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Online Instructor Defends Quality of Online Education & Learning

Editor’s Note: This post is an online instructor’s response to an earlier article, 5 Things Students Hate About Online Learning Degrees. Written by online instructor and course designer, Matt Crosslin, this post is part of an ongoing series of conversations between real students and faculty on the quality of online education and learning inside accredited degree programs.


If you teach online, or are enrolled in an online learning program, join the conversation about how online colleges are evolving to meet the quality standards and learning needs of both instructors and students.


betsyweber (flickr)Rock'em sock'em robots show differing opinions on quality of online education and learning

As I read the top student complaints about quality issues in online education, I saw so much that I could relate to about the state of online learning. As an online instructor, I work the front lines and see where changes can be made in online education. And while it is true that there’s plenty of room for improvement in the online learning sphere, and while many online students’ complaints are accurate and valid, not all complaints are what they seem.

 

After all, there is always another side to a story.

 

Here are my thoughts, as an online instructor, on the common online student complaints against online courses.

 


 

5 Responses to Student Quality Complaints Against Online Degree Programs

 

1. Re: Missing or Disengaged Professors

I agree there are some disengaged online instructors out there, I can’t deny it.

 

But there is another angle that many students neglect to see or include in their critique of the absent online professor:  online students themselves often fail to take advantage of the many avenues that instructors make available for the sole purpose of encouraging interaction.

 

I do everything to open up my online classes to students. I respond to emails within 24 hours. I let students turn in drafts of projects so I can give them free advance feedback, which is designed to help them obtain better grades. I keep my Meebo chat widget open 15 hours a day.

 

Yet only about  2-5% of my students take advantage of any of these teaching strategies I use to open up my courses and engage them as online students.

 

Instead, what I often get (in high percentages) is a mountain of excuses from online students about why they need to be let off the hook, excused from the assigned work, or let go for copying from Wikipedia – you name it.

 

Students who completely ignore my instructions often complain that I am “giving” them a bad grade. But the truth is they lose course points due to the fact that they left out a major component (and/or also didn’t send in their assignment in advance for my free feedback).

 

So, when students talk about poor instructor feedback – ask them what the syllabus said. Then ask them if they followed the advice and steps in the syllabus. Finally, follow it up with what response they got from the instructor. If they followed the syllabus, and did not get the response the instructor promised in the syllabus, then there is a problem.

 

2. Re: Poor Customer Service & Advising

Customer service can always be improved. Companies that serve the best usually stay on top because they constantly evaluate and refine their methods and procedures. Many online colleges could learn from this mind set.

 

But is the college always at fault for poor quality or service?

 

I can’t count the number of students that end up calling the wrong place inside the university for assistance because they simply didn’t listen. Some students are lax about checking their official school email (which is usually the school’s only real means of getting in touch). Others wait until the last minute, miss deadlines, then demand they be given an exception despite their forgetfulness.

 

A report of bad customer service might be just that; on the other hand it might be a student not realizing, or wanting to admit, they made a mistake or failed to follow procedure.

 

On a side note, if you choose to enroll in an online college that is herding thousands of students with only a small staff. . . well, you get what you pay for. The larger the college, the higher the chance that you will be treated like another number. If you want individual attention, and better customer service, pay for it at a smaller institution.

 

3. Re: Hate the Group Assignments & Team Projects

Group assignments: almost everyone hates them.

 

But everyone has to be a part of a team to meet the requirements of most jobs in the work world these days. You think Dilbert is fiction? Wait until you get out into the office world.  No one will care if you have lazy co-workers. And you’ll have to learn how to complete team projects with or without their help.

 

Look – if you complain about getting ‘cookie-cutter’ responses to individual work, or not getting enough individual attention, the best solution is for us to put you in groups so we can have more time to interact with each of you.

 

Also, you can’t deny the solid theory behind group work. You really are learning more when you put in the effort, even if you don’t feel like you’re learning more in the moment. If you are genuinely putting in more work than other group members, your reward is that you will get more out of the assignment.

 

Isn’t that the goal of all education- to get the most out of it? Are you worrying more about actually learning better habits and skills, or forcing other online students to do as much work as you?

 

4. Re: Poor Overall Quality Control

Quality control exists in pretty much every online education program and school. If a college is accredited, it must maintain strict quality control. Whether people follow these quality standards or not is another question entirely. Do your homework. If it was time to get a new computer, would you just run out and get the snazziest new laptop you could find, or would you look online first to find some consumer reviews?

 

Do the same review diligence with your online college. Don’t look for perfection – just look for schools that are responsive. (Editor’s Note: Check the Get Educated college directory for online student reviews of more than 3,000 degrees.)

