 10:00am–11:15am each Tuesday and Thursday), the amount of time required to complete the course is the same. In fact, classes delivered in an online or blended format can actually demand more of a student’s time because the student is responsible for learning the material thoroughly, completing any homework that is due, etc.
In a traditional format, students often learn more than they realize simply by attending class, by listening to the lecture, and completing in-class activities with their peers. In an online or blended class, however, that same student is required to schedule blocks of her/his own time to review the material, listen to video lectures, complete take-home activities, etc. In this way, online and blended courses require just as much – if not more! – of a time commitment as traditional classes. This is because they require the student to take full responsibility for their own schedule and to follow through with their own education.
This fall, many students will begin an online or blended course for the first time. And for the wrong reasons. As a result, some of them will experience more of a challenge than they expected. Others will experience more of a time commitment than they anticipated.
The great thing about using technology in the classroom environment, though, is that it encourages students to be innovative and open-minded with their approach to learning. So those who have trouble initially can always adapt and eventually flourish with the help of an encouraging professor.