Q&A: Help! I'm Failing an Online Course

Answer: No student takes the time to enroll in college, qualify for financial aid, register for classes and purchase books, just to fail. Failing a class can be discouraging and even frustrating, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world.

If a student has received a failing grade in a course, the first thing they can do is review all of their individual assignments, participation, quiz and test grades to make sure the teacher didn't make a mistake. The student should add up their grade points and compare these with the course grading scale. If a student feels there's been a mistake, they should contact their instructor and/or academic advisor and respectfully ask them to look into the situation.

Some students have earned a failing grade, however. Let's look at why this happens and what can be done. Many students fail because of unforeseen circumstances that become personal challenges. Examples of barriers may include medical issues, family emergencies, emotional distractions or mental illness. In most cases, students are able to address these situations and continue with their school work. However, in some situations, students are unable to focus or continue with classes and may earn a failing grade.

In these situations, students should contact their teacher and school as soon as they can. If it's still early in the class, students may be able to withdraw and take the class at a better time. If it's too late to withdraw, students should ask their teacher if they can extend some due dates or have extra time for a week or two. Most instructors will work with students who reach out to them and make an effort to complete their work in spite of personal events. Some schools ask for documentation supporting the issue or they may leave it to the discretion of the teacher to make these types of decisions.

If the issue is ongoing or causes students to fall behind in their class for more than a couple of weeks, they can sometimes ask for an incomplete. This allows students to complete work after the class has ended, but within a specific time-frame. Most schools allow students between two to four weeks to complete work afterward, but each school has different criteria for an incomplete so it's important to contact an academic advisor or the student services department.

Some students fail because they don't put forth the effort, participate or complete the work. In these situations, teachers are less likely to give extensions for class work and these students may not be eligible to seek an incomplete. As a student, be sure to put forth all of the effort needed to be successful. Winston Churchill stated it best when he said: "Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

Dr. Beverley BrowningDr. Beverly A. Browning (Dr. Bev) has been a higher education adjunct faculty member for over 25 years. She has taught in the classroom and online for multiple colleges and universities including Spring Arbor College, Baker College of Flint, Mott Community College, and Rio Salado College. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Spring Arbor College and Mott Community College. She is currently an online instructor for ed2go.com (Cengage Learning). In addition to founding and directing the Grant Writing Training Foundation, Dr. Bev is also Vice President of Grants Professional Services for eCivis, Inc. She is the author over over 37 grant-related publications and a frequent keynote speaker and workshop presenter for national and regional conferences. Dr. Bev is a product of lifelong learning and an advocate for online teaching and learning!