Misconceptions about online students

Good afternoon,

Just like I did in my last post, I want to apologize for waiting so long to publish! It’s that time of year in higher education, of course — commencements and other busy activities. But I’ve found myself reading a few very interesting essays the last few days, and felt the need to make a few comments.

At least from my experience, there seem to be quite a few misconceptions about online students and how hard they work. My students have always been eager, hard working and excited to discover new ideas. While I don’t see them face to face, I see the connections they are making and understand the value of the work they are doing.

The article from ecampusnews.com references a study — this study challenges the notion that online students plagiarize more than tradiation, on ground students. While the study focused on doctoral students, I do very much agree with its findings. I don’t think anyone would deny that plagiarism is a big problem in higher education; but to pinpoint this problem on online students is just wrong; I have seen very little difference between the two populations. If anything, the use of tools like turnitin.com have made my students more aware and more careful about the work they are doing. Is this because I generally work with adult students? Perhaps — but I think main point of the study needs to be considered carefully. You can find the study here: http://www.ecampusnews.com/…/online-learning-plagiarism-916/

The other story that caught my attention was a bit more general about the approach we take to higher education. The author argues (and makes a very good point) that we don’t need to have this be an all or nothing approach; while the traditional approach may need some improvements, the online method is not perfect either. The two worlds can certainly help each other, I agree. You can find this article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dan-w-butin/when-a-good-enough-higher-education-isnt-good-enough_b_7341700.html

My issue is with the author’s point that online students don’t have “ah-ha” moments. I could not find this to be less true; just as an example, my institution has a very well-designed Art History survey course, fully online. Students are ask to find a work of art that speaks to them; but they must do so by going out to a museum or searching within the community. I could share numerous examples of students telling me “Ah! Now I understand why art is so important and why we are asked to study this!” or “This has changed my view of the world.” Isn’t that what education is all about? When well-designed, online courses can deliver these moments very well.

So continued dialog is needed, and it’s important that the right message is sent out; that being that thoughtful, challenging online programs produce thoughtful, productive students.