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Reflections on Unfiltered Student Feedback on an Online Course

Last year, I sent two of my online courses through the Quality Matters process. Both my ENG 101 and my ENG 102 courses are now officially Quality Matters certified, and my ENG 101 is serving as the shell for our new English adjuncts. The point, as most of you know, of QM is to ensure that students are getting the best possible course–a course that well-designed and in which the learning activities clearly address the learning outcomes.

Even with all of the time and effort it took to create QM certified courses, I still look at them each semester and find things I can do to make them better.  As the semester progresses, I get feedback from students (a link is bad, a due date is off, etc), which I turn around to make changes that will improve the course. I also get feedback and ideas from other instructors that I incorporate–continuous improvement!

When the late start 8 week session of ENG 101 started last Monday, I was privileged to add yet another level to my course design assessment. My daughter decided to enroll in the course, so I get a birds-eye view of a student working to navigate through my course for the first time. Unlike other students who might be shy about commenting when they are confused, I get to hear unfiltered feedback. 😉

Her first comment was that my amazing, beautiful course did not look anything like any of the other courses she had taken and it was confusing. (What?!) This was a clear reminder that those instructions on the first page of the course that tell students things that we think are self-explanatory are really important! It wasn’t my pretty Canva images that she noticed, but the lack of continuity with other courses she had taken. Once I showed her how to access the modules, she was fine. Phew! But what about students who don’t get to sit one on one with someone who can guide them along? Does the video I post on the front page of the course do the job? Evidently not! (I enjoyed being a peer mentor to a great instructor in fire science last spring–they are working on giving all of their online courses a similar look so that students know what to expect from any fire science course. I think this is a great idea! Even if all of our YC courses aren’t exactly the same, if folks in the same discipline can come up with a similar look and feel, this might help ease student anxiety about online courses.)

And then something interesting happened–all the assignments for Week One closed about 6 hours early. The Syllabus states that assignments will close at 11:59pm on Thursday. My daughter is in high school, and last week was the last week of the soccer season. Thursday was senior night, so she planned to submit her paper and her last few discussion posts when she got home. Unfortunately, everything was locked at 5:59pm. She was in a panic! Thankfully, her instructor came through and unlocked the assignment.  Of course, it is up to the instructor to decide on due dates and times, but changing times the week an assignment is due can be scary for students. (This was a good reminder that students depend on us to follow through on what we say. If assignments are due at a certain time, we shouldn’t be changing dates at the last minute. Many of our students have families, jobs, etc, and they plan their school time around their lives. The more we do to keep our assignments consistent, the more confident students will feel.)

One final thought…one of the things I always try to do is to give students clear information about how each assignment will be graded. Discussions are graded, for the most part, based on how often they participate. If I see too many “I agree.” posts, they might lose points. All papers are graded with a rubric that students can see when they look at an assignment, and I encourage them to use the rubrics as a checklist prior to submitting papers. If I were to throw in a requirement at the last minute, that would throw students for a loop. Not only would they be confused about why they didn’t get full credit for an assignment, but they would then be uncertain about how to proceed in the class. When I follow through on my promises (ie This is what I’m grading you on), students feel secure. If I throw in new requirements as I’m grading, they feel uncertain.

I learned all of this in the first week…I don’t know if I’m excited or scared about what else my daughter’s experience in my course will bring to light. I do know that my course will be the better for it. Thanks for reading!

Karen