Q&A: Spotting Online School trouble signs

Answer: Some trouble signs of an online program are: not receiving academic support from the college/university and the instructor; and lack of clear direction/understanding of the classroom policies, assignments and overall student expectations.

You are correct, online policies vary from one school to another. Sometimes, there are different policies within schools and between departments. However, there should be some general practices in every educational institution and specific to the online environment.

  1. ALL students, faculty and staff should have access to college & classroom policies.
  2. Within these policies, in one or both, the following information should be included:
    • attendance policy
    • late assignment policy
    • assignment/tests/discussion due dates
    • instructor's contact information, with time zone & hours of availability
    • returned contact time (for example, many schools require staff to return student emails and/or phone calls within 24 hours)
    • graded assignment turn-a-around time (usually 3-7 days)
    • Number of required days in the online classroom (per week) for both students and faculty

    As a student, you have the right to respectfully inquire about these policies. It is important to know the college or university's expectations of you and what the students can expect from their instructor(s). Since the online classroom lacks face-to-face contact, written communication and clear directions are vital to the environment running smoothly.

    With that being said, if you are having difficulty communicating with your instructor or he/she responds slowly, you can ask them what the standard policy is for returning communication. If the instructor gives an answer, but hasn't been abiding by the policy, respectfully express your need for communication to have better understanding of class materials.

    If the instructor doesn't give an answer or states there isn't a "standard policy", the next step may be to contact the school's administration; possibly student services or academic advising. If the school cannot produce a copy of the policies and/or if you feel the policies aren't aligned with your academic goals or expectations, then you should carefully decide if this is the best school for you and your academic needs.

    Dr. Beverley Browning

    Dr. Beverly A. Browning has been consulting in the areas of grant writing, contract bid responses, and organizational development for nearly four decades. Her clients have included chambers of commerce, faith-based organizations, units of local and county municipal governments, state and federal government agencies, school districts and colleges, social and human service agencies, hospitals, fire departments, service associations, and Fortune 500 corporations. Dr. Browning has assisted clients and workshop participants throughout the United States in receiving awards of more than $250 million. Dr. Browning is the author of over 37 grants-related publications, including Grant Writing For Dummies™, Grant Writing for Educators, How to Become a Grant Writing Consultant, Faith-Based Grants: Aligning Your Church to Receive Abundance, and Perfect Phrases for Writing Grant Proposals. She holds degrees in Organizational Development, Public Administration, and Business Administration. Dr. Browning is a grant writing course developer and online facilitator for Ed2Go.com; former faculty member at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for Organization Management and a current member of the American Association of Grant Professionals. She is CEO of Bev Browning & Associates (BBA, Inc.); Founder and Director of the Grant Writing Training, and most recently, the new Vice President for Grants Professional Services at eCivis Inc. (www.ecivis.com)