Last week the Online Learning team held two panel discussions with online students. The consensus? Students love and appreciate their online instructors overall. When pressed to tell us how instructors could improve generally, they mentioned how frustrating it is when they don’t receive timely responses to the questions they ask.
So what is expected of instructors regarding student questions? Section 7.4 of the Online Instructor Handbook states that online instructors are expected to “respond within 24 hours to student questions in the Questions & Conversations (Q&C) discussion board in your classroom (except Sundays).”
A recent study showed nearly 1/3 of the courses we looked into were found to have unanswered student questions. The unanswered questions were found primarily in two locations:
- Within the Q&C discussion boards -
- Typically these questions have been found in Q&C forums from past weeks when boards are left open and students post to a board or thread from a week that is not in the current week.
- Other times it has been found that some instructors are not subscribing to the Q&C board and therefore are just not aware when questions are being submitted.
As we learned more about students not getting responses to their questions, we dug a little deeper and found some interesting information about the role student questions play in the student experience of BYU-Idaho courses.
Correlation between the Q&C board and overall instructor ratings by students
A review of data from Winter semester 2018 found a correlation between the number of words posted by an instructor and the rating students gave those instructors. Although not surprising, we found that instructors who said more, explained more, or provided more details in the Q&C board typically received higher overall ratings by their students. Instructors who said very little in the Q&C boards typically received lower scores from their students.
Additional positive correlations with instructor ratings were found in the Q&C board with the following characteristics:
- Instructors being personable - sharing opinions, interests, and making comparisons to events in their personal lives.
- Instructors helping students understand assignments and instructions.
- Instructors providing guidance on how students are performing in the course.
In other words, students equate responses to questions as instructor presence. Instructors who demonstrate presence by taking the time to respond personally to students receive higher ratings from their students. If the instructor provides more information and details with a friendly, conversational tone, the student is more likely to rate the instructor with high marks. Instructor presence is, of course, not all accomplished in the Q&C boards. We make ourselves visible in announcements, feedback, notes from instructor among other places.
Although this problem of unanswered questions does not affect all of our students, the number of students impacted is too many, and we must do more to meet these needs. Responding to student questions or ensuring that students receive responses from their peers is a task that falls squarely on the shoulders of the instructor. The Questions and Conversations discussion space is the teacher’s domain. It is not managed by course design. Therefore it is the responsibility of the instructor to:
- Ensure all questions are responded to within 24 hours (except Sundays)
- Understand and facilitate the technical aspects of the Q&C boards
- Communicate clearly and train students where course questions should be asked
- Be approachable
- Encourage students to support one another by asking and answering questions publicly
- You are not necessarily responsible to answer all questions yourself, but you are responsible to ensure that all questions receive an answer.
- Reserve email communication for private student concerns
- Respond to all student questions in alignment with the Instructor Standards
We appreciate the efforts you make to enhance the online student experience. This great work couldn’t move forward without your dedication.