 

5. Re: Poor Online Course Design

I work as an instructional designer. Believe me, I get it. Some online courses are not well designed. But as online learning degree programs increase in popularity, many colleges are working to change this.

 

Course design aside, online students often focus their course complaints on learning activities that are actually quite good for them (group projects ring a bell?).  I know some learning activities are overused to the point of being cliché. But personally I would put those in the same category as group projects – the more you engage in them, the more you will get out of them.

 

Plus, you might just find that online course design mysteriously gets better the more you, as a student, engage.

 

 

Much of what I touch on in this post are generalizations about critical online learning issues. Most students I have taught online are hard-working, bright, and diligent, and most of the complaints that I hear about online learning are legitimate.

 

But there will always be a handful of students that only look at one side of the problem, and my intent was to look at just a few possibilities of what could exist on the other side of the issue.

 

I invite other instructors to come up with more insights, and to join me in this critical discussion.

 

For more insider perspectives on online education quality issues, check out Online Teacher Tough Love: 3 Online Learning Tips for Students, Warning to Students! 8 Things Not to Ask Your Online Teachers, Online Learning Faculty Reveal Top 5 Annoying Student Complaints and Becoming and Online Teacher: 5 Perils to Ponder.

 

 

About Matt Crosslin

Matt Crosslin, www.mattcrosslin.com, is an instructional designer at The University of Texas at Arlington’s Center for Distance Education. Matt has been online since 1991, and involved in education since 1994. He has been involved in distance education in some way since he first came online, including being an avid explorer of emerging technologies.
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5 Responses to Online Instructor Defends Quality of Online Education & Learning

  1. TIna Jackson says:

    Thanks for your response to these 5 things Matt! You’ve mentioned things that I’m sure many students have not thought about. The details really do make a difference!

  2. Karen Falgore says:

    Thanks for this Matt. In the past, I think an online education has been used by some who expect it to be “easy” when it is far from it. I think that students in campus university settings also fail to reach out to their instructors where it could really help them.

    I believe that overall the online education industry is changing and its students are changing as well. More universities are getting in on the industry and more serious students are taking these courses on. I think it will be interesting to see how it progresses in the next few years.

  3. Zoe Bogart says:

    These are all good points to remember when taking online courses. Bottom line is we need to be responsible for ourselves and not expect others to do the work for us. The more we stay on top of the assignments and ahead of the game, the more we will learn and benefit from. It may be very hard and challenging at times, but it will be well worth it in the end.

  4. Bob says:

    Class size matters!! As someone who created one the first online MBA programs in the US back in 1997, I can say that the amount of work required for one online student is equal to 2 ground based students. “Stuffing” the class is a time honored way of increasing school margins, at the expense of the student experience. Try having a text chat with 25 students at once! Even VOIP is clumsy at best. I agree with Matt’s overall assessment of online education however one item that was missed is we (faculty and administration) fail to hold students accountable for their learning style. Many students take online classes because they are convenient and/or are perceived to be easier. This implies that a students’ learning style has no impact in the process which would be wrong to think.

    Assessment of online programs is extremely problematic. First, cheating is abundant in online programs, ranging from looking up answers in timed m/c exams, to full collaboration on exams by multiple students. Even when you give essays or cases, there are so many websites that savy students go to to get a “sample” paper on a topic, or even a case study already prepared, requiring little if any modifications.

    Group work might seem appropriate if that is indeed a learning outcome but you cannot use group data for assurance of learning objectives because you are typically grading the group rather then the individual.

    I would support traditional exams where you have students come to the school or supervised learning center and take real exams – not exams that students can look up answer and google whatever you give them. That is not assessing what they know – it measures mroe what they can look up!

    I have come full circle from online back to ground based education. It is less convenient, more costly but in the end, I think there is a better case made for quality control.

    Lastly, when you get down to the basics, faculty do two things at a university – they create knowledge through their research and they validate knowledge. It is this last responsibility where many online (and ground) programs fall short.

    • Matt says:

      Of course, class size is very important! But if you look at the research, cheating usually ends up being reported as much in face-to-face courses as it is online. Research into quality, cheating, you name it – all come out even when comparing the two. How do you know that the student that turned in that paper on your desk was the actual one that wrote it? There have been some big stories in the news about students not only getting paid to write papers for others but also go to class and take notes.

      In the end, the research also shows that you can’t improve HOW people learn – that has stayed the same for centuries. You can improve the affordances surrounding education that allows people access to learning that they didn’t have otherwise. You can give them other ways to learn that allows them to fully live up their potential, and many other affordances. If we force people to drive to classes, they will stop coming (and the numbers that were coming out right as online learning took off proved it – online courses are keeping my current university afloat right now as far as attendance numbers goes.

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