The Student Perspective

When we design or teach an online course, we spend time thinking about how to reach our students. We consider their prior learning and such things as the cognitive load of the class. These are essential considerations, but perhaps we can do more. We can turn the tables and look at the class from the student perspective. However, it is sometimes hard to put ourselves in our students’ place because we are so familiar with our own course and its subject matter. How can we overcome that barrier in order to see the class through the eyes of a student?

Put some distance between yourself and the material. Take a break from it for as long as possible. Before you log back into the class, imagine yourself as a student in the class. What is the first thing you want to find when you log in for the first time? The second? Look at your class and think about the following:  Is the placement of information logical? Is it clear where to find everything? Are the instructions understandable? Do the resources feel connected to the assignments? Is there anything that doesn’t make sense? As a student, do you feel lost?

Ask someone who is not an expert in your subject matter to look at your class with you. Let them lead you through the class as they point out what they see. Can they navigate your site and follow your instructions clearly? Are there things (specialist terminology, assumptions about incoming student knowledge) that don’t make sense to them?

One of the best ways to see your course from the student perspective is to become a student yourself. Take an online course (or two). While you are taking the course, think about what aspects you like and don’t like. Are there things that you find particularly helpful or annoying?  Every time I take an online class, it affects how I approach the classes I teach and design. Things that seemed fine to me as an instructor might be quite annoying as a student. For instance, as a student there were times that I needed to go back and find some important information that I knew the instructor had posted. But where was it? Was it in the weekly video? Was it in an announcement somewhere? Was it in a weekly post? What week was it in? It was a frustrating experience, but it made me realize that just because I know where I put something doesn’t mean that students know where it is. Experiences like this help me improve my own classes.

So give it a shot. Look at your course through the eyes of a student. I bet you will see things that will surprise you, and it will make you a better instructor.

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