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"Or even worse"
a dozen things that can go wrong in an online course

By Rory McGreal / April 2005

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The following is a list of some of the problems one might encounter when attempting to deliver courses on the Web. These have been culled from my own experience in distance education and the experience of others. Hopefully all 12 problems will never occur in any one course.

  1. Crucial external Web sites change addresses or simply disappear. Or even worse: Your systems people inform you that you have to change all your internal Web link addresses.
  2. A confidential memo to a student is inadvertently posted to the entire class. Or even worse: It then gets copied by a student and appears on an alt. newsgroup.
  3. A student informs you of objectionable materials found at a linked site. Or even worse: The objectionable materials are on your site.
  4. Students are unable to connect during real-time sessions (MOOs, IRCs, videoconference). Or even worse: Some students do connect and want to continue while others can't get on and are calling you up.
  5. Physical course materials (texts, workbooks, discs, tapes, CD-ROMs) are delivered to students late. Or even worse: They arrive late with crucial materials missing or destroyed.
  6. Some students are accepted without necessary pre-requisites. They can’t keep up with the class. Or even worse: In a course with waived pre-requisites, the registrar refuses students who apply without them.
  7. Too many students enroll. Or even worse: No students enroll (10,000 inquiries & no registrations).
  8. Students cannot download course materials. Or even worse: They can download, but can’t decompress them (incompatible file format, no uudecode, no unzip).
  9. No students have the slightest notion of the Web and what it does. Or all students have more experience with the Web than the teacher. Or even worse: Half the students are in the former and half the latter group.
  10. Students do not submit assignments all semester then all suddenly submit drafts at once a few day before the deadline. OR even worse: They all are also demanding immediate feedback.
  11. Students do not like the other people in the group to which they are assigned. Or even worse: They are all really good old friends.
  12. The final examination is made available or even distributed to students too early. Or even worse: Some students get the exam and others don’t.


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