How to Learn From My Online Class Nightmare

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I’ve taken a fair amount of classes.

By the time I crawled across the finish line most people refer to as “graduation,” I had earned enough credits for a double major in English and Linguistics (and just short of a triple major in Speech Pathology).

I thought I was going to be an Audiologist. Funny how life turns out.

The average class I’ve taken has become a vague memory only to be recalled upon reviewing my transcript, but the ones that stick out (for both positive and negative reasons) have shaped me deeply as both a writer and a generally intellectually curious person.

One class that I took close to my degree completion was a course called Hearing Science. This course was one of the core requirements for Linguistics majors at my college and combined anatomy and physiology, audiology, and just a bit of physics to really simplify things. Although the course was a requirement for my major, it wasn’t offered every semester, and since I was a senior I was advised to take it as soon as it was offered. But when it came time for me to register it was only offered as an online class.

Despite how daunting it felt to be taking a difficult course fully online, initially the idea of an online class appealed to me. I was working part time, writing my senior thesis, and participating in club activities. Being able to work on my own schedule was something I really needed.

But what I hadn’t anticipated was that this particular instructor seemed to believe that “online course” meant “teach yourself.”

She uploaded her PowerPoints onto BlackBoard for the entire semester. She had a section for quizzes that would come up bi-weekly. She had a section for the midterm and final exams. That was it. Those PowerPoints and my textbook were the only means of instruction, and the only time I interacted with that instructor that fall was to tell her that BlackBoard had incorrectly marked me wrong on a quiz.

This created endless stress and anxiety for me that semester. There are people who are completely capable of teaching themselves how to cook, play guitar, or change a tire. I am not one of those people. I learn by hearing and asking questions. I am one of those annoying students who asks questions she already knows the answers to in class. Somehow hearing things over and over again helps them click in my head. There was no way I was going to perform well in this class if reading was the only way I could learn.

So I improvised.

I created my own audiobooks by recording myself reading chapters from my textbook. Then when it was time to study I would listen to those tapes religiously. It worked, and I did very well in that class, but this required me putting in time and effort that I didn’t have at the time.

I know that this is not the way most instructors teach online, and my experience is just an outlier from the norm. With all the digital technology and online homework systems available there’s really no excuse not to make online learning as effective as possible. Trust me, your students will thank you for it.