Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Expectations for Online Students - What does St. Pete Say?

One of the better resources that I have discovered about identifying and communicating a college's expectations about online learning comes from a place where I have lots of friends. St. Petersburg College in Florida is rightfully considered to be a leader in the field of online teaching and learning. They have a very large online enrollment, a skilled support staff and administration, an engaged online faculty group, and plenty of awards to prove it.

This is the first installment where I take a look at their list of expectations and opine about how a similar list might look when we are finished (if it's ever really "finished") with this project at Lake Superior College.

From St. Petersburg College:
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Part I. Guidelines/Expectations for Students
A. Academic Participation

Expectations. Students may expect:
  • The opportunity to be active participants in a stimulating and challenging education that is international in scope, interactive in process and diverse in content and approach.
  • A course outline or syllabus that provides information regarding course content, teaching methods, course objectives, grading, attendance/participation policies, and student assessment guidelines.
  • Instructors who are responsive and available to discuss students' progress, course content, assignments, etc. at mutually convenient times from the first day of the term through the last day of the term. Individual instructors' schedules, availability, and procedural details will appear in the course syllabi. (See Instructional Performance Targets that follow.)
  • To have access to instructor feedback and grading on projects, exams, papers, quizzes, etc., so they are able to determine where they have made errors or need additional work.

Responsibilities. Students are expected to:
  • Have baseline computer and information skills. Since computer literacy is a general education requirement, students are encouraged to either take a face-to-face or online literacy course or take the literacy test prior to taking online courses.
  • Log into their courses during the first week (for the traditional semester) or within 48 hours (for non-traditional classes like modmesters, express, or "dynamically dated" classes) of the beginning of the session to confirm their participation. (Students who register after the session has begun will be responsible for any assignments or material already covered.)
  • Take an active role in each class, participating fully in class discussions, assignments and other activities throughout the entire session. If some event interferes with that participation, the student is responsible for notifying the instructor in advance.
  • Review the course syllabus and other preliminary course materials thoroughly as early as possible during the first week of class.
  • Be responsible for raising any questions or seeking clarification about these materials, if necessary, within the first week of the session.
  • Submit assignments and papers on time, and take tests by the posted dates. Acceptance of late work and any penalties for late submissions are up to the discretion of the instructor, based on the expectations outlined in the course syllabus.
  • Complete the "Student Survey of Instruction" for each class to evaluate the instructor and the course.
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That's a pretty good list. A few questions come to mind.
1. Are any of the included items either unclear or confusing to a typical student?
2. Should any of the included items be removed from the list?
3. Is there is anything missing that should be included in the list?
4. How will these expectations be communicated to potential and current students?

Before trying to tackle some of those questions, permit me to make one (possibly obvious) observation. The first section about what students may expect seems to be as much about shaping the college's expectations about faculty and online teaching as it does about shaping students' expectations. Clearly the only way that students may expect learning that isinternational in scope is if the faculty member provides the opportunity for that happen. Similarly, the only way that students can expect certain things to appear in the syllabus is if the college expects the faculty to include those items. Etc., etc. Clearly this is not rocket science.

So what's missing? Let's start with a somewhat snarky (but sensible) answer:
  • If students are expected to have baseline computer and information skills, doesn't it follow that:
  • Students may expect that their instructor has baseline computer and information skills
  • and by the way, where exactly is that baseline? and is "baseline" good enough, or is that minimally acceptable, or what?
What else is missing? How about a less snarky answer?
  • What can students expect as far as having access to course information? In other words, when will their login enable them to get to "their stuff" in the course?
  • How about this? Students may expect to be able to access the course shell and review the course requirements for 5 working days (Mon-Fri) prior to the first day of class.
  • And how about this? Students may expect to be able to access the course shell, review their work and the assigned grades for a minimum of 5 working days (Mon-Fri) after the last scheduled day of the course.
Something else that is missing is an item that always seems to catch students by surprise when taking an online course (although maybe this belongs in the next section (next post) about academic honesty and integrity):
  • Students may expect that an online course instructor could require them to take one or more proctored examinations or other assignments. Students at a distance from the campus will need to make arrangements to have an approved proctor available.
  • Ideally, there would be information available to students prior to enrolling in each online course about these requirements. It may be very difficult for some students to comply with these requirements depending on their circumstances.
There are other possibilities for this section, but I think I'll stop there. Any comments regarding this section of the SPC list of expectations will be appreciated.

Coming soon: SPC's Part B: Academic Honesty and Integrity and Part C: Academic Civility and Freedom of Expression

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