Hello from the Other Side! A Student Perspective of Online Learning

I recently enrolled in an online doctoral program and now find myself in the role of an online student and not just an online instructor. I have learned so much from being on the “other side of the screen.” Here are five essential things to consider as you build successful online learning opportunities for your students.

Essentials for Student Success

  1. Course Organization: PLEASE have a clear and consistent organization to your course. Don’t “mix it up” mid-way through the semester to keep it fresh. Online students seek a pattern to help them stay organized and on track. When those patterns get changed, anxiety rises. I don’t want to have to guess where things will be found this week.
  2. Proofread Please: We have all been in a hurry and missed a few things but when there are constant errors in grammar, punctuation, spelling, dates, etc. it feels a bit like a double standard.  If my work has to be perfect….please try your best to model that for us.
  3. Feedback Please: Yep, we are busy folks but I didn’t fully understand the truly anxious feeling students get when waiting for feedback. It is especially important to provide a quick turnaround at the beginning of the semester so students can get a sense of how they are progressing or have a chance to seek help early on if their work is not going well.
  4. Provide Information in Multiple Ways: A full semester of voice recordings over PowerPoint does not foster sustained attention or creative thinking.  Voice recordings are great but instructors should provide other resources as well, such as PDFs, podcasts, other videos, etc. Remember, one of the key principles of Universal Design for Learning is to provide multiple means of representation. Also, most online students get work done when they can. Having materials that are short and long provides options to stay engaged.
  5. Response Time: No one should be expected to be on call 24-7 but it is important to create reasonable response turn-around times and stick to them. If I post a question or send an email and don’t hear back within the time stated in the syllabus, anxiousness begins to set in (Did the message send? Did I say something wrong? Is it a stupid question? Ummmm, do you care?). The longer a student has to wait… the worse it gets.  Yes, providing an ‘Ask and Answer’ discussion forum for the class to respond to each others’ questions is great but it doesn’t meet the needs for all student questions and getting no response in a public forum really doesn’t feel good!

How I have changed my online teaching

  1. Organization: I map out the structure of my course at the beginning of the semester. I might not have all the resources in place but I now work to find a pattern I can use for the content.
  2. Proofing: When I started really thinking about this I noticed a lot of little errors in my instructions. I now make sure to click the “check spelling” button in Blackboard on every item.
  3. Feedback: This is an read I have worked on a lot. I have always been good in responding to questions but when it comes to grading, I now tell students when each assignment will be graded. First, to keep me on track and second, to reduce anxiety for my students.
  4. Multiple Representations: I go out of my way to find relevant resources in multiple forms. Students learn differently and if the video doesn’t work for them, the text might.
  5. Responses: As I noted, I am generally good at answering questions and sticking to my set turnaround time but I have added Remind to give my students an easy, mobile-friendly way to reach me. Students like to text!

I am very glad that I have had the experience to be an online student because it is helping me become a much better online teacher. If you have the opportunity to experience a course this way, I highly recommend it.