Online students expect a lot of support from instructors. Online teachers think students should be independent. The misaligned expectations lead to “frustration, confusion, and tension,” concludes a Community College Research Center study by Rachel Hare Bork and Zawadi Rucks-Ahidiana. They interviewed students and instructors at two Virginia community colleges.
. . . most instructors felt that students should be solely responsible for being motivated, identifying the most important material, prioritizing course-related tasks, reviewing assignments in advance, and asking any questions of the instructor several days before assignments are due.
While students agreed that students should manage their time well and perform course tasks and assignments on schedule, they expected instructors to work more actively to make key tasks, material, priorities, and assignments clear; to motivate student learning by ensuring that materials were engaging; to inject their own presence into the course; and to support student learning by being proactive in providing substantive feedback.
Students expected written feedback on assignments. Instructors typically provided only a grade, expecting students to ask questions if they needed more information.
Students were disappointed when instructors didn’t comment on their discussion board posts. One student complained:
She’ll give us questions and in those questions it might ask you “Discuss such-and-such, being in depth with this, be specific with that” and you can put your opinion in there. But the thing is … you don’t get any feedback. And so it feels like “Why am I telling you anything if you don’t really [read it]? I mean like you are not responding to me in any kind of way.”
While students liked YouTube or PBS audiovisual clips, but they strongly preferred multimedia presentations created by the instructor. Hearing and seeing the instructor “provided a personal touch . . . giving students the sense that the instructor was actively teaching them.”
Students wanted teachers to “have a strong and frequent presence” online to guide them through the learning process.
Another student suggested that online instructors were implicitly telling students that they had to learn course content independently. “I think the problem with online teaching is that the teachers kind of tell you ‘Okay, here’s the book, you know, study pages 12 through 23 and know this for a test in a few days.’” The student continued that this approach did not work for him because “I can’t teach myself math.”
Many instructors saw themselves as course designers and managers rather than teachers.
Colleges should prepare students for the demands of studying online, the researchers suggest. Distance-learning orientation — offered before and during registration — could help students decide if they should take the course online or in a face-to-face classroom.
Readiness activities should provide practice in skills and knowledge needed for online learning, they add. They recommend “mandatory modules on time‐management, self-directed learning and computer literacy.”