Students’ View of Online Courses

I recently took an informal poll of some undergraduate students and asked them what they liked about online courses. Their responses are:

  • Don’t have to leave one’s dorm room
  • Do the work in your pajamas
  • Flexible
  • Convenient
  • No teamwork
  • Work at one’s own pace
  • Don’t have the pressure of answering questions in class
  • Shorter duration course
  • Easier
  • Less pressure
  • Course material well-organized and centralized
  • More rapid and specific test feedback
  • Online course is shorter than normal course
  • Great for gen ed courses, but not for courses in their major

Why the interest? Think about it: undergraduate students have had 12-years of face-to-face instruction (16 for graduates), much of which has been less than satisfying. Sufficient numbers of educators at all levels have performed poorly the face-to-face learning process, and so most students are ready to try something new.

I asked my students what they dislike about online courses. They said:

  • No face-time with teacher
  • Must teach yourself
  • Requires greater personal discipline
  • Likely to procrastinate and fall behind
  • Group communication is not very good
  • Credit for participation is subjective
  • Teacher neglects students / don’t answer questions
  • Can’t do hands-on lab work
  • Computer problems lead to missed assignments
  • Online tests

These deficiencies will likely be reduced or eliminated over time. Hybrid online/face-to-face courses are attractive to both undergraduate and graduate students.

Great teaching is normally defined by the following characteristics:

  • Explicit instruction
  • Direct feedback
  • Challenging assignments
  • Importance of working hard (struggling = learning)
  • Emphasis on practice

Well-designed online courses will satisfy some of these elements of great teaching, while others will suffer. Our challenge as teachers is to figure out how to make higher education achieve effective outcomes under these evolving circumstances.

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