Through the Computer Screen: Being the Student in Waiting

By: Kristy Norris, Behavioral Sciences

I’ve spent a lot of time lately contemplating my role as an instructor of online courses here at WCC. I’ve been teaching online courses for several years now. Let’s face it, they are convenient and flexible for our schedules! That flexibility is handy when you have a four and six year-old absorbing your time. What other job has the option to sit at home, on the couch watching basketball, while grading exams? However, the last year has reminded me that with convenience comes responsibility.

This self-reflection was sparked after starting a new online master’s program this past fall. What a ride it has been thus far, transitioning back into the student seat. This experience has enlightened me about some of the real struggles students face. I wrote this post after sitting up half the night refreshing my e-mail inbox, anxiously awaiting a paper grade that still hadn’t arrived. I submitted my paper on February 26th, and as of March 20th I was still waiting for a grade. A grade that the instructor e-mailed us and promised would be returned by the night before my marathon of email refreshing. It wasn’t. I’m frustrated, especially since second paper is coming due, and I want instructor feedback before I send that one in.

This online learning experience, as a whole, has pushed me to re-think how I handle myself as an instructor of online students. I’m guilty of “losing” e-mails under a pile of other e-mails and occasionally not responding. That was all well and good until I was on the waiting end of those e-mails. An instructor last semester didn’t reply to a single e-mail I sent last semester. You can bet I’m checking my instructor account even more consistently now.

And then there’s the grading. I’m guilty of not promptly grading some assignments for my on-campus students, because I see them regularly and give them feedback even though there isn’t a number in their grade column for a few weeks. For my online students, though, it’s a whole different thing. In my online MA program, I’ve been the one on the other end, trying to figure out if I got the grade I wanted or not, when my instructor hadn’t entered a grade for me since week two. I’m still waiting for grade feedback in one of my classes this semester. I think it’s going to be a surprise at the end of the semester in six weeks. That’s anxiety evoking and takes all power away from me. My grades seem to be held hostage.

I’m venting and complaining here on the blog, rather than in my husband’s sympathetic ear, because I’m pretty sure that we have students all over campus who feel the same way at some point in time. As dedicated as I am to my students, sitting in their chair is motivating me to recommit not only to their learning, but also to their sanity. I’m so much more aware of how stressful it can be to learn in what feels like a void, without feedback and response. This experience has reminded me what it feels like to be a one of my students, so I’m doubling down on needing to:

  • Answer all of my e-mails in a timely manner
  • Grade assignments quickly
  • Identify strengths when giving feedback. Everyone did something good, and I need to remember to point that out, along with the critiques
  • Always be mindful that there is likely to be an apprehensive, neurotic student on the other side of the computer screen, just like me!