After taking more than 300 hours as an online student, I developed the skill of reading my online instructors. As an online instructor for a decade now, I have a better understanding of the interaction between online students and their professors.
In virtual learning, the instructor is referred to as the facilitator. The word facilitator is more appropriate because this individual is facilitating your learning, and that is different from the instructors’ role in a face-to-face class. In fact, most of the online facilitators have little to do with building the curriculum for the class. The class is pre-built, and their role is to ensure you meet the requirements.
The First Week
During the first week, you can tell the expectations of the facilitator. If this person is participating intensely in the discussion questions, you must be prepared for someone that is going to expect the same from you. In online learning, students are expected to participate in threaded discussion questions (a.k.a., Discussion Board), and most colleges expect posting meaningful messages on 3-5 days. If the facilitator is exceeding expectations by being very participatory, you can expect she will require more of you.
Grading of Initial Assignments
When evaluating the general “difficulty” of the class, I look at how the facilitator graded my first week’s assignment. If the feedback is specific, such as using “Track Changes” in the MS Word document, you can expect a more intense class. In other words, the facilitator will not hesitate to give you the grade you earn because she is committing the time to review your assignments. It is difficult to challenge someone who is spending the time to meticulously review the quality of your work.
In some cases, facilitators are inundated with their day-to-day employment activities, and they might only provide a cursory look at your homework. When taking this approach, they will generally provide a general summary of your work, and the grade will be good. The point here is that they are mostly interested in you submitting the work on time, and hope that you paid attention to the requirements. If you have this type of facilitator, you can expect the class to be easier.
Develop a Consistent Approach
Regardless of the facilitator, you must have a consistent approach to each online class. Here are the musts:
- Read the expectations of the assignment. Know what you must submit.
- Review the syllabus for formatting requirements. If you are expected to write in APA Style (6th ed.), make sure you are prepared to do so. I recommend you buy the manual with spiral binding because it is easier to use, laying open much easier.
- Understand the implications of submitting work late.
- If you are provided with a rubric, align your assignment accordingly.
The bottom line is that you are responsible for the work that you submit. I often have students tell me they are 3.8 or 4.0 students. My response to them is that in this class they have to show me the quality of work that merits that GPA. As facilitators, we’ve heard that line so often that it is now funny and baseless.
You can vary your approach toward the class based on the type of facilitator you have but, regardless, the work has to get done, and it must meet the requirements stipulated by the university you are attending.