Published on 2014/12/03

Power to Students … and a Theoretical Kick in the Backside


The EvoLLLution | Power to Students … and a Theoretical Kick in the Backside
Online learning is the wave of the future for higher education, but it’s critical that students understand how to succeed in this environment.

After an exhausting day of reading online homework assignments from students, you ask yourself in a frustrated, hair-pulling shout, “How many more times am I going to repeat myself about how to form a proper reply post!?”

Yes, there are rubrics and announcements you can refer the student to, but these seem to have limited effectiveness. Furthermore, it’s downright discouraging to see students sabotage their own success when we instructors want to give our students good grades for lively, informed discussions that are more than glorified BS sessions. Sometimes, frustration takes the form of wanting to give students a kick! Solution: Jumpstart student performance by combining all the specific, practical advice we have for students—gained over many years by working with many kinds of students—with a clear explanation of how students can use the theories and practice of online education to their own advantage. Avoid unnecessary repetition and give power to students at the same time. That was one of the motivations we had for writing How to Ace Your Online Course.

Once we began compiling our advice to students, our motivations began to include more specific aims. Our research found that online education is a crucial component of the global wave of expanding postsecondary education that will include 200 million students by 2020. Based on trends in the U.S., we made a conservative prediction that by 2020 nearly 50 percent of all college students will be enrolled in at least one online class at any given time. We needed to make online students aware that they are integral parts of a new, highly commercialized system of education. In the new system, students are no longer acolytes or members of the privileged few. They are often perceived as customers. We explored implications of this perception, explaining the typical instructor’s job duties while finding ways for students to use consumer power to their advantage. We also included more information on the differences between pedagogy and andragogy in the online environment, the effectiveness of online education and the theory of constructivism (the social construction of knowledge through shared insights).

We wanted to not just show students how to participate effectively in their classes but also why theories of online education encourage new forms of interaction. We reasoned that understanding the fundamental assumptions and motivations of online schools, instructional designers and instructors would help students develop their own personal plans within new models of education.

We included standard advice to students, such as pay attention to the grading rubrics; print out the syllabus; and use peer-reviewed research, as well as much more detailed advice based on understanding courses at a deeper level. We encouraged students to look for the “scaffolding” of course concepts that is typically the work of instructional designers. We cautioned students that sometimes courses are not well-designed and they should be ready to build their own learning structure. Because discussions are almost always thought by students to be the most enjoyable aspect of online education, we developed an entire chapter on the topic, including many examples of grading rubrics and explaining the differences between highly interactive discussions (requiring 10 to 20 posts per week) and those less verbose discussions that essentially turn them into what we called “a kind of giant essay exam.”

We advised students how to maximize their learning (and their points) in both environments. And because the group project—one of the most important innovations in online education—is often dreaded (and sometimes loved), we devoted an entire chapter to it. We show students how to develop winning attitudes and productive group dynamics, while not omitting the fact that in this case we were motivated to avoid more of our own hair-pulling experiences occasioned by messages we receive like this: “So-and-so did not do his third of the project, so here is our two-thirds of the paper. We expect full credit because we are submitting one hour before the deadline!”

At the end, we hoped our kick would create students who were knowledge builders, good researchers, great discussion participants and good team players whom we could count on to deliver the ace work we always want to see.

To learn more about Birch and Haney’s book, How to Ace Your Online Course, please click here.

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