There is no question that the work of an online student can be challenging at times. There are deadlines to meet and expectations that must be accomplished in a manner that may or may not be easy to do. Part of the challenge is trying to determine what each instructor expects and that can feel frustrating at times. As the class progresses students know where they stand with regard to their cumulative grade, and by the end of class the final outcome of their work is reflected in the course grade.
This perspective of how the class is conducted, and the manner in which grades are determined, is not entirely correct and the reason why many students are unhappy with the final course outcome. Students should understand what it means to be involved in the learning process and that the grade they receive is the grade they have earned. Grades are not assigned without justification and students are responsible for the outcome received. What needs to be established for each and every student is an understanding and acceptance that they are accountable for every aspect of their performance in class.
Expectations: Realistic, Unrealistic
When students are new to a college environment they have an expectation about the learning process based upon their mandatory education that began in elementary school. This conditioned them to a belief that learning occurs in one manner and therefore it takes time to change that view, especially since traditional college classes are still instructor-led. When students first start a college course their perception meets the reality of an environment that is different and students must learn to adapt or they will struggle throughout that class. With online learning the classroom doesn't feel "real" at first and this too takes time to become acclimated to it.
What can be even more challenging are the expectations that students often hold or what they expect to receive as a result of their involvement in the learning process. Some students expect that hard work deserves a good grade. Some students expect that if they earn an "A" in a prior class, then that should be the same outcome in this new class. Another expectation for some students involves the way they write. If they have never been challenged to write differently, then they wonder why they should change now just because one instructor indicates that they should. The problem with many expectations like this is that it gets in the way of learning, leads to a mindset that becomes inflexible, and can cause them to develop a negative attitude towards their instructor.
The Process of Learning
While going to school can be challenging, ask yourself this question: isn't that the point of learning? You decided to go to college because you want to acquire knowledge - perhaps for a specific job or career. This means you do not currently possess the knowledge or skills that you need. The next question is this: how can you learn if you are not challenged in some manner? If you were given discussion questions to answer, how else could an instructor interact with you and guide the development of your thoughts about a topic? The same is true for written assignments - that is your opportunity to share what you know and demonstrate your ability to use skills that include critical thinking and proper academic writing. You don't start a degree program in the same place you will end. You will be transformed as you acquire knowledge, develop various academic skills, and achieve completion of your goals. To learn is to be directly involved in a productive and meaningful manner.
What Your Instructors Expect
The first expectation your instructors hold is that their students want to be involved and engaged in their classes, and willing to be responsible for their performance in class. This is not what students always believe about themselves though. Students may wait until they can determine what their instructor is like before they become fully involved. There is a belief by some that each instructor makes up their own class, which includes the rules, standards, policies, and procedures - and in reality that is rarely the case. Online instructors usually work with a pre-built course and policies they cannot change. What will vary among instructors is their teaching style. Many instructors will be very detailed in their involvement with the class and the feedback provided, and others not so much. Regardless of the level of engagement by the instructor, students are expected (as a general rule) to think for themselves, be responsible for meeting the requirements and deadlines, and take full acceptance of (or be held accountable for) the outcomes received throughout the class. Every student is fully responsible for their grade whether or not they are happy with it.
Develop a Mindset of Responsibility
#1. Know the Rules, Read the Guidelines - Are you familiar with the saying that "ignorance of the law is no excuse"? The same applies for your work as a student. Visit the school website and read everything you can find out about student responsibilities, which usually includes a code of conduct. When you are in your class, read the course syllabus and everything posted by your instructor so that you are informed.
#2. Ask Questions Any Time You Are Unsure - Don't make assumptions about what is expected of you as a student. If you are uncertain or feel that you are unclear, now is the time to ask questions. You don't want to wait until the end of class to ask your instructor for clarification. Waiting to seek assistance and cause you to experience unnecessary anxiety or negative feelings because it may mean you have to re-adjust your beliefs and personal productivity habits.
#3. Read and Re-Read All of the Feedback Received - Instructors spend a significant amount of time developing feedback and for those who are very detailed in their approach they invest even more time - and it is all done for your benefit and focused on your developmental needs. Their evaluation of your work can help you to transform and grow as a student. It is one resource you need to always take advantage of in every class you take.
#4. Make the Time to Do Your Very Best - If you want to wait until the last minute to work on an assignment, what do you believe the outcome will be? It will likely be different than the outcome received for an assignment that was carefully planned for and worked on in advance. You cannot perform at your peak if you are in a hurry and unable to pay attention to the details. By the end of the course, your grade will be a direct reflection of the time and effort you have put into your class.
#5. Keep Your Attitude in Check - If you receive feedback or a grade you did not expect, what do you do? Do you approach your instructor and demand a better outcome or express your disappointment in an aggressive manner? The answer is no because it does not serve you well. Instead, approach your instructor with an attitude you want to learn, and ask questions that are relevant to what you can do to improve your performance. Your attitude can either help to establish a productive working relationship or it can get in the way - and you are in control of it.
Holding Yourself Accountable
Being a responsible student is a fairly easy concept for most students to understand, even though they may expect of latitude based upon their personal circumstances and situation. But it is accountability that is even more challenging to accept as a student. I've worked with students who often believe that grades "happen" to them, which means they have little control about the outcome. This is a misconception based upon a lack of awareness about being held accountable for every work product (discussion questions and written assignments) posted or submitted. Another misconception is that students can speak to their instructor in any manner and without any consequences. Once again, students are accountable for all of their actions and those actions produce outcomes.
Students must decide early on that they accept their results whether or not it was to their liking - and regardless of how they feel about their instructor. The best possible approach is to maintain an attitude of responsibility and work with your instructor to achieve the best possible outcome. That places you in a position of control. You are always in control but you give away your power when you decide to feel helpless and unwilling to change. The process of learning can be very enjoyable and rewarding even when it stretches you beyond your current comfort level. Enjoy that uneasy feeling because it is only a temporary indicator of change. As you develop new skills and acquire new knowledge you will discover you are capable of completing any goal that you set for yourself. Learning requires you to be responsible for your performance and held accountable for the results or outcomes.
Dr. Bruce A. Johnson is an online college professor, faculty workshop facilitator, faculty mentor, faculty peer reviewer, career coach and professional writer. Dr. J authored four books, including Skills and Strategies Online Students Need: Written by an Online College Professor.
To sign up for a free educator resources newsletter and learn more about the books and resources available from Dr. J, including a brand new career coaching program, please visit: http://www.affordablequalitywriting.com
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