Week 3 – Online, A Love/Hate Relationship

As midterm approaches, I reach a frustration point with online teaching and learning; yes, this seems to happen every semester.  Online math is tough.  If a student is not a strong reader, writer, or independent thinker, they are going to struggle with online learning; the phobia many students feel with mathematics compounds the issue.  Yet many of our students (even developmental) register for online classes.  Why you may ask?   Because it feels easier.

In our September math department meeting, a colleague from the Teaching and Learning Committee presented us with some data: I am sad to report we had a roughly 50% pass rate in online classes in the math department.  We are slightly better college wide (I don’t have the exact stats) and slightly worse in online developmental math courses.  So, as a department we wanted to do something -ANYTHING!!- about this and came up with some ideas to improve our online classes.

Flash forward to today – midterm and around the FTSE day.  I had 100% of my face to face college algebra (that’s 19/19 for you keeping stats) take the first exam; they are all passing the course as of right now.  For my online course, there are 3 I’ve dropped already for lack of participation and 10 who didn’t even take the exam.  For those keeping track, that is 33/46 or 71% take the first exam and I am unhappy to report not all that took the exam are passing.  As we struggle with success rates and completion rates across the college, I feel my hands are tied.  I do not know how to reach these students.  

Which brings me to my next point; I have several students who have no idea how to navigate my Canvas or MyMathLab+ site.  I met with an online student on Friday to help her prepare for her first exam and she had no idea where to access my lecture notes.  NO IDEA.  And I can tell you they are in multiple places and clearly labelled.  She also didn’t realize that the learning center had free tutoring.  I recieved three emails in the past couple of weeks with more students who did not realize the resources available for the class, including but not limited to lecture notes, learning center resources, and office hours.  
Before I point a finger at myself or have anyone point it at me, I want to state this is the course I am submitting for QM certification – here are the locations they can access all these pieces of information-

The syllabus.

Weekly announcements (both emailed and posted)

Canvas calendar notifications.

Syllabus quiz question (which 90% of my students answered correctly in the first week of class)

Note: I email students prior to the class, state in the syllabus, and ask in a different syllabus quiz question about checking email frequently (3-4 times a week).

Do I sound frustrated?  Do I have good reason?

A suggestion from our math department meeting in September was online orientation; we should test student time management and computer skills BEFORE they are allowed to take an online class.  Even if it drops enrollment, we have to be able to show a higher success rate.  And maybe these students would do as 66% in a study of a college with online orientation do, and that is sign up for face to face classes if they can’t pass the online orientation.  And as far as my job satisfaction (yes Tels, that was my survey with the job satisfaction comment), I am someone who demands higher standards and my students aren’t meeting them and making me feel I’m not meeting mine.  Which makes me not want to teach online, and I am not alone.  This is not a good cycle to start.  Please join with me and support online preparation courses.  There are a few ways we can approach this – we offer computer skills courses as part of orientation or an FYE course that is mandatory for students in their first year.  The other option is to offer this as a stand alone online course that students must pass before they can register for online classes.  My vision is 3-4 modules with pre and post tests that students can take on their own and for free.

Some of you may ask: an online orientation to online classes?  How can they learn to be online if they don’t know how to get or be online?  We can help them figure it out through video orientation or even a face to face opportunity where someone shows them the ropes.  

Right now we offer an optional “mini-course” through the tels department (that I didn’t know about until talking to Thatcher last week) that is optional.  It is really good!  My students this semester had no orientation to online, and I know now this was a mistake.  I currently have a start here page with a link to “resources for online learners”, some orientation videos that I don’t test them over, which I’m sure they don’t watch, and a course design that I think makes sense but probably doesn’t look like many of the other courses they are currently in.  I am set up in pages; some instructors use modules and the two systems look different.  So another idea is to develop consistency in our online courses; our math department is working toward this in developmental courses and I believe Lindsey sent out a template last week that would meet many QM standards.

This post is a request, a plea, and a bit of a soapbox.  If you have any suggestions, things to add, ways to help, or if you think I am full of it, please comment and let’s get some conversation going:)

4 thoughts on “Week 3 – Online, A Love/Hate Relationship

  1. For a while there was an assumption that traditional age students are “digital natives” who are comfortable with technology and, therefore, online as a learning model. We see that it’s not that simple. Our diverse student body is dealing with a mode of education that, like you say, requires communication and learning skills that need honing in order to succeed in a learning environment that is not intuitive.
    There is a movement to change this on some primary fronts: course design, and faculty and student preparation. I would say it takes all of them to create a great learning environment. Three’s the magic number! So, what’s it take to make a leap forward in a big way?
    There have always been voluntary learning and preparation options, and who does optional, again? The unicorns mostly, which kind of misses the target market. Enrollment barriers and Mandated standards are scary, but as you say, a better prepared students likely has a higher success rate. Better prep is helpful on all three fronts. Doing this takes some (!) work, and your post is a siren call for movement toward better success for everyone in our online environment. Do we possess the magic potion of intrinsic motivation?
    Next week bloggers will receive homemade cookies, in the great Conaway Tradition. It’s as extrinsic as it gets!

  2. Yes, it is the time to start looking at YC and ask some tough questions about our online world. One of the questions that we need to ask deals with the consistency of our course layouts within Canvas. On a college level we need to consider our course navigation, instructions, assignments, etc. Why? Because if I am a student with a full time job, family and go to school full time, the last thing that I need is for my 4-5 classes to be so different that I cannot keep track of them all. If courses are set up in a more consistent manner, then the likelihood of success is higher. Last time I checked, we want our students to succeed. The tough question is, are we willing to sacrifice our personal course design for that of a more consistent one? For any of you who have taken courses from our competition in the online world, what was different from their classes and the ones here at YC? Consistency in design layout. This is what QM is all about. Good job Andrea!


  3. I hear you! I have the same issues with my students. No matter how intuitive I think Canvas is, I’m finding that there are some students that have NO idea where to find things or how to navigate the course. The other problem, I’ve discovered, is that no matter how many videos, written instructions, etc. I post, it’s very easy for students to skip over them. That “Next” button is just too tempting. They browse my course like they browse the internet, and they miss things, unfortunately. I just try to keep sending class announcements, with links to the proper Canvas page, and upload important attachments. It’s time consuming, so I like the idea of having an orientation to online learning before they take the class. I think many students would be happy about this, too!

    1. Thank you all for your thoughtful replies to my plea. I am so excited about the direction we are going with consistency in courses and online orientation. And also excited someone is reading my blogs!!

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