Dear Professor, I Really Enjoyed the Online Course But….

Some of the most worthwhile feedback for instructors is student responses on end-of-course surveys that give constructive suggestions. Analyzing student responses collectively from our end-of-course, anonymous surveys at the institution where I work reveals rich, qualitative data that helps us determine how we can better support students. In this post I share the patterns that emerged after we examined over 100 student response forms from our most recent session of fifteen general education courses [survey response rate was just over 60%].

The students’ voices jumped of the pages of data; students were loud and clear about what they want from their learning experience, which we categorized into two areas, 1) specific and constructive feedback from the instructor, and 2) active involvement within the online course through discussions and activities. This is not a scientific analysis per se, but other educators may find value in what students have to say and perhaps take away ideas to apply to their own online programs.

About the End-of-Course Survey
Our survey includes twenty questions: seventeen that are a mixture of multiple choice and Likert scale questions, and three open-ended response questions as follows:

  1. What did you like most about the course?
  2. What did you like least about the course?
  3. How could we improve the course?

Theme One: Students’ Want Instructor Feedback
Student responses suggested they want constructive and specific feedback from their course instructor, and the timing of the feedback is also critical. Quick turnaround times  on grading are crucial for courses with condensed time frames of eight to ten weeks where assignments build upon the other. Below are a selection of comments that are representative of the many.

  • “I felt that the professor could have communicated more critically on our assignments.”
  • “My personal preference would have been to receive more timely feedback regarding our written assignments. My preference is to receive feedback during the course than once the course is over.  Doing so provides the student with the necessary feedback and constructive criticisms that can be incorporated into the future assignment.”
  • “He [course instructor] was involved [in the discussion boards] but he did not get all of my grades back to me very quickly, especially the discussion forum grades. I did not get any of the three grades back for those until after I had finished all of them. He also did not participate very much in the class discussion forums. But he was …. great communicating with me individually.”
  • “I would like to have had feedback from the professor on my papers. I would get an email saying feedback on a certain paper can be seen, but when I would click on the link …. I would see my grade but no comments.“

Theme Two: Students Want Interaction
For the most part, students appear to want to interact in the online class. They want to be ‘active’ either through discussion forums, and/or class assignments that involve interaction such as a peer review assignments or collaborative assignments where groups create an essay or presentation.

However, the onus is on the course instructor to construct group assignments and discussions that result in quality exchanges that support the desired course learning outcomes. Students are sensitive to busy work, or assignments that don’t create meaningful learning. On the other hand, assignments may have the potential to be quality, but require the instructor’s guidance and involvement.

  • “It was hard to find study partners; I did miss the camaraderie of classmates.”
  • “I honestly do not like the forced discussion forum, though I understand that it is necessary. I have never liked forced discussions, they always feel fake, and usually leaves you trying to rehash something someone else has all ready said, because so many students can only come up with so many things pertinent to the topic at hand before things start to become repetitive.”
  • “It would be nice if the instructor were more active with the question board.”
  • “More wiki assignments and class activities would not only strengthen the student\’s knowledge by exposing him to the opinions of others, but also make the course more enjoyable.”
  • “I did not like the group project. It was very difficult to get a hold of my team mates. I would have preferred writing the essay on my own.” [Often group assignments require instructor involvement to ensure students participate].
  • “I enjoyed the group project and the discussion in the discussion boards.  I really had fun talking with the other classmates there.”
  • “The small amount of students in this course made it difficult to communicate and discuss things with them.” [Instructor involvement to get the discussion going with a small group may be needed].
  • “I honestly wasn’t expecting to like this class very much … I have taken a class from Dr. Smith [name changed] before [in a face-to-face setting], and he wasn’t my favorite teacher then, but his interaction through this course (which I think is more of ‘his element’) even helped me grow to enjoy him personally as a teacher more.” [This instructor has established his online presence successfully :)].

Analysis and Application
What is heartening after completing this analysis is recognizing that student responses suggest they are eager to engage in the learning process. Research also supports this fact, to students a course is a course regardless of its modality (Cavanagh, 2012 ).  We can consider teaching by the same token, teaching in the online environment in a structured course has the same goal as teaching face-to-face, albeit the methods are different. A different or modified set of skills set are needed by the instructor in the online environment, yet acquiring this skill set need not be a daunting process. Developing skills  can begin one class at a time with simple actions such as: asking for, then reviewing student feedback, monitoring student progress, trying new tactics, talking to colleagues, etc. The list goes on. If you have suggestions you would like to share with readers about what you have learned, please post a comment.

Reference:
Cavanagh, T. The Postmodality Era: How “Online Learning” Is Becoming “Learning,”  Chapter 16 in Game Changers (Diana Oblinger, ed.), EDUCAUSE Publications, May 2012.

6 thoughts on “Dear Professor, I Really Enjoyed the Online Course But….

  1. One of the best learning medium for students to learn their lessons was through group discussion. Grouping them and talking among their peers allow them to explore ideas other than them. And group discussions does not only mean physical groupings in the classroom. Nowadays, social media and online forum discussions plays a great part in most students lesson undertaking. Group discussion happen online and students discuss and exchange their lessons online. Relying on just textbooks and other conventional medium of instructions in this age of computers could make the lessons dull and uninteresting to them. Tools for educating them must also come into age with the newest advance internet technologies.

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  2. Amazing article – the issues discussed above are precisely the issues that my company is tackling with our LIVE learning platform – eProf.com. Please check out our platform! Would love to chat with anyone who is interested in what we’re doing.

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