Week 16: Our Students Online

As a graduate of this program from last year’s cohort, I can honestly say this section was one of the most educational for me. As you read through the samplings from this week I think many of you might be astounded at all of the assumptions so commonly made by both F2F and online instructors. I say this as someone who definitely made those assumption myself, so don’t feel alone as you read and find yourself going, “Well, heck that makes a lot of sense!” 🙂 For example, one connection I noticed between “College Students on the Web” and the “ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students” was that so many people simply assume that students are “technology wizards” (Nielsen), when in fact their knowledge of the technology WE need them to be proficient in to do well in our online courses might actually be very minimal. I was reminded, harshly, of this over the summer when I taught a remedial writing course at Cal State San Marcos. The class was a F2F class, but designed as an online course…go figure. We had five weeks together in a computer classroom and the majority of the student work was completed online via our CMS, Moodle. My POT training came flooding back to me as my students, two weeks out of high school, sat down to their computers looking at me, their first ever college professor, with their big doe eyes filled with fear! Their first task was to write a paragraph in Microsoft Word and email it to me as an attachment. I was struck by the number of students, about 14 out of 20, who did not know how to save a file in Microsoft Word as a .doc instead of a .docx. I was further surprised that the majority had difficulty saving to their computers and then finding the file again to attach it to the email. Finally, I was most surprised that students genuinely did not understand how to name files. They often didn’t name them at all, instead allowing Word to simply use the first word of the file as the name. That’s all well and good if you do not begin every single file with the same word – your first name- as they were. It became obvious to me within the first two hours that this remedial writing class was also a remedial computer class, and my fellow colleagues who were teaching the other sections of this class encountered the same problems. The Dean, upon hearing of the strange first day we all had, simply said, “Well, whatever they ended up learning, although it might not have been our plan, was obviously something they needed to learn.” These issues have been built into this summer’s course schedule as we now realize our incoming Freshmen are not the tech wizards we thought they were. I must re-iterate, this was a F2F class that allowed me to walk around from computer to computer and walk the students through every step and allowed them to ask me questions in real-time. We do not have this luxury as online instructors and unless we plan for those types of scnearios, we may end up losing connections with some of our students before the class really ever gets off the ground. As you read this week’s readings, although there will be an emphasis at times on college Freshmen, teenagers, and other young students, remind yourself that our online students are often NOT from these demographics. Our online students are often returning students who are working full time as many of us, are retired, are returning or even active military, are not necessarily computer literate let alone technology literate, and sometimes they are excited to take an online class and at the very same time they are terrified of it – say nothing of how they feel about the actual subject they are enrolled in. You’ll be asked to write a FAQ this week. Consider the reading carefully before developing it, and then, after getting some amazing feedback from your classmates, save it somewhere safe where you can get to it and use it for your real online classes. It will prove to be a very practical and useful tool for you and for your students. It is a pleasure to virtually “meet” all of you! Erica