Suzanne McCormack

The Struggle is Real (#3): Following Directions

Blog Post created by Suzanne McCormack Expert on Dec 4, 2019

Students are turning in final projects this week for my online courses. With only two weeks until final exams, the end of the semester is bearing down on us all. And though these students have been working with me since the first week of September, many are still struggling with a basic life skill: following directions. They have had several weeks to work independently on their projects and plenty of time to ask questions. Yet, in spite of what I have offered them in instruction and assistance, I am receiving finished work from students who clearly did not read the directions. 

 

Case in point: sources. Here is the actual text from my instructions (highlighting in original):

Required Sources: Three articles from assigned academic databases (*see below*)

*ACADEMIC DATABASES: Students must use materials from the databases linked through the college library to our course. Link is accessible through our course LaunchPad.

*UNACCEPTABLE SOURCES:  Wikipedia, History.com, Ask.com OR anything NOT from the assigned academic databases.

To my horror, the first few projects I received from students contain none of the required sources. I am wracking my brain to understand why. Was I mistaken to believe that highlighting what I considered an essential requirement of the assignment would force students to pay attention to it? Is there some new way of drawing students’ attention to key elements of instructions that I have missed? Or, are my online students simply not reading the directions? 

As a strong proponent of online courses I teach half of my course load online. Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what the students might miss by not physically being in a classroom for instruction. I, for example, do not have the opportunity to observe confusion on students’ faces when I give assignments. Instead I have no choice but to rely on students’ willingness to email me with questions. Is there something more I could be doing? Do we, as faculty, have an obligation to ensure that our online students have read and understood the directions? For those who teach online in any discipline, what (if any) steps are you taking to address this challenge? Please share.

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