Circumstances beyond your control.

19 11 2011

Since I’m officially on Thanksgiving vacation now, I’ve farmed out this post out to CSU-Pueblo history grad student and friend-of-the-blog Britney Titus. What I write about, she has to live through in courses outside our department. Therefore, here is one student’s perspective on online education:

Now that the fall semester is drawing to a close, I can officially say that during the last four months I have had a constant feeling of disappointment with online education. But rather than throwing my computer against the wall as I wanted to do so many times, I made a more responsible choice and decided to take out my frustration here through the written word.

This past Sunday, I had to complete an assignment before midnight and after working on it for about three hours, the program I was working with completely deleted my progress to that point. Being as it was 9PM, I became angry and upset. I quickly realized, however, that my anger wasn’t towards the program that deleted my project, it was towards the fact that the online education’s key argument of “do it at your leisure” had failed me. I worked on the project when I wanted to and all I got was an intense feeling of wanting to destroy my computer, coupled with an hour of crying.

Some might say that this was my own fault as I waited ‘til Sunday night to start the project in the first place. Yet, does that not go against the argument of online education anyways? A student is supposed to have the “freedom” to decide when and where to do their homework, but what happens when a student cannot depend on that freedom? Not only do online classes have students adhere to “strict” timelines, but within those deadlines, students have the additional worry of actually being able to complete the task at hand.

In a traditional face-to-face environment, a student has to have time management skills in order to physically hand in a paper to a professor by 5PM. They know that no matter what, even if their computer breaks down, they have to hand in that paper even if it means going to the library and re-doing it. However, an online student cannot simply go to the library to re-do the assignment and moreover, an online student doesn’t prepare for that circumstance. They trust the online environment and the possibility of something going wrong doesn’t even cross their mind because their whole classroom is supposed to work in this system.

Yet, one must wonder how a student can have time management for something that may or may not happen? Can educators expect them to constantly plan for the programs to maybe not work and if so, does that not undermine the argument that online education works the same way as a traditional bricks and mortar classroom? Students in regular classrooms do not have to plan for the Internet being down or programs failing, but online students have to plan for all of the above. Furthermore, how does the teacher know whether or not they truly had a problem with the program in the first place? I am lucky that my professor knew me personally as a good student, but what happens when a student abuses that privilege? How can students ever truly adhere to a schedule or be held accountable for turning something in on time?

I wish I could say that not having the “freedom” to do my work when I choose was the only problem with online education. However, the aspect of “group work” is another huge cause for concern, especially pertaining to group projects and discussion boards. I am not sure how those two things can even be called as such, given that group projects are more like individual projects put together and dressed up as if the students actually completed it cohesively.

My friend, the one who is currently taking her entire master’s program online, told me just last week how she had been the group “leader” and despite her best efforts, with conference calls and constant emails, there were still individuals who failed to produce their portion of the work. Since my friend served as the leader and knew the grade she received depended on the work of the other members as well, she completed the portions of the project that the others failed to produce. Once again, this beckons the question of how an online educator knows who is really doing the work? Some may respond by saying to just not assign group work, but doesn’t that result in a lack of collaboration and brainstorming? It seems like an impossible task to establish human relationships and teamwork in a non-human environment.

Online educators may also say that this is where the infamous discussion boards come in. However, I can honestly say that not one of my discussion board posts this semester have embodied a passionate opinion or an effective argument. One reason for this is the discussion board questions themselves. Many of my posts are just answers to the questions that my professors pose, which don’t entail any arguments, just mere answers that can be found in the textbook. The second reason would be the fact that no matter what, discussion boards will always be work in an online setting. The students have to log on and physically write a response. Unlike a traditional classroom where the students just have to speak to stimulate discussion, the online setting makes the students type out their responses, making the discussion work rather than a natural activity. Discussion boards thus, in an online classroom, will never be as effective as one in a physical classroom because the students have to worry about all the grammatical and structural components of writing instead of just saying what’s on their minds. This not only decreases motivation to participate in the discussion boards, it causes the students to relinquish all creativity and impulsivity that they may have had otherwise in a physical classroom.

These are just a few of the many problems a student faces in online classes today. In talking with other online students, I find that they face most of the same problems I do on a daily basis. Like them, I find myself saying that I will never take another online class again, not because I hate anything technological or modern, but because at the end of the day, it makes me a worse student, whether it is convenient or not.


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21 11 2011
Teaching through a bullhorn. « More or Less Bunk

[…] purposes of this blog, what is it like to teach 100 students at once? Britney’s last point from the other day about typing being more onerous than talking goes triple from the teacher’s perspective. The […]

12 12 2011
“It’s good to be king.” « More or Less Bunk

[…] with a whole new conception of time in class vs. time out of class. I remain very influenced by what Britney argued about writing online feeling like a burden to students. If you just tack on a few online […]

22 12 2011
The robot and the muse | Music for Deckchairs

[…] committed to higher education, and he’s the only person I’ve seen who has invited a student to join the conversation.  And while I’ve disagreed up hill and down dale with his views on elearning since he first […]

27 02 2012
What if your students don’t want to work as hard as you do? « More or Less Bunk

[…] is even harder. I’m convinced some of this is because of something Britney Titus wrote here a few months ago about discussion boards in an online classroom setting that would apply equally to […]

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