How To Be A Good Online Student: An Instructor’s Perspective

Photo courtesy of bluefieldphotos on Flickr

Online learning has been steadily growing over the past decade. In fact, according to one study, 5.8 million students are taking online courses. With huge numbers of online learners, it is no surprise to find articles on how to be a good online student. These articles can be found in a variety of locations, from renown websites to individual online publishers. In my experience, most of these articles, such as this one, are written from the student perspective. How many have you found written from an instructor’s standpoint? Well, I am here to provide that standpoint.

I have been teaching online courses for universities for three years, and I have also taken my fair share of online classes. While the student perspective is extremely valuable, it is also important to have an instructor’s vantage point. After all, the instructor is the one in charge of grading and feedback.

So, here are a few of my tips on how to be a good online student — from the instructor’s perspective:

1. Be respectful

Just because the course is online does not mean the typical rules for respect do not exist. There is an increasing issue with online communication in general in that there are those who view online as anonymous. Even if we may not actively believe you are unknown in the online realm, sometimes the idea of “I’m online, so no one can do anything to me” seeps into the way we act. If you have a problem with an instructor — whether it be their style of communication or a grade — it is important to approach your instructor, even via email, with the concern with respect.

2. There are still rules and deadlines

Even though the class is online, there is still a start and end date. As instructors, most times, we are obligated to not take any late work past that end date. Some instructors don’t allow late work at all. Online classes still have due dates for assignments, and it’s important to adhere to those due dates. Just because the class is online does not mean late work is automatically accepted. Accepting late work can create a negative spiral, delaying the grading of other assignments. I am sure you, like many students, have other things going on in your life besides school, but deadlines still matter. Work places don’t offer late work policies, so it’s good to get into the practice now.

3. Ask questions

Not sure what that assignment means? Not clear on expectations? Need additional feedback? Send your instructor an email! You won’t learn if you don’t ask questions. If you’re still unclear, let your instructor know and work with them to better understand. Believe me — (most) instructors would rather you ask a lot of questions than to see when we grade that you didn’t have a grasp on the concept.

4. Understand your instructor is human too

Sure, there is usually a guideline for how quickly us instructors should get back graded assignments. While I am not making excuses, it is important to keep in mind that you only had to submit one assignment, while the instructor has to grade 30 (maybe more). It could take half an hour to grade just one individual’s work, especially if the instructor is trying hard to provide valuable feedback. And, sometimes, human things get in the way. You don’t know what your instructor is dealing with outside of the (virtual) classroom, so try to take a step back before you launch any complaints.

5. Know we both want you to succeed

We are in this together. I know I hate having to submit any Fs when I submit grades, and I know every student wants to pass their classes. You have dreams, and, as an instructor, I want you to achieve them. You will have to do your share of the work — following guidelines and submitting on time — but I guarantee, if you do that, your instructor will see that and will work with you even more to help you achieve the grade you want.

Being an online student is hard work, there’s no doubt about that. You are responsible for your own motivation and accountability — there’s no class time to keep you on track. Teaching online is no walk in the park either, and instructors understand what you are facing. There are many reasons people choose online education and, while I can only speak for myself, I teach online because I recognize there is a need, and I want to help meet that need. If you keep these things in mind, I guarantee your instructors will notice. And, hey, you may even feel better about the class!