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What Do Students Really Want?

written by: James Ballou•edited by: Heather Marie Kosur•updated: 5/27/2010

Instructors have a solid understanding of what their students need to know about class policies and instructor qualifications but where does this understanding come from? In an online class, instructors can become isolated. In this article, the author has students provide feedback on what they need.

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    Isolation in the Online World

    It is easy to get caught up in the daily functions in an online world, and the isolated nature of the teaching process can sometimes cause problems. One such issue is the idea that the instructor knows precisely what the students need to know or want to know. Recently, I asked myself why I provide the introductory information that I give my students and where I came up with the idea. I decided to do some research to determine if what I provide is what students really want. I was surprised by how much information I was leaving out.

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    Degrees and Qualifications

    When instructors create their syllabi, they often add more than just the basic facts for the class. My process is no different. I provide a bio with some additional information that I think students want or need but I learned something valuable in this activity---I was leaving out a number of important points that students wished they had.

    I had focused my bio on my professional skills, and, in my research, I found that this was not as important to students as I thought. Instead, I found that students wanted to know more about my degrees such as where I studied and the classes I took that pertained to the course I was teaching. In addition, students wanted to know about my qualifications to teach online. They wanted to know if I received training, and they wanted to know how much experience I had teaching online. These revelations were eye opening, and there were more.

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    One category that students wanted more information about was with regard to interacting with me. They wanted me to provide more information about my availability and stress that I wanted students to contact me. I always give my cell number to my students, but I discovered that students didn’t feel comfortable calling me because I had done a poor job convincing them that I was there to help and wanted to have them call me. The power disparity between student and faculty creates a significant communication barrier, and I realized through this process that I needed to do more to knock that barrier down.

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    Grading Policies

    One other comment category that stood out was related to my grading policies. My students wanted much more information than I was providing. They wanted to know more about my scoring methodology and whether I was flexible with assignments and due dates. I have fairly rigid standards in my class, so I assumed that the paragraph I dedicated to those issues was sufficient. Through this process, I learned that it was not. Even though I explained the requirements, the students wanted me to address the concepts of extra credit and makeup assignments even though I don’t allow either.

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    Continuous Improvement

    Taking the time to understand why I do the things I do as a teacher has been very instructive. I have also learned something more about my students' needs and expectations regarding my qualifications to teach them. Explaining my desire to have regular contact including cell phone calls is going to require some effort on my part to emphasize this option so that my students feel comfortable using it. The same is true with my grading policies. I have decided that I am going to try to turn this into a regular feature with my articles where I ask students what they want and have them critique my work. It is my belief that this effort will help identify weaknesses in my work and will help me be a better instructor overall.

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