Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Dear Professors: Please think like a student sometimes. Thanks!

We are changing Learning Management Systems (LMS) at my school. Lately I have been very busy transferring content from one LMS to another and prettying up courses. You must envy me right? (*smile*)

Anyway, I am working on distance courses where the instructor and the students never meet face to face. So the primary method of communication of the course materials is via the course website on the LMS. I’ve seen some crazy things in my course conversion tasks. Sometime, I have to ask myself this simple question: Do professors ever put their ‘Student Hat’ on and consider what it must be like to visit their course website from a student perspective? I think the answer is different for each professor because I have seen some things that are disheartening. I feel that professors often (inadvertently?) place roadblocks that impede students from keeping their course material. For example,
  • I saw one course where there were so many files to download that it probably takes each student about half a day to save all the course materials. What a waste of time. Why can’t professors merge some of these files together to decrease the number? Why can’t a ZIP file be offered for download when a large amount of files are present?

  • I saw one course that was entirely HTML-based with many sub-pages for each lesson. It was pretty in the web browser but there was no easy way to save the files. Nor did it have an easy way to print the material. In order to keep the course materials, students probably resort to printing over 100 different html files… one by one. OUCH! If there is no student-to-content interaction required (you know like drag and drop exercises with feedback, or input fields with feedback, etc.) then why can’t professors avoid HTML altogether? In the case where a large number of HTML pages are unavoidable, can professors please try to provide a print-friendly PDF version as well?

  • I’ve seen many courses that have a large number of files to download, but one course added insult to injury. The file names of the files were so cryptic that once saved on the student’s computer it will be a nightmare to decipher which file contains what. Is it too difficult to name the WORD document that contains the Lesson 1 commentary something like “ECON101 Lesson 1.doc”? Apparently for some instructors the answer is “yes”; instead they select files names like “Supply and Demand – Fall 2012.doc”. There were many other strange file names… stuff like “c.p.2012.doc”, “Overview.doc”, “2009-alternate.doc”. Once the student downloads the 50+ files in the course onto their computer, locating which file contains the Lesson 1 commentary could be compared to finding a needle in a haystack. Could professors please consider using a logical file naming system that might mean something to the student?
Are you a professor or a student in an online course? Do you have any experiences, either good or bad, with some of the situations I describe above? If so, leave a comment.