Meet the “meh” student & 5 things to know about those who are not used to taking online classes :)


I designed my first online class for a graduate course in 2014. All of my students were 100% online and located inside and outside the U.S. They were engaged, actively participated in discussion forums, watched my video lectures regularly, and were proficient in asking questions via email or helping each other out through the group forums. It wasn’t exactly easy – but because they were all online, they had a shared experience and seemed to bond through their distance.

Then came 2016 and teaching my first online undergraduate course where only two students were 100% online. The other 20+ were Pullman-based students taking an online class for the first time. Let’s just say, it was not the same “kumbaya” experience as my online graduate students.

I have since (quietly) referred to these students as my “meh” students – the (sort of) pioneers of the online learning space, navigating through unfamiliar waters, and occasionally coming up for air to see what is going on.

Here are a few things I have learned when managing a course predominantly filled with students not accustomed to taking classes online:

  • 1) They may have never used Blackboard before

    Although WSU has been using learning management systems like Blackboard and Angel before that, many instructors opt to use other methods for delivering course content or turning in assignments. Because of that, many of our in-person students have little to no exposure to the Blackboard course space. It may be very new to them other than turning in assignments. Expect a learning curve in the first week and if you are savvy, create a screen-capture walk-thru lecture of your course space to show them how you have it set up. Panopto is a great resource for that. >> Learn more on #AOI’s tutorial page for using Panopto

  • 2) To-do lists are their lifeline

    I have found that students love my to-do lists – especially because I sustain a formula for them each week. I keep it simple by saying “Here is your to-do list for this week – all due by X date at X time” with a list of things directly off their course schedule (or assignment list) such as read, watch, turn in an assignment, take a quiz, contribute to the discussion forum. For example:

    To-Do’s This Week:

    – Brand Formula
    – Brand Consistency in Digital: Nike as an example
    – Customer Decision Process

    Read & Discussion (W4): Ch 3: Identifying Target Audiences (pp. 41-57) + Discussion 4: Meeting your target audience where they are today

    Assignment:  Semester-long project Part 2: Foundation, brand and visual identity, and understanding your target audience

    All assignments are due on Sundays at 11:59p Pacific Time. All assignment details, instructions, reference links and documents are posted in the assignment dropboxes.

  • 3) Consistency is key

    If at all possible, be consistent with what you expect from them each week. Don’t switch things up unnecessarily unless you are adding extra credit or have new, essential information you want to share. Limit the noise. Keep it simple.

  • 4) Clear instructions are essential

    When asking them to complete a task (graded or not), it is most effective if you provide very clear instructions. This is another one to be formulaic if possible. Here is my general outline:

    > Introduction or Overview
    —Instructions for format, outline, or template
    —Related resources or readings

    > Tasks with step 1, step 2, step 3, etc.

    > Turn it in instructions including which dropbox to upload to and restrictions on acceptable file types or sizes

    > Grading criteria: summary of what the instructor is looking for in the assignment as it relates to the best performing aspects of the rubric

  • 5) They get lost, so they need pathways

    I have found that the best way to limit confusion and lost students is to create clear and consistent pathways for the most common needs including:

    1) Where and how to ask questions: Two recommended places – 1) Questions for the instructor forum in Discussion Forum and 2) email the instructor or TA

    2) Where to find assignments: Recommend creating an “Assignments” folder on the left and include links to all assignment drop boxes there

    3) Where to turn things in: Provide clear instructions for each assignment, quiz, or other task

    4) How to view grades and feedback: Instruct students to review their grades in MyGrades. The instruction is Go to “My Grades” and select “View Rubric” under the assignment title.

    5) What to do if they need tech support. Share this info:

    “Before contacting Technical Support please visit our Tech Support web page to ensure your system meets our computer requirements and test your connection.

    Technical support is available 24/7. A member of our technical support team will assist you or direct your request to the appropriate group. The technical support team is NOT able to answer questions about course content or procedures (e.g., assignments, grades).

    Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. (Pacific Time). Call direct, 509-335-4320 or 800-222-4978 and select 2, then 1. Email and we will respond to your concerns within one business day.

    Evening and Weekend Support: call direct, 509-335-4320 or 800-222-4978 and select 2, then 1.”

The good news is that students by and large are adaptable. Some will struggle a bit, but if you follow principles of consistency and responsiveness, the transition should go pretty well.


[edited 3.18.20]

On-demand AOI support Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m via Zoom. Target training also offered M-F on Zoom and Panopto. Learn more.

This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Online Teaching Tips series. Check out more tips in the “Online Teaching Tips” category.

2 thoughts on “Meet the “meh” student & 5 things to know about those who are not used to taking online classes :)”

Leave a Reply