Late Work, Lack of Participation, General Confusion: 5 Student Issues Every Online Teacher Should Know

Late Work, Lack of Participation, General Confusion
5 Student Issues Every Online Teacher Should Know

Stacia Levy
by Stacia Levy 7,651 views

A lot of positives come with online instruction.

Online instruction has provided some social leveling in that it has extended opportunity to many who were before without access to education through flexible scheduling, relative inexpensiveness, and ability to participate from anywhere. Therefore students with limited time, money, and transportation can now enroll in accredited college and other programs.

However, online classes are not without drawbacks, especially in working with students who are unfamiliar with the format of online and instruction, and indeed sometimes students in online classes actually come to class with limited computer skills. Often these drawbacks of taking courses online are the “flipside” of its advantages.

5 Student Concerns Every Online Teacher Should Know

  1. 1

    Lack of or Limited Attendance and Participation

    Because of the flexibility in scheduling and participation, “phantom students,” those students whose names are on your roster but who never show up in real time chat or on the discussion threads, are fairly common. There are also those students who do show up but who fail to participate adequately—not completing assignments or participating in a limited way in chats or on the discussion threads.

  2. 2

    Late Work

    Without a teacher constantly reinforcing and deadlines, some students fail to meet them. This seems to go on more than in a traditional onsite classroom—without constant reminders, and without set class hours, many students forget deadlines or fail to take them seriously.

  3. 3

    General Confusion

    Lack of context can create confusion in many students. They may need constant reminders about how to navigate the course, where to find course materials, how to operate the discussion function, what time the class meets in live chat, and so forth.

  4. 4

    Lack of Courtesy

    Again, reduced context can lead students to forget they need to exercise manners with peers and the instructor online. However, while the medium of the class may have changed, other’s essential humanity has not, and their classmates, even in an online setting and often unseen, are still human beings who need to be treated with respect. Again, some students—especially those who have not participated before in an online class or interaction with others online in general—can forget this.

  5. 5

    Lack of Technical Ability

    Students should have basic understanding of computer skills when signing up for an online class, but “should” is the operative word. The occasional student does come to an online class without basic understanding of such skills as how to cut and paste a web address to a browser, how to submit a document online, how to update a necessary program like Java, etc. This lack of technical understanding and skill does present a barrier in participating in an online class.

7 Ways to Counter Student Issues in Online Teaching

  1. 1

    Maintain a Strong Online Presence. Be a Role Model of Participation

    Post your picture and a brief professional bio on the class site before the course begins. Check in and post something daily. Provide addresses to interesting and relevant websites. Respond to the class discussion thread and post relevant course readings that you have written yourself or links to such readings by experts in the field. Email students, check in with them, and provide updates for the course. Set up online chat times. This consistent participation demonstrates you take the class and the role of the teacher seriously and reassures students you will be available to help them. It also models the kind of participation you expect of students.

  2. 2

    Establish Expectations for Interaction from the Start

    Write a page, or post a link to a page, on “netiquette”: that is, online etiquette. Much has been written on the topic; you may also establish your own class ground rules involving not engaging in ad hominem, or personal, attacks, to listen to peers carefully in live chat, to respond thoughtfully to other’s posts, and so forth.

  3. 3

    Be a Role Model of Courtesy and Hard Work

    Model the courtesy you expect in your students. Respond to questions promptly. Post something every day—an assignment, reading, responds to discussion threads, grade work, etc. Post responses to students’ posts and discussion topics. Encourage others to do so by advancing the discussion through your position, reflections, and asking questions of students who aren’t participating.

  4. 4

    Teach Technical Skills

    As much as possible and as needed, help students develop the technical skill and understanding they will need in your class online. Post general directions for accessing documents, for web searching a topic, for cutting and pasting links you may provide, for who to contact with more serious concerns, and so forth.

  5. 5

    “Tell Them What You’re Going to Tell Them; Tell Them, and Then Tell Them That You Told Them”: Basic Communication Concept

    Be as repetitive as necessary. Post schedules, expectations, and assignments around the site: on the home page, on the announcement page, on the syllabus, on the page for submission of work, etc. Email students your announcements as well. If they hear and see directions many times, students are more likely to understand and less likely to forget—or at any rate, have less of a claim that the directions were not there or were not clear.

  6. 6

    Make Yourself Available

    Many online instructors establish “office hours,” in which they wait in the class chat room for students to come in and ask questions or discuss course issues. Establish online office hours at a variety of times each week so that everyone has a chance to attend. Also post a phone number you can be reached at as necessary.

  7. 7

    Take Advantage of the Benefits of Online Instruction; Don’t Treat It as a Disadvantage

    Finally, remember research has revealed that online instruction has a number of pedagogical advantages over the traditional. Provide links to valuable readings in the field. Schedule a variety of online live chat at different times. Set up discussion threads so that students in class who may be all over the globe can dialogue according to their schedule. More introverted students, who need more time to put together a thoughtful response, actually do better in online discussion. Write and post your own original material related to the content. You may also establish on the course site a thread or threads where students can ask questions or post concerns.

No one said teaching online would be easy. Or actually it has been said as it has been said, incorrectly, that taking an online class is easier than onsite. However, because of reduced context and difficulties in navigation, it can be twice as hard as a traditional onsite class. But by maintaining a consistent presence in class and providing instruction in computer skills and online etiquette as well as online content, the disadvantages can be turned into advantages.

What concerns have you encountered with online instruction, and how did you address them?

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