Even though it’s been a while since I’ve posted an “unnecessary complications” commentary, I’ve still been encountering way too many completely ridiculous complications nearly everywhere I turn. Today, I’m going to write about one of the most aggravating issues that I’ve encountered while engaged in this online teaching stuff.
Some of you might recall a little over a year ago when I wrote about how I was getting a little suspicious of the online learning environment and its influence on student achievement. In short, that blog entry talked about how I was unimpressed at the amount of classes that the online college I work for allowed their students to take at a single time. Further, I’ve been continually unimpressed by the inability for my online students to write in an academically acceptable manner or conform to basic academic formatting standards. Frankly, my students are not great writers nor do they give a damn about the required academic formats (APA, MLA, etc) when submitting their papers.
And still – as aggravating as those issues may be to an educator, believe it or not the focus of this article is something different! Today, my unnecessary complication is the with the attitudes of my online learners. To put it succinctly, these students don’t understand the first thing about the teacher/student relationship! Actually, there is a second annoyance that I’ve been encountering with my students which has to do with their inability to comprehend the nature of the online learning environment, but let me bitch about the teacher/student relationship first!
I’ve been continually amazed at how poorly prepared for the advanced learning environment some of my online learners are when my classes start. Now granted, I’m not talking about the entire class of students nor am I referring to even half of the class. However, at least 10% to 15% of each class that I teach is comprised of students who do not understand their role in the teacher/student relationship. Let me define that a little bit more…
I do not expect my students to be rote learners like we’re all stuck in the 1950’s or something. Instead, I expect my students to understand that they are not my customers – they are my students. This is a big topic of discussion in the higher education circles: whether the people who sit in the classrooms are customers/consumers or students. And, to my great disappointment, the trend is pushing more towards students being viewed as customers instead of seekers of knowledge or impassioned learners.
This is a big problem.
Defining a student as a consumer puts the student in a position to believe (incorrectly) that they can control the flow of work in the class (homework and weekly assignments) or the requirements for passing the class (grading metrics and evaluation rubrics). Why does this happen? Well, it happens for the same reason that, as a consumer, you can bitch and moan to your local auto mechanic and get your bill lowered. Namely… the customer is always right!
Exacerbating this problem is that this customer/teacher relationship just doesn’t work well in online learning (or higher education in general). In fact, it is the job of the college to tell these “customers” when they are dead wrong. At some point I hope to write a longer piece on this blog about how creating the customer vs. student scenario has led to the painful destruction of what should be a great American academic system. For now, though, my focus is on how some of my students believe that they can dictate my grading schedule. It’s outrageous! I had a student e-mail me two weeks before the class ended to tell me that he expected his final grade to be completed within 12 hours of his final paper being submitted (which was due the following weekend) because he needed to report his grade to the company that funds his education. After laughing out loud, I e-mailed the student back and explained that there is a ten day period between when the final student work is submitted and the final grades are due and that he should expect to see his final grade at some point towards the end of that ten day period.
He began e-mailing me every single day about his final grade. The student started contacting me one day prior to the class ending through the middle of the ten day period, which was when I had completed my final grading and submitted his grade for posting. Luckily, the online university was on my side in this debacle because – believe it or not – the student had been contacting the university daily, too!
For the last course that I taught, I had five or six of these unnecessary student complications. Again, all of this stems from the idea that the student is a customer and not a person being evaluated for his or her academic capabilities.
To finish up, the other item that annoys me about the online learning environment is the lack of online learners to understand how this arrangement is supposed to work. The best example that I can give is the students themselves – these are good people who, for one reason or another, could not attend college during the traditional time in one’s life where they would attend college (right after high school or a few years after high school ended). Maybe they started a family, maybe they took over the family business, maybe they had a job in the trades and are only now going back to get a degree – whatever the case, these folks are typically hard-working, already employed people on crazy schedules.
And I totally respect that fact. In fact, I encourage more people who are not of the traditional college age to seek out methods to procure college degrees.
What shocks me, though, is that these online learners don’t take a minute to do the least bit of research on the people who teach their classes because if they did – surprise, surprise – they’d find out that their professors are in the same boat! We’re typically teaching at two or three universities and, in my case, I’ve got a variety of jobs and volunteer positions that take up all of my time. In other words, when I have a “customer” student complaining that they want their grade to be submitted first and ten days earlier than the rest of the class, it makes me want to punch the wall. There’s an arrogance – an ignorance of reality – in that request. There’s a certain, “I’m in charge and I’m paying you for my degree so fork over what I want, when I want it – NOW!” in that type of request.
It’s unacceptable and I hope that my fellow online teachers are approaching these problems the same way that I do – with the knowledge that we have an obligation to uphold the academic standards of our institutions and thus we need to be sure that the teacher/student relationship as well as the teaching environment are both preserved and respected.