George Lucas Educational Foundation

Frustrations with Online Learning

Frustrations with Online Learning

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I thought we should have a discussion forum where we can discuss things that really frustrate us with online learning. Ideally, this would be a constructive discussion, with contributors suggesting solutions for our frustrations. So, here goes my biggest frustration: Assessment and Marking. How can we take the paper out of the online learning process? I can get students to learn and complete work online. I can get them to submit work online. But when it comes to marking the work and giving feedback, I am yet to find a system that is as quick and as efficient - as well as meaningful - as simply writing comments on a printout of student work. I've tried editing via word processing, but that is cumbersome. I've tried using a digital pen, but that lacked the precision I needed. So, any ideas out there?

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Lori Niles's picture

We use the discussion boards extensively for course related work; the Skype calls are for personal processing and support and are unmonitored and ungraded except noting participation. This gives students a chance to address their own topics in an un-moderated environment and gives a real-time face to face that discussion boards don't. Hopefully this keeps retention high through the buddy system when someone gets a little discouraged.

Moodle also has a chat feature, and I've experimented with an optional chat time each week, but haven't found students jumping at the opportunity for synchronous communication.

Joe Carpenter's picture

Check out they are an online inovator that used the moodle platform. The content provides is engaging and rigorous, with writing across curricula. Teachers as well as students flourished the program gives you ability to really tailor instruction and add assessments, websites, assignments and multi media effortlessly.

Rosa's picture
Attempting to start a 4-8 online school

My frustration with online education is getting people to buy in. So many people are afraid of it. They feel that without a brick and mortar classroom, learning cannot take place in a meaningful way. I understand that many teachers have had experiences with students not being engaged, or cheating, but I also know that with an experienced, enthusiastic teacher who cares about each student, lessons can be very enthralling with the use of online tools and the assignments can be such that students are engaged and cannot or even do not want to cheat.

Martha's picture
Senior English Teacher in paperless one on one classroom

Don't know if it has been mentioned but I have used a software product called MARKIN to grade essays online. This software allows teachers to create their own grading points as well as to add comments to the work. Save the document and send it back to the student. Works great for my short and long papers!

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

Our district recently opened an online school. It is mostly used for credit recovery for high school students, but is also used for students who have scheduling conflicts (AP English or pottery?), need advanced instruction, don't do well in a traditional classroom and some other reasons. I worked with the school's developer/director especially around its use with advanced and gifted students. What I found was that many of the online programs are nothing more than glorified, computer-based worksheets. Many, although not all, are also lacking in pathways for curriculum compacting. Many move too slowly with way too many similar assignments although a few needed to add more practice. It seems to me that it would be fairly easy to spot check mastery, begin at the challenge level and then practice only to the point of mastery not by a set number of attempts. We also need to add an affective and social component to the school so that students weren't isolated. We accomplish that by having different groups of students come to the site at different times once every week or two for a face-to-face check in and some activity. Some others have formed some supportive student groups. Our district is moving toward self-developed classes, but this at least let us get started. Another frustration is that we don't want people jumping to online classes, especially for younger students, as the first response to a challenge. Cost alone makes that unrealistic.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Becky,
Wow! That's a great analysis of online learning's problems and frustrations. I, too, share your concerns regarding the repetitive nature of online learning, and I am intrigued by your suggestion suggesting checking mastery rather than a set number of attempts or questions to solve.

In addition, I think the fact that so many online are glorified worksheets is a necessary stage schools and teachers need to go through as part of developing a workable online learning environment. Kind of like the first steps.

You raise an interesting question regarding online learning and cost. From what I understand, many schools are moving to online learning as a way of minimizing costs - after all, you can have hundreds of students to one teacher in an online learning environment. I've even heard of teachers being asked to take on online lessons - which don't count towards their teaching load!

A question I would like to ask you, Becky, is how you have navigated your way through these problems. Is the answer in professional development for online educators? Is there a better software solution?

Becky's picture
Gifted Education Specialist

I can't help but think it is better for most (not all) students to be in a classroom where they can have rich conversations and interactions with other students. That is why we don't look at online learning as the first option, especially for younger students, in most cases. The cost comes from teachers being hired to fill classrooms based on enrollment numbers (FTE). When students opt out of the classroom to enroll in an online class or to take classes at the university, we are in effect paying twice for their instruction. (One good side effect is that it lowers student-teacher ratios for those left in the brick-and-mortar classes.)

Most of our online learners are enrolled in a hybrid of brick-and-mortar and online. Of course, that isn't the case for those who are full-time online learners (paid university classes are limited to 2 per semester). Those students who are full time online ARE less expensive for all the reasons you suggest. I think it is disingenuous not to consider online teaching a part of the teacher's class load, however. Sometimes the online students have more trouble getting started, need more support at least initially, and may have more questions - especially if the online module doesn't include enough "what-if" or problem solving. Teachers also need to take the initiative to interact with their online students not only driven by problems in order to build a positive relationship with their online students. That should be essential for all teachers regardless of format.

I think the biggest issue is higher quality software. Until it starts and stops based on mastery, it is still locked into the same limitations as semester-based instruction. One of its greatest strengths could/should be flexibility in terms of covering new material with less time wasted on already mastered content, and not being tied to the calendar or item numbers in terms of pacing.

Thomas Stanley's picture
Thomas Stanley
Educational Consultant-former teacher in high school

Of course rubrics up front help the quality of the student work and make it easier to grade as a teacher. The use of video is an excellent idea as is the use of simple tools like quia. I think it is important to remember that an online student needs to have a rich academic experience and not just a simple crash and burn course. The only frustration I have is that many online programs do not provide the student with a full learning experience where the student must have student-to-student contact, student-to-teacher, student-to-community, student-to-material and student-to-technology. An online course should require the student to do multi-levels of learning and create critical thinking skills that are more than posting a lesson or doing a simple discussion. Students will almost always want things to be "easy" and be able to push through the class. Isn't it our job to provide them with an enriched education? Just a thought.

Tom Downes's picture

So there's probably a number of tools you could use to give feedback to students who have submitted papers. If you have an lms you could have the students submit their work and then you could download them to Word and use track changes to make edits and comments and then send them back to the students via the lms such as Angel, blackboard etc...
That's if you have one.
At the university level there is a system titled "Turnitin" which by design is a plagiarism check tool. At first, you may say that's not what I am interested in. But, the tool does allow you to have students submit a paper which then is translated to a "document on the screen" for the instructor to then add "post it note" type comments and you are able to mark up the paper for the students to see you comments and editing....You don't have to use the plagiarism report feature and you are never "handling" or downloading the paper...
There's another web based tool called issuu. I thinks it's You could probably use this site to have students submit their papers to and they are converted into a flash-based document and I believe with the correct permissions set you could make audio comments or interact with their papers...

A little searching goes a long way when looking for tools these days. Google docs would certainly be worth looking at.

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