Posted by & filed under The Online Student.

In last week’s email to the AdjunctWorld community, I waxed poetic a bit about a phenomenon I am noticing in some of my online and onground classes.  Several of you emailed me with similar experiences and I would like to share a bit and solicit some feedback from the AdjunctWorld blog community.

A couple of weeks ago, I started teaching a new section of an online psychology course for a university I have worked with for several years.  While I had thought that I’d seen it all when it comes to “first online class jitters”, when I logged in on the first day of class I was suprised by a new kind of vulnerability.  Several students in the class had private messaged me and confessed that not only was this their first online class, but that they were particularly anxious because they don’t like taking online classes.  Some explained further that they wanted to take the class on one of the university’s local on-ground branches, but were no longer able to do so because the class wasn’t offered on-ground.  These students made it clear that their preference was definitely for on-ground courses and asked for advice for taking online classes or leniency during the first week as they got used to it.

Interestingly, at the same time, I am also teaching at a small on-ground campus that will be closing at the end of the year.  The university will allow those students to continue via their online campus.  One night, I dedicated almost an hour at the end of the class allowing them to talk about it.  These students expressed concern that they wouldn’t be successful as they strongly preferred on-ground classes.

This takes a different spin than traditional “first time online” vulnerability.  It may be a stretch calling this a “trend” by any means, but it seems like in the push to increase enrollment across universities and to save money by closing up on-ground campuses, more students who would prefer to take on-ground classes are having to take their classes online.

We talk a lot about adult learners who seek online classwork because it fits their lifestyle and schedule.  But perhaps the voice of the learner who wants to take on-ground classes but finds those classes less available is getting lost in the shuffle.  Several of you have written to me concerned that we are moving away from the learner-centered approach to higher education and more toward an institution-centered approach.  I see both sides of this–I think institutions, especially the smaller private schools, are being forced in this direction lest they find themselves in financial trouble and not being able to provide education to their students at all.  Perhaps, in a way, by offering something rather than nothing they are attempting to be learner-centered, but not necessarily in a way that feels learner-centered to the student.

Another point that came up in some of my discussions with this community is that some on-ground instructors are being “forced” to teach online when they’d much prefer to teach on-ground.  This is an equally interesting phenomenon (dare I say trend) that perhaps we will discuss in later articles.

Some of you suggested that the hybridization approach might be the middle path here that satisfies the needs of all involved.  It does blend the best of both worlds and, as one community member suggested, perhaps going hybrid first before completely online will “diffuse the intolerance” for completely online coursework.  A gateway of sorts.  That makes sense to me.

Another concern expressed is that when students are “forced” to go online, it will harbor ill-will toward the institution and ultimately backfire with decreased retention rates.

Its a difficult situation for someone who enjoys teaching online and sees so many benefits of it for students.  But I think its important for us online educators to be aware of this sentiment among a select group of our students.  My tendency, at least in the past, has been to think of my online students as students who chose to be online.  Understanding that this might not be the case fosters a new kind of empathy.

What are your thoughts?  Are you noticing similar trends?  Any hypotheses as to the best solution?  Please comment below!

6 Responses to “The Forced Online Student?”

  1. Alice

    I haven’t been aware of resistance to online courses in my experience as an online adjunct instructor. I teach at a University that offers both ground and online programs, so students already have options to choose from. Adult students with jobs and families seem to prefer online courses because of the flexibility with busy schedules. My feeling is that there are still more programs that offer traditional learning rather than online degrees, so this should not be a pervasive problem for online educators.

    • Brooke Shriner

      That’s good to hear that its not necessarily a pervasive problem. I think that even when it happens in universities with both options, it doesn’t happen all the time. Perhaps not a trend, but something that may happen in some environments.

  2. Charlie Liebert

    I teach the same course both traditional and OnLine. The online students have to do much more work than the traditional and some of them complain about it. For example it is a Business Law class, so we do at least one case every week. In traditional we complete in class and they’re done. The online students have to post twice for each case. Once to respond to the case and again to react to the court’s action. It’s twice as much work for me and the student. I get paid the same and the students get the same credit. That seems inequitable.

    • Brooke Shriner

      Yes, that may be the complaint of a lot of “forced” online students. They tend to do better in classes that aren’t as writing heavy, but rather depend on their presence and verbal participation. But, when the class they need is only offered online, they find themselves in the vulnerable position of having their weaknesses exposed.

  3. Derek Vladescu

    Though I’m not yet an instructor, but in grad school and tutoring part time, I have not yet dealt with the option of teaching an online class, nor have I taken an online class, for that matter. It must take a bit of getting used to, and perhaps require a slightly different skill set/competency in order to succeed. Some of the advantages are clear – location, time and resource flexibility – but I imagine something is lost if you are not seeing and hearing your instructor and the other students. I would like to ask, if you can answer, whether any online classes these days offer a Skype-like connection between student-student and/or student-instructor. I would also like to hear, if possible, some pros and cons of the online teaching/learning experience and why it has been a positive one for you. Thank you in advance!

  4. Brooke Shriner

    Yep, a lot of instructors use Skype for office hours and 1:1s. I’ve found online teaching a positive experience as it has given me flexibility to enjoy teaching while maintaining my clinical work (I’m a psychology adjunct and a practicing psychologist). I’ll echo what you say here–a lot of the “cons” of online teaching fade away once you have some experience under your belt. A lot of the angst comes at the beginning, for both students and instructors. I think those skills/comptencies can be built over time and the insitution should support that learning curve.


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