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7 Student Myths of the Online Classroom

By Jo Macek / January 2013

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Thanks to technology, students and instructors can share knowledge over large distances. The online learning environment gives students the opportunity to earn a degree while working, traveling, serving in the military, or attending kid's soccer games. Many of the same features of a traditional institution of higher education are valid for online universities-books, faculty, administrative processes, and, of course, homework. However, online universities rarely require face-to-face student and faculty meetings so interactions and assessment must take place in the virtual Internet world.

As an instructor of on-campus courses for more than 18 years and online classes for more than 10, I have come across several myths student have about online classes. Such illusions lead to disappointment in grades and faculty interactions. Based upon my experience, here are the top student myths of online classes that can interfere with a positive class experience and how you, the instructor, can combat or correct these myths:

Student Myth #1: I can log into the class any time I want.

Fact: Online classes, just as on-campus classes, have due dates for assignments. Discussions must be posted, written essays must be submitted, and quizzes are required to be completed by specified dates.

Instructor Correction: A clear and detailed syllabus is needed. Due dates should be obvious. Try bolding, underlying, or place deadlines at left or right margin. More than likely your LMS has a calendar feature, use it. For research papers or projects that may require more than one week to complete, include a note in an email or as an announcement the week prior to remind students to begin that assignment. Having a late policy will help to enforce deadlines. Some institutions require a weekly introductory lecture; this is a good place to include information about a future assignment.

Student Myth #2: Instructors are available 24/7. If I email my instructor at 3 pm, I should get a response by 3:30 pm.

Fact: Instructors do not sit at a computer day and night waiting for student questions or comments.

Instructor Correction: Make your policy, or University policy, obvious in the syllabus. Send students a short email with your policies that includes acceptance of late work, availability, and return of assignments. This information should also be available one the class website. An auto-reply is helpful to let students know that you received their email and will respond within a given time frame.

Student Myth #3: Online class is just like texting or emailing.

Fact: A student posting to an online discussion forum should be like a well-developed essay: well composed, thoughtful, analytical, and with citations from your research sources. Spelling and grammar count in these postings.

Instructor Correction: Provide an example of a good and bad post. Be specific; show why this example is good or bad. Instructors often use rubrics in grading, but most students need specific examples to follow.

Student Myth #4: I'm too busy to take an on-campus class, so I'll take an online class. Online requires less time and less work.

Fact: An online class is more flexible because students do not have to be in class at a specific time, but the workload and time required is the same, and sometimes more, than an on-campus class. The three hours saved by not attending on-campus lectures should be spent researching and posting to an online class.

Instructor Correction: Include the estimated time to complete an assignment or time needed for the class. This should be clearly stated near the beginning of the syllabus and for each assignment.

Student Myth #5: My instructor can help me with any computer problems I have.

Fact:Instructors are subject matter experts in their own fields, not in the computer technology required for online classes. Computer problems may be unique to a student's computer (program glitches, Internet connection, power outage, program compatibility, etc.). The instructor cannot re-program or assist in solving these issues. Usually, a college technology help line is available for student assistance.

Instructor Correction: Include the tech support phone number in the syllabus. Include examples of possible issues that you cannot fix for students.

Student Myth #6: I am the only older/younger/freshman/senior/international/working/unsavvy tech/etc. student in class.

Fact: Without seeing everyone in the class, some students may think they are the only student with special circumstances. Even in an on campus classroom, students are not aware of the backgrounds or uniqueness of each student. Online students are diverse in their backgrounds and skills; the composition of a class often depends upon the demographic characteristics of the institution as well as the course itself.

Instructor Correction: A warm and inviting welcome announcement helps students who are not yet comfortable with the online format feel they can communicate their concerns without reproach. Asks or require students to post to an "introductions" discussion forum. This allows students to exchange personal information and gain support from their fellow students.

Student Myth #7: Online faculty are not as qualified as on-campus faculty.

Fact: Accredited colleges and universities must hire faculty who meet at least the minimum degree earned in order to keep accreditation. At reputable institutions, the minimum of a master's degree is required and many institutions require doctorate or other advanced degrees.

Instructor Correction: Include your profile in the class syllabus. This biography should include your degrees earned, publications and presentations, and other relevant experience that will bring an added value to students such as employment or volunteer efforts. Don't forget to include your degree (or title) with your signature in emails.

Online courses are designed to provide students with the convenience of location flexibility, not compromise learning or academic integrity. Higher learning requires effort and can challenge students while pursuing work, family, or other time constraints. Students who are fully cognizant of expectations—their own and from faculty—can rise to the level needed to be successful in this learning environment without the frustrations that sometimes come with myths.

Additional Readings

Boettcher, J. V. and Conrad, R. M. Faculty Guide for Moving Teaching and Learning to the Web. 2nd Edition. League for Innovation, Phoenix, AZ, 2004.

Goodyear, P. "Psychological foundations for networked learning." In Networked Learning: Perspectives and issues. Springer-Verlag, New York, 2002, 49-75.

Pelz, B. (My) Three principles of effective online pedagogy. JALN (Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks) 8,3 (2004).

About the Author

Jo Macek, MAT, has developed and taught online classes since 1992 using several LMS (learning management systems) platforms including eCollege, WebCT, Blackboard, campuscruizer, and others. Currently, she teaches social sciences and liberal arts courses at several on-ground and online universities including Western International University, Ashford University, and Franklin University.

© 2013 ACM 1535-394X/13/01 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2429653.2429654


  • Fri, 15 Feb 2013
    Post by Jo Macek

    Absolutely! Please share this information. I am also writing a book about online and on campus teaching. This will be available shortly. I hope this article is helpful. Please contact me at [email protected] if you have questions.

  • Wed, 30 Jan 2013
    Post by Carlos Biscay

    Dear Jo Macek,

    It´s a excellent article. We have the intention to translate this article and share it with Spanish and Latin american world.

    Could you tell me if this possible?

    Best regards

    Carlos Biscay