One of the reactions people are having to the new Blackboard report on design findings is that it “doesn’t represent online” because many of the students and the findings show students are taking a mix of online and face-to-face courses, and this, people claim, is not your average online experience. Why are we pretending that students taking an occassional course in a face-to-face experience are representative of online students?
Blackboard is right here. People are wrong.
This idea people have of the “online student” might have been true ten years ago in the U.S. I don’t know, because I can’t find older data that asks the right questions. But as of 2016, the idea that your median online student only takes online courses is wrong. Most students who take online courses do it as part of a portfolio of online and face-to-face experiences, and at the undergraduate level it’s not even that close. In 2013, about two million undergraduates took purely online courses, whereas 2.6 million took an online course together with courses from other modalities (blended, face-to-face, etc).
The head of that project at Blackboard tells me (via Twitter) that they actually had a variety of students, including some pure online, but the report from Blackboard actually fills out my prediction from 2014: that people will finally take the experience of these mixed-course students seriously.
In fact, the most stunning thing about the Blackboard report might not be its implied admission of current design failure, but the fact that it wrestles with the local online student’s experience as a whole, something that I don’t see near enough. Here are the the findings:
- When students take a class online, they make a tacit agreement to a poorer
experience which undermines their educational self worth.
- Students perceive online classes as a loophole they can exploit that also
shortcuts the “real” college experience.
- Online classes don’t have the familiar reference points of in-person classes
which can make the courses feel like a minefield of unexpected difficulties.
- Online students don’t experience social recognition or mutual accountability, so
online classes end up low priority by default.
- Students take more pride in the skills they develop to cope with an online class
than what they learn from it.
- Online classes neglect the aspects of college that create a lasting perception of
What shocks some people reading this, I think, is that online students would have face-to-face courses as a comparison or option, or that they would be consciously choosing between online and face-to-face in the course of a semester. But this is the norm now at state universities and community colleges; it’s only a secret to people not in those sorts of environments.
In any case, everyone update your prototypes please, the mixed-course student (hmmm… should I have gone with “mixed-course” many years ago?) is here to stay. Time to better understand what she is looking for. In the U.S., at least, this is the median experience: time to stop treating it as an anomaly.