June 3, 2008

Can you read now? How about now?

Posted in student stories tagged , , at 11:45 am by profart

One of the important skills needed for taking on line courses is reading comprehension. Without excellent reading comprehension skills, you are kinda screwed, because most of the course is reading your textbook and discussing the material there. You don’t get a lot of lecture time, though with advances in storage and bandwidth at my college, I am working on putting up lots more small presentations. Even in live courses, you need to be able to read and discuss ideas from the textbook(s). We didn’t assign this stuff for our health, guys; we assigned it for yours

A big red flag for lacking this skill is not being able to read and understand the syllabus. Now, granted, my syllabus has turned into a three-page nightmare plus outline of topics. There is a lot in there, but there is a lot in three pages of the textbook, too. I include all sorts of important things in there, like how to navigate the class, when the exams and assignments are due, how to submit them, etc. 

Additionally, we are now entering week three of a summer class. If you haven’t figured this stuff out by now, you’re in trouble. Yet every semester, this is the week I get snowed in with emails to the effect of “I didn’t know this was due!”, “When are the exams due?”, and “Why did I get an “F” for participation?” In the summer, I often get the addition of “I have to be out of town during Exam Week. What should I do?”

SI usually send back polite if brief replies with appropriate answers giving them the information they need and reminding them that the syllabus addresses these issues. I have some students who take issue with the reminder, but after all, that syllabus isn’t for my health… 

As for the extra summer request for being away during the exam week? There is only one choice: “Arrange and alternate proctor, or drop the class.”



  1. Susan Felix said,

    While reading comprehension skills are important for an online course, I would expect any college student to have this capacity whether online or not. Perhaps you should consider that one challenge your students are facing is actually interpretation, not comprehension. Furthermore, technology literacy affects comprehension of online content.

    I am an educator as well, and I sympathize with questions that have already been answered. However, I am also a graduate student who has taken three online courses. In my opinion, one reason your syllabus has ballooned in length is because in an online course, the instructor must be much more explicit in his directions. We both share the same intolerance for excuses, but familiarity of the technology may be mistaken as lack of reading comprehension and effort.

    Consider this question. As a live instructor, would you be more apt to give the class reminders of due dates at the end of a session? Do you expect more independence in an online class, even if those were the same students?

  2. profart said,

    I use the same syllabus in my live courses that I use online. The “ballooning” was due to issues I actually encountered first in live classes. This included increasingly explicit explanation of required assignments (when I was in school, every prof I had told us we had a paper due at the end of the semester, it should be so many pages, see you then. We all turned our papers in, already understanding that papers needed to be notated, include a bibliography and illustrations that were NOT part of the page count, that using a big font was a no-no, and we were required to come up with our own topic. Now all of that must be stated in a syllabus! If there was an exam, we were told the date, and the format [essay/multiple choice/short answer], if we were in a “tough” course, we got a review of some kind. Anything covered in lecture or reading was fair game, even if it was a footnote. Now they want to know what the questions will be, which exact pages they will be drawn from, which exact images will be on it. Gone are the days even of “here’s a slidelist”. Every detail must be spelled out.)

    As an online instructor, I have regular due dates for each assignment. EACH and EVERY assignment is due on SUNDAY. This includes exams, quizzes, participation, whatever. If it is Sunday, you’d better make sure you’ve done your work for the week. At the beginning of the semester, this is stated on the syllabus, to which they have continued and unabated access. It is stated in the Powerpoint presentation orientation, to which they have continued and unabated access [and which in large red letters on one slide states: I DO NOT ACCEPT LATE WORK.] They take a quiz to make sure they have read the syllabus, and they must take this quiz until they get a 100% on it. Included in that quiz are questions: When are your assignments due? When is your Midterm due? When is your Final due? (all covered also in the syllabus and orientation.) Each assignment, when you open it, includes a reminder of when it is due in the instructions. The Midterm and Final also include this information in the description. I also include a due date reminder in the information sheets I provide for the midterm and final, and I announce where these information sheets are in the announcements when they become available.

    Are you seriously telling me I should, say, email each and every student on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday and remind them they have something due? Should I announce every day, every other day, once a week “Don’t forget your assignment!”???

    I provide continued and unabated access to these materials for a reason- so if they forget something, they can look it up. Unlike a live course, the online student has the advantage of not worrying about losing these important documents. They are preserved for them online, to be examined at will.

    College students are, with rare exception, adults with high school diplomas or the equivalent. I believe that consulting a constantly available document which they have proven that they can find and read is a skill that I should be able to expect from all students taking a college course.

    Also, it is stated in my syllabus- as a problem from online courses- that students are expected to be computer literate. Students who are not able to function in an online environment are ill advised to take online classes. Our Distance Learning offers many orientation sessions- LIVE sessions as well as online ones- to help students be able to navigate the software and hardware necessary for completing a course.

    I see nothing out of line in expecting a student taking an online course to be able to use the software and hardware necessary to do so. If I had a student in a live class, I would expect them to actually come to the class. It is a basic necessity in taking a live class to be physically present in some way, even if by two-way camera (just seeing me talking is not enough; you need to be able to ask questions in some way). I don’t see why I should expect less of an online student than meeting the basic requirements for taking an online course.

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