In a recent conversation with a friend who’s teaching an online course for her university,* she commented that she’ll probably get really bad student evaluations again this summer, as she has in the two previous summers in which she’s taught online classes. “I’m not a body to them,” she said, and therefore she thinks that the students feel freer to rip into her in their evaluations. (Of course they may also be venting some frustration with the online course format itself, although they may not know enough about online classes and what they can expect from their instructors.)
It sure makes sense to me that much of the humor in the classroom–quotidian small talk before class starts, questions about a student’s health, expressions of concern for their well-being, banter about university politics or sports teams, asking for student opinion on a local issue, dumb jokes by the professor–well, all of that is pretty much drained out of online courses. I hadn’t really thought about this until my friend made her observation about how much lower she’s rated in her online courses versus her F2F courses, but I think much of this kind of communication between students and instructors, and vice-versa, and among the students themselves–all of this non-content related, non-subject relevant communication is going to have a major impact as to how a student experiences a class emotionally.
Whether or not they feel safe expressing themselves, asking questions of the instructor, and talking over ideas with fellow students is going to be directly related to how they feel about a class. And as I’ve learned (in some cases the hard way), how students feelabout a class is really important when it comes to their ability and willingness to learn, to exert themselves, and to take intellectual risks. What do youse guys/vous/y’all think about this? (The lack of a second person plural in modern English is vexing.) If you’ve taught both online and F2F courses, have you noticed the same phenomenon in your course evaluations? If you’ve taken an online course as a student, what do you think about the “atmosphere” or emotional temperature of your virtual classroom? Fill me in.
*My friend had other telling stories about her online course this summer, which I think reveal a great deal about how students approach online classes. She said that she had one student who was constantly complaining about the workload in the course, explaining that he has a full-time job and so doesn’t have the time that she was expecting him to put into his coursework. This I think reveals that many students believe that online courses should earn them college credit without doing college-level work. She had another student in the class submit his final research paper after just 2 weeks into a six week course. She expressed concern that they hadn’t covered all of the relevant (and required) elements that should be in his final project, but he blithely explained that he was really busy this summer so he had to work ahead, because ideally he’d like to get the class done with as soon as possible. Yes, because clearly a six week course is just too much of a time commitment.
(Clearly, these students should run for CU’s Board of Regents!)
Both of these stories reinforce my sense that online courses are being marketed as getting something for nothing (“why go to class, deal with traffic, pay for parking, just to have to listen to a boring professor when you can earn a college degree in your jammies at home?). Never do we hear any sensible talk about how students get out of college what they put into it, and institutions refuse to initiate these conversations as they are profiting by enrolling the students who are probably doomed to get nothing out of online courses–no credit, no learning, nothing but debt.