Warning to Students! 8 Things Not to Ask Your Online Teachers

Online teacher complaints, student asking question about financial aidUC Davis College of Engineering/flickr


Online learning students often don’t know where to turn when they have questions, so they end up directing them to their online teachers — whether we teachers are qualified to answer them or not.


As a result, I have had students ask me each of the following 8 inappropriate questions in my five years as an online teacher.


Editor’s Note: Online students, read on to learn if you’ve been asking the wrong questions of your teachers, and to learn more about the netiquette of corresponding with your online instructors.


What NOT to Ask your Online Teacher:


1. Don’t ask… why a certain textbook is or isn’t used in your course.

In most online learning programs, the content is standardized to meet the objectives of the university. Teachers are not responsible for textbook selection, course content, or course grading rubrics. If you have specific text recommendations, you can indicate those suggestions on your end-of-course survey – these comments will be read from someone in academic affairs, the people who make textbook decisions.


2. Don’t ask your teacher… to violate university policy.

Course policy is set by the university. Most online teachers are adjunct faculty. This means they are contracted to teach one course at a time. Their motivation is often two-fold: they enjoy interacting with online students and they also appreciate the secondary income that comes from facilitating courses. Instructors shouldn’t be asked to risk those opportunities by violating their contracts. Students who have a concern with university policy should check with their adviser for the name of whom to contact in administration.


3. Don’t ask… “how am I doing in this course?”

Most online courses have grade books where students can access their grades for specific assignments as well as for overall course grades. Before contacting your teacher with questions about your grade, visit the online grade book to see your status.


4. Don’t ask… for suggestions about changing your major.

In most situations, online teachers are asked by administrators not to provide advice related to academic programming. If you’re highly interested in the course content – interested enough even to consider changing your major – make an appointment to talk with your academic adviser.


5. Don’t ask… for information related to financial aid or billing.

Online teachers are similar to on-campus instructors in that they serve a defined role. Instructors are experts in their subject field, but online instructors, like residential faculty, have very little, if any, knowledge of the financial aspects of your university program. Questions related to financial aid or billing should be directed to the financial aid or financial services office at your university. This office may also be known as the bursar.


6. Don’t ask… for professional advice.

Online instructors have been contracted to provide a service: course facilitation. While they may have the ability – and often the professional credentials – to give good advice, counseling and advice giving isn’t the nature of your relationship with them. If you’re taking an online course in psychology, a question about a particular psychiatric condition may be fine, but if you’re looking for assessment, diagnosis and treatment recommendations, you should seek out a mental health professional.


7. Don’t ask your online teacher… to tell you which job(s) best suits you

Many online instructors work full-time in their respective fields – often in a position of leadership. While they are a great source of practical information on course subject matter, they are not trained to assess your vocational skills and abilities. Seek the services of a career counselor if you need vocational assessment or career advice.


8. Don’t ask your online teachers… to give you a glowing reference

This can be difficult for online students.  Employers and graduate school programs alike often ask for references from college professors. Keep in mind that your online teachers are not able to comment on much of what is commonly asked for on these recommendation forms because of the nature of online education. Many online faculty will complete these forms when asked, (I have on numerous occasions), but you’ll need to understand the limitations of online learning in terms of instructors being able to comment on your overall performance. You might be better off asking for a reference from your employer.

About Andrew Graham

Husband of 1. Father of 6. Licensed Professional Counselor. Assistant Professor.
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8 Responses to Warning to Students! 8 Things Not to Ask Your Online Teachers

  1. Eliza says:

    This is a great article. I usually get the financial aid questions :) and I politely direct them to the financial aid office.

  2. Good question. :-) In my mind, advice and service are not the same thing, and in my field (religious studies), non-class-related conversations are both valuable and desirable. In fields that have a strong element of billable hours, the value of advice may be different.

  3. Pingback: Warning from Your Online Teachers: What NOT to Ask | | Focus: Online EdTech |

  4. Dwight says:

    I would disagree with 1, 4 an 6. that should be part of job of teacher to help the studnts in finding the correct career and since they are experienced in the field and at universities many times the adjuncts have bettr feel of how things really are in field than full time. The instructor should and usually has input in the textbook decisions. If a book is really good or bad the instructor needs to know or if other books better, then to consider as the instructor may not have seen them. I am a full time instructor who teaches mostly online. The evaluations may or may not be looked at by any one is my experience having taught for several colleges. As a full time instructor at a technical college I teach and I advise students. If students or avisees ask about financial aid I send them to financial aid, but I am a person to ask so they can know where to go. Biggest problem I see is opposite of this article and it is teachers not responding promptly to students in online classes.

    • Perhaps in your role at a technical college, these dynamics aren’t as relevant as they are for those in online education.

      Aside from those courses that I have been specifically contracted to design, I have never been given the choice of changing a textbook. I have more than once written in my faculty feedback forms (to the university) suggested changes – including those related to the textbook selection (but they’ve not been implemented).

      There are so many complex factors related to academic and career advisement that there are others who are better qualified at addressing these concerns than an online instructor.

      I agree that responding to student inquiries is paramount to effective online facilitation. However, it is important to note the scope on information on which the faculty member is credentialed to answer; the goal of this article was to point out more appropriate personnel for students to direct their questions to.

      As for #6, I’m curious as to your concern since you didn’t reflect on that one. Are you positing that online faculty should be providing professional services to their students as part of their course facilitation? Counselors should be providing therapy? Accountants should be providing portfolio evaluations, etc?

  5. Good article! I have taught online for ten years, and I am okay with 1, 4, and 6 – they are a great way to build relationships with students. :-)

    • I am trying to conceptualize your being okay with #6. You believe that online faculty should be providing professional services to students as part of their course facilitation?

      • Good question.  In my mind, advice and service are not the same thing, and in my field (religious studies), non-class-related conversations are both valuable and desirable. In fields that have a strong element of billable hours, the value of advice may be different.

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