The Waiting Room

This could take a while...

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


Posted by Seeking Solace |

I got an email from a student in my online class. The email was very short.

"Professor Seeking Solace, I don't understand anything. I am so frustrated and I don't want to fail."

I responded with "Can you be more specific?" This lead to a back-and-forth conversation in which the student complained that he did not understand how to upload the homework to the online site or how to take the quizzes. I asked him if he had completed the online training before starting the course.

His response? "Not really."

After a few choice curse words, I emailed the student reprimanding him for not completing a vital part of the course. Then, I reminded him that the login page for the course has videos that give step-by-step instructions on how to navigate the online course. I also told him that I would allow him to make up the homework and quizzes; however, I would assess a one letter grade penalty and he would have to complete them on the date I assign for completion. I told him that I would work with him to make sure that he is progressing through the course.

Pretty generous on my part, don't you think? I threw this student a huge lifeline that I would not normally throw. Usually, I would say "Sucks to be you. You better get your ass in gear, if you are going to have a decent chance of passing MY class." I figured if he was really serious about doing well in my course, he would jump at my offer.

His response? "I just can't do it."

This response really pissed me off. It pissed me off because it's not that the student can't do it, I think he doesn't WANT to do it.  Otherwise, why not accept my offer?  I have three theories.

Pride and fear: I don't have enough fingers or toes to count the number of students who wait until it's too late to reach out for help. I ask them why they didn't come to me sooner? The usual response from the student is standard "I don't know", which I can quickly breakthrough to get to the real reason. It's usually pride or fear. Many see both as a sign of weakness. I constantly remind my students that no one can do college alone. No one can really get through life alone. We all have to ask for help sometimes. That's not being weak; it's being resourceful.

It's just easier to quit: I also think that this student has been allowed to quit any time something is too hard. No one has ever pushed him to stare down adversity and push through it. No one have ever said, before you give up, you need to exhaust all other remedies that are available to you. I think he is waiting for me to say "If something is too hard, you should just quit."

This student is not suited for online courses: Perhaps this student does not belong in an online class. There are those students for whom online learning is not the best environment. No everyone has the discipline and ability to self guide themselves in an online environment. There are those who thrive on instant feedback.

 Maybe, it's all three.

 I had posted quips about this situation yesterday on Twittter. A few folks commented about the overall issue of online preparation.  A few commented that they have the same problem with the lack of online preparation with their students. Some students brush it aside or think that it is not important. Students are supposed to certify that they have completed the training before starting the course. So, how do I know, other than their word, that this is the truth? I supposed I could create a quiz as part of the first week activities to test that theory. Then, thee are those students who are just not comfortable with the online learning environment.

I really don't know what the answer is regarding online preparation. As a PhD student in Education, it has sparked my interest for research, particularly with adult learners/non traditional students. I really wonder how the assumptions regarding online learning are actually helping or hindering students. I would like to research what procedures are in place for online instruction. I am sure there is some research out there.

Until then, as far as my student goes, I've done all I can do. He has to decide for himself how he wants to proceed. I've thrown him a life preserver. All he has to do is grab on and dog paddle a little. My offer has an expiration date of this Friday.

At the end of the day, it's up to him to save himself.


Wren said...

My daughter got her BA in marketing by taking her classes online, and she's now within a few months of getting her masters the same way. I'm very proud of her. She's done all of it while working at a high-pressure job full time. She would never have been able to do it if she'd had to go to a conventional college because of her job.

I'm not sure if I'd have the self discipline neccessary to do online courses. But it's great that they're an option now.

Seeking Solace said...

First, congrats to your daughter. I know from my own experience how hard it can be to work full time and go to school.

I am not suggesting that online learning is not an option. I am glad that your daughter has that option. For many students, online education is the only option because of work or family circumstances.

My concern is that I don't think it's an option for everyone. Like you, I would not do well in an online environment. I enjoy the sense of community that naturally occurs when students have an on ground class. Also, I worry that those students who are not grasping the material in an online class because it does not fit their learning style.