College students taking online courses miss professors

Students say they miss personal connections with professors

college-professorsOne of the biggest complaints among college students taking online classes is that they miss personal interaction with professors.

How ironic.

That was an unexpected conclusion in a new Kent State University survey of more than 250 online students.

“I was surprised that was at the forefront of students’ minds and they were so aware of what was missing from the online classroom,” said Bethany Simunich, Kent State director of online pedagogy and research.

She conducted a written survey for students over several semesters.

The study shows how important it is to encourage more communication — albeit over the computer — between instructors and students, especially at a time when so-called distance learning is becoming more popular.

The National Center for Education Statistics estimated that 5.4 million college students, or 25.8 percent, took at least one online course in 2012, the latest year that data were available.

(Next page: Will students continue taking online courses?)

The numbers are even greater at Kent State, where 16,000 students, or 40 percent, are taking at least one online class. The university offers more than 1,200 online courses.

Students often take the classes for convenience, but sometimes universities and colleges require them.

Online courses can be a major shock for students who have sat for 12 years in classrooms, interacting face to face with instructors and other students and raising their hands to ask questions.

With an online course, students don’t see or hear the professor. It’s just assignments on a computer screen.

“When students take online classes, they don’t expect that they are going to miss the interaction, but once they start every day getting on the computer and looking up their assignments themselves and doing everything themselves, they kind of miss their teachers updating them on what they have to do and sitting next to people,” said Emily Harrington, a Kent State sophomore majoring in nutrition.

She had not participated in an online class before taking Greek achievement. She didn’t have to take the course online, but wanted to see what it was like.

Harrington, 19, of Beaver Falls, Pa., doesn’t think she’ll ever take another one.

Online students have to be self-motivated, and she didn’t enjoy “teaching myself” or not communicating with classmates.

For many students, learning is a social activity and taking online classes isn’t for them.

“We learn by asking questions,” Simunich said. “We learn by discussion, and if we don’t put those things in online courses … [students] are kind of floating out there in cyberspace.”

In addition to showing that students miss professors, students reported that online classes are much harder than they thought.

Kent State also surveyed 60 professors about their online teaching experiences.

It found that students succeeded most when professors established a personal connection with them.

That can involve something as simple as uploading an introductory video so students can see and hear them at the onset of the class.

Kent State also encourages professors to be proactive in reaching out to online students, as opposed simply to uploading assignments.

“You really need to check in every day,” Simunich said.

©2015 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio). Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Laura Ascione