The DOs and DONTs of Online Learning
Forward by Rick Reis
The Standford University Center for Learning and Teaching
TOMORROW'S PROFESSOR(SM) MAILING LIST #601
The posting below gives some insights on making online learning more effective. It is from Chapter 8:The Online Instructor's Point of View, by Judy Donovan in The Student Guide to Successful Online Learning: A Handbook of Tips, Strategies, and Techniques by Ken W. White Everett Community College and University of Phoenix Online Campus, Jason D. Baker, Regent University. Published by the College Division of Allyn and Bacon, 75 Arlington Street, Suite 300, Boston, MA 02116 [www.ablongman.com]. Copyright © 2004 Pearson Education, Inc. Reprinted with permission.
The DOs of Online Learning
I wanted to get many instructors' points of view to include in this chapter, so I posted questions in an informal survey to listservs and online college faculty bulletin boards. I also emailed the entire faculty at one online college. Over fifty online instructors responded, and what struck me was how similar their answers were. There does seem to be general agreement in what instructors appreciate and don't appreciate in their students.
The first question I asked was "How should students go about establishing a good instructor/student relationship with you?" Many instructors mentioned the points covered above: read the syllabus, understand the course software, make sure you have your textbook and other materials, and make sure your email is working. In addition, they mentioned things such as "communicate, put forth a good effort, show an interest in the course and in your fellow students, ask questions if you don't understand something, and be courteous." Additional comments included:
- "If students communicate effectively and efficiently, our relationship will always be positive, and I will be as flexible as possible in working with them."
- "I think one of the best ways to establish a good relationship is for students to start the class with a positive attitude, especially toward their peers. If students are respectful of each other, it helps the student/instructor relationship. I also think they should be willing to be open and responsive in their postings."
- "Students obviously glean instructors' favor by being dedicated, hard working, and willing to go the extra mile to learn."
- "Demonstrate they are interested in the learning process by responding promptly to the assignments and introducing themselves to the learning community."
- "They can establish a good relationship with me by taking responsibility for their education and being accountable for their course work."
- "It helps if the student is friendly."
- "By making it apparent they have done their homework, by submitting well-written messages, and by following the guidelines established in the course syllabus."
- "Online I find that the relationships the students establish with each other in the discussion threads is a way for them to show me that they care and are enjoying the class. Their enthusiasm for the class goes a long way in establishing a relationship with me as an instructor."
- "I appreciate those that help their peers. I try to formulate a team in class so we're there for each other. Some students never buy into this and will neither answer or ask questions with anyone but me."
- "By taking the responsibility to accept the fact that they must discipline and organize their life to meet the rigors of an online class, establishes a favorable rapport with me."
The DON'Ts of Online Learning
I asked online instructors for their pet peeves regarding online students. As with what instructors appreciate, the things they don't appreciate are quite specific. They include:
- Not reading syllabus, instructor messages, email, course materials, questions already addressed
- Late work and not following directions
- Causing a lot of off-topic discussion or one-line replies such as "I agree"
- Negative comments on discussion boards and rudeness
- Email with no name or course number (who is firstname.lastname@example.org?)
- Students who don't participate
- Not correcting work after feedback
Other responses to the question "What are your pet peeves when it comes to students?" were:
- "Complaining about the workload after they chose to complete their degree in an accelerated online program."
- "Not learning the platform. I have one student who didn't bother to go through the tutorial. I am constantly receiving emails that read, "I don't mean to bother you, and I hope I am not a pest, but how do I...?"
- "What bothers me most are those who constantly miss deadlines because of work related-incidents, family incidents, taking vacations in the middle of a session, or trying to enter late because they thought that the class started on a different date."
- "Students who do not contribute or communicate with me regarding assignments, etc. If I do not hear from students as requested, I become less flexible. If they communicate with me, I can be as flexible as possible."
- "Students who acknowledge that my time is valuable immediately win my favor; those who assume I should be online 24/7 to answer their questions are off to a poor start."
- "One of the biggest concerns I have is with group work, that is, when a student does not carry his or her load."
- "My biggest peeve centers around students who try to scam me, saying they had sent in an assignment and when I say I didn't receive it, they say they'll resend it right away. When I check the file properties I find it had been created the night before."
- "Do not conduct personal attacks on other students."
The main concern of online instructors is communication.
The online syllabus, assignment descriptions, lectures, and postings are all forms of communication that contain clear instructions for how work is to be completed, by what due date, and where to submit it. Ignoring this information can be time consuming for you and the instructor.
You may feel instructors are being contradictory when we say we appreciate students who ask questions, but then list students as pet peeves who post questions that are already answered in the course materials. You have read in this book about student responsibility and how it is important to the online classroom. This translates to making an effort to find the answer rather than posting a question to the class or emailing the instructor. In addition, don't be a student whose work is chronically late for one reason or another. If you are constantly in a state of emergency, perhaps you need to get your life in order before you take classes. Make sure your problems don't impact the instructor or the class.
Finally, plagiarism can be a real problem for the instructor in the online world. A few years ago, a quarter or more of my students turned in papers that contained plagiarism. The most common form of plagiarism is copy and paste. Students copy entire paragraphs or sentences from their sources and paste them into their paper. They might stick the source at the end, but they don't use quotes to indicate that someone else wrote the section. I have received five-page papers composed entirely of these types of paragraphs. Through experience, I have hones the Academic Honesty section in my syllabus so that it is crystal clear:
"You can never use someone else's words without quotes. Ignorance is not an excuse."