Overcoming the #1 Complaint of Online Students: Poor Instructor Feedback

I recently conducted a survey of more than 300 online students to learn of their most vexing issues with online courses. One item—of the 40+ mentioned—was cited by 68 percent of the students: poor feedback from their instructors.

Online teachers are both the students’ MapQuest and umbilical cord to their courses; without us they can still learn, to be sure, but the guidance, motivation, and insight needed to master the skills of their courses would be missing. Thus, our feedback—in so many forms—is crucial.

To enhance your student feedback effectiveness, I offer the following suggestions:

  • Check email at least three times daily. Students may be in different time zones; their professions may dictate varied posting times; they may have sudden problems—whatever the reason, checking your course email regularly will keep you on top things.
  • Set reminders of when and what to check. This becomes especially important if you are teaching more than one course, and/or for more than one school.
  • Keep generic postings to a minimum. The generic posting is easy but offers nothing specific to the course and does not connect you to the students. The majority of your class postings should be specific to both the course and the students.
  • Answer every email sent to you. You do not need to answer each student email as soon as you see it, but make it a general rule to answer all student emails within 24 hours—and let your students know this.
  • Make your presence regularly known in discussions, chats, etc. Yes, these are for your students, but they need to know that you are monitoring them and that you are active in all aspects of the course.
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  • Offer detailed and constructive comments in assignments. Never simply offer feedback such as, “This is wrong!” —it does the student no good. Your comments on assignments should be detailed and constructive. When a student does something good, let him or her know!
  • Occasionally, use humor. Let the students know that you have a personality—put a bit of smile into your comments and postings sometimes, even using news or items to highlight certain parts of the course. This not only makes the course more enjoyable but allows you to reinforce certain parts of the course in a lighter manner.
  • Note student-specific information for a more personalized approach. Jot down information you learn about your students, either through their bios or information revealed in emails. This allows you to respond more specifically to their needs—and shows your genuine interest in the student, which is a major component in keeping students actively involved in a course.
  • Follow through on promises. It’s easy to toss a promises, but you damn well better follow through on it. Not doing so immediately ruins your credibility, and credibility is important for any teacher, especially for the online instructor.

God uses fire and brimstone to get His message across—the online teacher’s available tools for giving student feedback are not quite as dramatic but can be just as effective.

Excerpted from Teaching Online With Errol: Overcoming the #1 Complaint of Online Students: Poor Instructor Feedback! Online Classroom, June 2007.