What makes an online course truly “student-centric?”

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the topic of online courses and making them student-centric. This is a loaded topic and I’d be very curious to hear the thoughts and ideas of others regarding this topic. Teaching at an online institution myself, I completely understand and appreciate the need for student-centric courses. Our students often have very different needs and skills that they bring to the college, and these needs and skills are appreciated and acknowledged. But I do wonder if we are moving towards a model of giving students what they want versus doing what is best for the student overall.

For example, many schools are giving more thought to flexibility for when assignments are due as well as multiple extensions for assignments. While it’s important to be flexible in specific, known situations, do we want to make this a standard model? Does it benefit the student to make faculty accept late work even to the detriment of others in the course? As a Gen Ed program chair, I feel strongly that education is about facing new ideas and embracing a larger world-view. But we need to look at the practical side of things; what message does it send if we continuously craft our courses on population demand, and not quality content?

For me, much of this stems from recent discussions about making higher education more like a customer service experience. I understand very well that students spend a great deal of money on college — probably far too much actually — and so it is critical that their voices are heard. But at the same time, we owe it to them to challenge them, to make them work, and make them question the way they’ve lived before. Otherwise, why are they here at all?

2 thoughts on “What makes an online course truly “student-centric?”

  1. You raise a few interesting questions regarding how best to make online programmes more student centric. However, I prefer to use the term Learner Centred. In Europe as in the US ( I assume that is where you teach) the language of consumerism has most definitely entered the discourse around quality and student centredness is really the service for customer centredness. However, your post mentions the concept of flexibility in delivery as a means of meeting the needs of students and your post implies that this translates into constant extensions of deadlines and you are concerned that this is the type of behaviour we as educators should discourage and I am in total agreement. A majority of students will procrastinate at every opportunity and deadlines make for very good external discipline. Previously in my blended courses, I always imposed strict opening and closing dates and times for the continuous low stakes online assessment that the students complete. I have had great success in so far as the vast majority of students complete all the tasks on time- those that didn’t usually ended up failing the terminal exam. Recently however, I have started using the activity completion, conditional activities and the progress bar in the VLE that I use Moodle. Now all activities have an expected completion date with some penalty for late completion so as to reward and reinforce the behaviours we want students to develop- on time completion of tasks. This means that the activities are never closed off to students. However, by using another feature, conditional activities, it means that a student must complete all the activities as it is only on completion of a task/assignment that the next assignment opens- in fact the next assignment isn’t visible to the student until they complete the previous one. I have really pleased with this feature as not only does is encourage students to self regulate, it also forces the non-engagers to complete all activities as some point in the programme for the bare minimum of marks. In Ireland where I teach we use the European system of outcomes based education so it actually aligns very well with this philosophy of accrediting what the student can do at the end of the programme. Another really neat feature is the progress bar which I link to all the assigned activities and it appears like a traffic light showing each student how they are progressing against the expected completion dates and of course as a tutor I can spot very quickly which students are lagging and intervene early.

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  2. Hello! And thank you very much for your comment, I’m so glad that you left some feedback.

    I really want this blog to be a place where we can have thoughtful, friendly discussions, so I’m so happy that you left this post. I think that you make some really excellent points here, and it gives me a lot to think about. Again, I want to emphasize that I’m in no way against making classes student-friendly and designing courses towards their needs. But we also have to make sure we are being responsible and providing them with a useful experience.

    So I’m very interested in hearing more about your course development process! I think that you understood my point completely — I think that the more we allow for procrastination, we are doing the students a great disservice. This “conditional” assignment task that you speak of is really fascinating; I only use that to a very limited degree, and I think it needs much more consideration. As you said, it still allows for flexibility, but does give much more of a necessary structure. The U.S. is quickly moving more and more to an outcomes based system, so this would fit nicely. The particular college i work at is very involved in assessments and outcomes, and if you can align what you are doing in your LMS, this would work out very well.

    Thank you again for your great feedback! I find this very helpful, and really enjoyed the discussion!

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