I fully acknowledge that the original intent of online college was noble. It would provide access to education to anyone, anywhere.
What isn’t noble is ignoring what COVID taught us about the outcomes of remote learning.
I’ve been at best ignored and at worst, vilified for questioning this “wave of the future,” so instead I will focus on caveat emptor — let the buyer beware — in the hopes that students and parents will be able to identify the many red flags to look for in low-quality online courses.
- When you register, beware not having a choice of modality for any class you want to take. No student should be forced into an online class because they cannot get a course they wanted in a face to face modality. For every online class, there should be a face to face option unless you chose a fully-online program.
- Look at the syllabus and everything that is up in the course “shell.” Are there firm due dates like Tuesday, September 8, 2022 or just a list of “Week One, Week Two, etc. ” That tells you the teacher can’t be bothered to look at a calendar every semester and provide students with the concrete information they need to manage their time.
- Look to see if the lessons actually link to a publisher’s website. Is there anything that the teacher actually created or are you being directed to content created by a textbook publisher that provides all the lessons and automated testing and assignments. If so, your teacher may not be grading anything.
- Do you get rote and minimal responses to your discussion board responses? Or does the professor respond in depth? Are you graded by the length of your post? Watch out. Better teachers are interested in content, not word count. BE ESPECIALLY CONCERNED IF YOU ARE GRADED STRICTLY BY A FORMULA THAT COUNTS YOUR POSTS AND WHETHER OR NOT YOU RESPONDED TO OTHER POSTS. That may be a sign that boxes are simply being checked by the professor rather than a real evaluation of your comments.
- Let’s be real: is it very easy to cheat? Are there safeguards in place like proctoring and plagiarism checkers? Are there policies in place and creative assignments that will actually allow you to learn rather than plug in answers?
- Is the grading policy clear in the syllabus? What assignments are there, and what kinds of material are in each lesson? Is it a mixture of videos by the actual professor, unique content and outside readings? Are the readings recent? Do the videos reference events from years ago so they clearly haven’t been updated?
- Is the course really well organized with modules or folders for each unit? Or do you have to hop about, going in and out of folders, clicking on links, checking announcements, digging for content, navigating to a separate place for quizzes, etc. That is shoddy preparation and a warning sign.
- Do all the links work? Or are you being directed to pages that don’t exist anymore? That’s another sign of a neglected course that is being rolled over with little oversight.
- Does the professor offer zoom office hours where you can actually meet and talk about the course or ask questions? If not, why? Zoom, google meet, and many learning platforms should make that easy to do!
- Send the professor an email and see how quickly they respond and what they say. If you get a delayed impersonal response directing you to a link or a website, watch out.
- Are your grades regularly posted and easily accessible? Is the professor utilizing the gradebook function correctly, or is it just empty? Again, that indicates a lack of oversight and involvement by the teacher.
- Are you getting regular announcements or is there a single opening announcement and no further communication indicating an involved and present instructor?
- Watch out if a teacher simply uses the announcement function to post lessons, content and due dates. That is NOT okay. It is a sign of a substandard and poorly created course.
- MOST IMPORTANT: if you see any of these red flags, find another class. Advocate for yourself and report the class to the head of the department.