Wanted: YOUR Distance Learning Experiences (Students and Teachers)

I’d like to get some feedback about (Undergrad/Grad level) Distance Learning. I’d like to hear from both those who have taught distance education classes and those who have taken distance education classes.

I hope to get as much information as possible, so please direct folks to this post and ask them to help by leaving their own experiences in the comments.

If for some reason, you have experiences you would prefer to keep private, please email me: karyn@stay-curious.com and I will keep your comments confidential.

I will make this easy. Just 2 questions.

1. What did you like most about the distance learning course that you took/taught? Please avoid the obvious answers: “I didn’t have to be on campus” or “I could do it at my own pace/time.” Instead, think about how the teacher-student(s) interaction worked, the user interface, or options that worked better online than in a classroom.

2. What did you dislike (i.e. what really drove you crazy?) about the distance education course? You can be specific to a particular class, or to the entire experience (or both).

Please include in your comment if you were a student or a teacher. Feel free to add more comments, suggestions, etc.

Thank you for helping!

9 thoughts on “Wanted: YOUR Distance Learning Experiences (Students and Teachers)

  1. Hannah Faith

    1. As a teacher, I like being able to cut out busy work from my students’ life. Each week, we only do what’s necessary to fulfill objectives – we don’t have to fill specific time requirement like we would in a traditional classroom.

    This may not be true for those who teach large online classes, but for me, I feel like I am teaching ten individuals instead of a class of ten. The benefit of this, is I am able through emails and chats to engage with each student and help them see this as a journey together. In a traditional class, many students get lost in the back of the classroom – online there is no “back row” and everyone is eligible for the same amount of attention.

    2. Motivation is extremely tough to accomplish over distance. It’s impossible to hand out small goodies as rewards, and my students are not as excited about extra credit opportunities when I’m not face to face with them.

  2. luke

    Student. I have only taken one course online (Inter Cultural Communications).

    The thing I liked the most was being able to mull over the topic questions, do some research and try and come up with an informed opinion on the subject that we were discussing.

    The ability to have on demand access to the Internet and other provided multimedia was also very nice.

    The thing that I didn’t like was the lack of participation of the other students. Since the class was focused around discussions I was expect more thoughtful responses especially given the amount of time to give a response. Instead I found that I was treated with a one sentence “I don’t agree” and that was considered “participation”. It was almost like they translated over their in-class discussion technique into writing.


  3. Brandon

    Some random thoughts:

    I teach at least one course online per term for Winebrenner. I also chair of the Online Education Committee and work as liaison for ATS. Online education is increasingly becoming a mix of distant and local education these days, so it isn’t always a given that the student is a distant learner. However, the experience is generally the same if the student doesn’t really show up on campus as a result.

    We use Blackboard. Before I began heading up this discussion at Winebrenner, we had professors using tools all over the map (just email, blogs, Facebook, etc.). Students complained about having too many systems to learn, so we streamlined it. Blackboard does have its benefits and downfalls, though it has the essentials.

    The biggest thing I hear from students is that the work load is heavier. This is intentional on the professors part, because it can be easier for students to disappear online. So we generally try to keep them active with weekly assignments. For the professor who really wants to teach, this also becomes a lot more work. Just being creative online can require a lot more time in finding podcasts, creating your own podcasts, writing lectures, finding videos, etc. If you teach the same course on campus, you can upload MP3s of your classes, but it is not nearly as gripping for the online student. (Maybe wasn’t for the on campus student either.) What I’ve seen is the need to keep it diversified in what you have them do and what tools you use.

    Some professors immediately jump to the chat room form of online education, which can be helpful, but when you have a mix of students, not all can keep up with the reading and typing at the same time. So it generally works to have a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous methods.

    What I like about online education is that it allows for flexibility of schedule and the ability to interact with students who would otherwise forget an education completely for lack of opportunity. Also, since I basically live online, have been designing websites, blogs, etc, for a living for several years, it comes naturally to me. While I like the traditional classroom best—since it allows me to interact with students personally—the online environment can reflect the traditional classroom experience when done correctly.

    What I dislike is the occasional overload of work—you really have to watch your inbox. I have to constantly remind myself to keep a balance. I also get a bit frustrated by the lack of computer savvy that students may have. I was surprised by this.

    It can get tricky. Doing exams online, for example, require some rules that take into account the real possibility of cheating. (Especially when Google is at your fingertips.)

    Email me if you want to talk some more, that is, unless I’ve missed the mark here and gone off topic.

  4. Ros

    I suppose I technically am a distance student at the moment, but it’s a different experience from taking classes. I just read through Brandon’s comment and I wanted to point out that ‘distance’ can mean different things especially with the use of modern technology. At HTC, for instance, although students are very spread out across the highlands and islands, they do attempt recreate the classroom experience by offering live video-conferencing facilities across all their sites. So although students are not physically sitting next to each other, they are all listening to the lecturer at the same time and interacting with him and each other directly. As I say, I haven’t done much of this – just a couple of more informal discussions with two or three students working on the Song – but it does seem to work pretty well, so long as the tech stuff doesn’t fail. And it’s closer to the standard classroom learning environment than it is to the online methods Brandon’s talking about, I think. There is still the problem of isolation outside the classroom – discussions about assignments and so on can only take place via email/forums etc.

  5. luke

    The biggest thing I hear from students is that the work load is heavier. This is intentional on the professors part, because it can be easier for students to disappear online. So we generally try to keep them active with weekly assignments.

    Yes, there was TONS more work in the online course versus any other in-room class I’ve ever taken. What I don’t like about that though is that it seems that there is some preference given to those who attend in real body, as if they don’t have to put as much effort in because they have the free time to attend the lecture in person. For example, I took my class online because I had no time to attend the time slots for the class I needed due to a full-time work schedule and family (new born kids, and wife time… etc), but even though I’d “make” time to do the homework and watch/read whatever I was expected to learn about it felt as if I was a second class citizen compared to any other course I’ve taken.

    I truly understand not wanting to lose students — to verify that they are working, but isn’t there some other way to do that besides creating more work — like somehow requiring more in-depth discussion on Blackboard to make sure the student grasps the topic and can articulate their point? I’m sure there are many more ideas out there that are much better then anything I can come up with.

  6. Karyn Post author

    Thanks, Luke, for your comments!

    Another thing that affects all this is whether you take the class online as an individual or as a cohort. In other words, are you expected to interact with other students and move through the material together, or do you do the work in isolation?

    Accountability (getting work done and also the cheating issue) is something that we need to find ways to handle better.

    I agree, online students should not be second-class citizens!

  7. Margaret

    The class I just took this summer–Western Civ.–handled the testing challenges mentioned by Brandon by making the quizzes extremely specific; if you had put in your time and did the work, they were really rather straightforward; if you hadn’t, they’d have been a torturous pain in the butt.
    Also, I felt our instructor placed a greater priority on written essays than quizzes, which I liked very much. They weren’t just summaries–you had to have a working knowledge of the material as a starting point, and then make an intelligent observation/comparison/connection/question, etc. You had to have something to say!!
    I think this, for me, prevented the other issue raised about feeling like a second-class student. I felt like I had a voice, and was respected in my online classroom when I was well-prepared and evidenced clear thought processes.
    This is not so easily accomplished in a traditional classroom–there isn’t time for everyone to make a complete presentation of an idea from beginning to end, and those who enjoy that process enough to contribute frequently look like brown-nosers.
    I think that summarizes what I liked best about my online experience: it give me a chance to really dig in to the material and make contributions frequently, without feeling like I was being a prig or taking time from other people.

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