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This content was published: December 3, 2019. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

My worst online class

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Heather Guevara Red Light Photo

Heather red light photo

This past summer, I was capping off my birthday week celebration with some special time with cousins. I had just picked them up and we rounded a corner where no fewer than 15 lanes intersect in the Portland metro area (nope, not an exaggeration– it’s a mess). A few weeks later, I received an invitation in the mail to pay a ticket for the red right arrow light I ran (according to the traffic cam and police officer review of the footage). My other option was to plead no contest or not guilty and hope the judge would offer me traffic school so that the ticket wouldn’t be on my permanent driving record. The choice was obvious–tell the judge that the intersection is dangerous and a traffic study should be conducted immediately. On the sound advice of friends, they recommended that I go to court, verbalize my error and ask the judge for some mercy. So, I did go to court and then began my experience with my worst online class EVER!

Registration was online and seemed pretty easy. It gave me high hopes for the course. I searched through various titles available to me including: Anger Management, Positive Choices, and Living With Neighbors. All three sounded intriguing, but I was pretty sure they didn’t apply to me in this situation. I logged in a couple of weeks later to get the course over with. I mean, how hard could this course really be? I work in online learning and I’ve basically been a student or taught students my entire life. I also had a perfect driving record until that point.

I quickly searched for a syllabus or list of outcomes or ways I’d be assessed. I did find something that could loosely be called “goals for the course,” but I never really could figure out how long it would actually take me, if there would be assignments and quizzes, or if I would even get a certificate of completion at the end for my fridge (or to show the judge). There were certainly no real course-level nor module-level outcomes (hint: you should have course and module-level outcomes in all of your courses to help the learner know what to expect). The course was also not mobile-responsive. This means I spent lots of time enlarging text and panning back and forth across my cell phone screen to try to read everything on the page (hint: use the latest Brightspace template– it’s mobile-responsive). Because I didn’t know how I would be assessed, I had no idea if I should be taking notes and preparing for some type of exam or essay (hint: let your students know how and when they will be assessed and align your assessments and assignments with your module-level outcomes).

The content was really boring, relied heavily on long pages of text as learning materials, and had the occasional copyrighted image (sans any attribution). After a few content pages that seemed rather insulting (as they were very basic knowledge for drivers and an obvious waste of my time), I decided to stop reading the long content pages (hints: break up long pages into separate content pages with descriptive titles, add images to increase visual appeal and communicate in a different way). I decided my strategy would be to scroll through the remaining pages quickly since it didn’t appear that there would be any sort of test or assignment. CATCH! There was a timer built into each page that required that the browser remain open on the page for a suggested minimum length of time. So I couldn’t just hit the next button at the bottom of the page. Instead, I had to keep the page open for the minimum minutes. I smartened up and decided to open a page, set a timer, and answer emails until the timer went off (hint: don’t make your learners dread going into your course! Keep things fresh and appealing. Add announcements and reminders. Do anything to make the course a place students want to return to!).

I eventually got to the last page of the course. I was so happy that it was almost over. There were 32 modules in all. Some modules had several pages and others had one really long page. None of the pages had videos, or presentations, or interactive content. I was so fatigued by the last page and then… NOOOOO….  a LONG quiz opened with multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank items covering everything I had skimmed over! The quiz items were what I would call “gotcha” type. That is, they were items to assess my recall of very specific numbers or the suggested mnemonic devices they presented as ways to judge one’s own readiness for driving in any given moment (like when someone cuts you off).

Guess who had to go back and hunt for answers in the 32 modules? Immediately started to panic. There were many quiz items I didn’t know the answer to. What was the way to remember how to assess whether I was too angry to continue to drive? Was it P.A.C.E (P-ause, A-ctivate, C-onsider, E-xecute)? Or was it F.I.R.M (F-reeze, I-nvestigate, R-etaliate, M-anage)? I spent a full hour researching answers mostly using a Google search and not the actual course content (hint: provide meaningful learning experiences that a solo Google search can’t immediately answer).

Did this course make me a better driver? Well, there’s really no way to assess that based on the lack of outcomes and assessments. ;) Do I want to avoid a fee and never have to take another course like this? ABSOLUTELY. While it’s certainly not the case that the majority of our online courses at PCC are in the condition of this course, this entire experience did remind me of the value of a well-designed online course taught by a committed instructor. The latter sort of learning experience is relevant, meaningful, and transformative. Don’t let your course be the next “worst online class” for a student. The Online Learning Division here at PCC has a team of staff prepared to help you improve your online courses and teaching.

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x (Comment #38813) by Peter Seaman 2 years ago (Comment #38813)

Thanks, Heather, for the entertaining and enlightening post!

Someone who is very near and dear to me had to take one of these online “punishment” courses a few years ago. She described how the pages had lots of meaningless (seemingly meaningless) text, and something clicked in my brain that caused me to advise her to copy the text from each page and save it on a separate document. Then she had a ready reference for the quiz, which I guessed (correctly) would surprise her at the end.

The bottom line is that students will always find ways to “game” online courses that are poorly designed. It’s incumbent on all of us who design, develop, and teach online classes to create meaningful and relevant learning experiences and assess learning in authentic and meaningful ways. Your post did such a good job of making this point. Thanks again.

x (Comment #38823) by Diedre Cain 2 years ago (Comment #38823)

My husband had to take what I suspect is the same online course you described because – get this – he got a ticket for not putting his foot down on the ground (even though he had come to a full stop) at a stop sign while. riding. his. bicycle. So… A supposedly bad bicyclist had to take a course for supposedly bad car drivers. Needless to say, we who are instructors need to make sure that our students see some relevance in taking the courses that we are teaching.

x (Comment #38856) by Kathy Carrigan 2 years ago (Comment #38856)

Thanks Heather, this was a fun way to read about why all those items you noted are important in all online classes.

x (Comment #38887) by Jerry Loveless 2 years ago (Comment #38887)

This is hilarious, and quite informative as well :o) Very engaging writing style and I love the pic too, great job Heather!!! Oh, and nice tip Peter (insert thumbs up emoji here).