I’m in the middle… well, ok, the beginning… of writing a paper for the first class of my career as a graduate school student — sorry to call out to the same blog post again, but I find the technical design of the course terrible. (Thanks, Blackboard!) Until very recently, I was in the funny situation of not really knowing when my final paper is due… and I coudn’t find the information anywhere. It’s wasn’t on our discussion board, it didn’t seem to be in the course documents, and, well, I didn’t know where else to look.
Now, I don’t particularly like phone calls. I find them a bit disruptive, and a lot of the time the same questions can be answered with a quick email. So when I couldn’t see when my paper was due, I emailed my professor… and never heard back. And I posted something to my class discussion board… and never heard back. Along the way, someone else asked in the class discussion board about when the paper was due and someone in my class tried to help me out. Only later in the week — five days before the paper was due — did the professor finally give us a deadline.
The thing about being an online student — and this shouldn’t matter if you’re a professional taking a graduate school class or a tenth grader taking Mr. Kolani’s social media class — is that you need to know where to find all the information. The design of your online space matters, as does the level of the teacher’s engagement in that space. And if you’re dealing with a less than optimal online space — maybe yours was determined by someone else — and you know that things are going to be tricky to find, then you need to have a constant presence in the space, or at least be responsive to questions.
I should have found that info, and I’m frustrated that I didn’t find it myself. It should have been clear in the online space that my class is conducted in and the associated documents, and I believe that I deserved a quicker response from my professor. I would argue that the due date for the one major paper in the class should be pretty darn obvious, but not answering a student’s request for help is unconscionable.
If an online space is your only interaction with a student, then you should be prepared to answer your students in that space. You have to live in that space for the duration of your class, particuarly an asynchronous class that could see students popping in and out with varying degrees of frequency. You have to be willing to engage with students in the same way you ask — and in some cases limit — them to engage with you. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Who was that learning space designed for?
photo credit: zabdiel
My grad program had a online system as well, featuring class assets, schedules, the occasional discussion board, etc. The environment alone was… OK. The interface could have been way more intuitive. But its usefulness depended almost entirely on the prof’s willingness to engage with it. The smart ones got their TAs to do all the posting.
That’s not smart… that’s lazy.