Q&A: What's Hard About Teaching Online?

Question: You've been teaching online for a while. What's hard about online teaching (that isn't hard about teaching in the classroom)?

Answer: I'd have to say when my college works against me. It happens. I hate it, it makes me look like an idiot, and students blame me (and get really frustrated).

Let me explain. Many online schools use standardized curriculum. Well-known online schools like DeVry and the University of Phoenix develop standard assignments for all faculty to use. The goal of standardization is to serve the students: materials are reviewed by instructional designers, and all sections of the same class have students do the same amount of work. Teachers can also step in to teach classes with much less lead time: if students need classes, they can get them, and that's great.

However, sometimes this process goes astray. Something gets edited without the instructor being told or the materials you're required to use don't get updated. Lectures get published that are out of date or in file formats that students can't open. Simplest and most common of all, the instructions for something are weak or confusing. If that happened in the traditional classroom, I'd be there to explain it. Once a student brought it to my attention, I'd fix it.

When the curriculum is standardized, that's harder. Students may run into these problems late at night or working alone, and then blame themselves for not understanding. Argh!

Good online instructors will review the materials carefully to try to avoid these frustrations. When problems do happen, they will do two things. One of those things will not be visible to students: they'll go to the administration and fight to get things changed. The other will be highly visible: they'll step in and explain the bugs in the system, translate bad directions, and in general help students find work-arounds.

Greg Beatty

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.