Where Can You Find a Competent Help Desk? Dial “a black hole!”

Online Classes are Chaotic and Riddled with Problems

Students deserve more than a sterile page filled with words when they enroll in online classes.  The list of creative ways to teach online is infinite! But there are many roadblocks in achieving excellence when teaching online.  Professors can fill the void with:

  • personal videos
  • links to videos and articles on the Net
  • obtaining permission to use professional videos/movies/articles/art
  • creating Adobe Presenter Presentations (with voice)
  • using images (Buy a service or use Artstore.)
  • creating collaborative exercises
  • inviting ideas on Discussion Boards
  • quizzing and testing daily or weekly
  • emailing students every day.

Students are often unprepared to study independently and do not know how to navigate the content management software. For years I asked my university to require a one hour course where entering students would learn how to use Blackboard. I also suggested that students should take an online tutorial on Blackboard and pass a test covering the material before they would be allowed to enroll in a class. Ten years ago when I began teaching online, more capable students were attracted to the online classes. They understood the technology and were generally good students that needed to manage their time in a better way. Today, many unprepared students enroll in online classes and begin the disastrous journey of failing.

Typically, during the first week of the semester I receive scores of emails from students asking me to teach them how to work online. It is a great burden because I would never have enough time to do this. Reams of emails would come to me to ask me where the assignments, syllabus, videos, and etc. were located. My guess is that students spent $300 on a phone they were trying to use, instead of a computer.

On the first page of the Blackboard class is an Announcement Page and there I created several Adobe Presenter voice Power Points. But students could not even find these. They could not find the first page of the class, even though it was clearly marked. I created all sorts of helpful visual aids but the emails kept coming. The students were technologically illiterate and it was my fault that they were failing, they said.  I was their teacher, and by “damn” I had better help them succeed!

As the semester progresses, I give assignments to analyze videos or the lyrics in tunes that relate to the subject at hand. Over the course of several years our Help Desk began to refuse to help students. I had over one hundred short video files that were placed on a “closed” server. For some reason when a new server was purchased, those files could not be accessed by students.

Sometimes the Help Desk was able to sort out issues and help students but most of the time they were left in a fog because the people who purchased the technological equipment did not understand how to deploy it. This type of scenario went on for years.

For example, they didn’t allow enough bandwidth in the library for a hundred students to take tests. All of the tests crashed. What a mess! They kept telling me that the server was working when students could not access videos. They finally found out that only one person could view a video at a time.

This past semester I had dutifully given an article to the librarians to upload to the server.  They obtained permission for me to use it.  Well, it was to be used as the final assignment in a class this semester.  It was to be the crowning moment of the class.  But, students could not access it.  No one could access it.  The librarians did not know where it was.  Finally, days later, I received a note that the article was not transferred onto the new server and was lost.  This was the last moment in the semester and I could not scan the article and send it to all the students.  There was no time.  And, so, the students missed that crowning moment.  What a loss!  And no one else on campus really cared.  Where are the competent programmers?

One year, for some reason, Blackboard would not allow me to use Power Point Presentations that took me years to create with photos from all over the world. No one could solve that problem and I had to start to develop these useful items all over again. Some students continued complaining that they could not access items in the class, while others decided to skip the assignments and take a hit on their grade. While classes progress, sometimes I could find alternative assignments but time constraints made it impossible to re-invent a class while you are teaching it.

This is the reason that I began to take programming and web-development classes and obtained a certificate in Web Design.  I now know that the people who were running this area of technology were not programmers and were incompetent in many ways.

And Blackboard fails us.  Every time there is an upgrade to Blackboard something goes wrong in the classes or we lose data or we can’t access tests. It takes hours to rebuild or fix the problems.  For years the Blackboard staff told us not to copy our classes each semester, there was something wrong with??? And the archive feature did not work on my MAC. I could go on! I always felt like I was working in a developing country or on a wagon train that kept going in circles.

Some of the other problems the students experienced had to do with their outdated computer that was not correctly configured with the software that was needed for an online class. But, on the other hand neither could a newly minted iMac reach the videos.

“The solution here is to give every student who attends a university a laptop that has all the software configured so that they can study online and update it every year. They are worth it!”

Another problem with online classes includes cheating. At my university I suggested purchasing software that could determine who was doing the work on Blackboard every time the course was opened. No software was ever purchased so, as a professor, I never knew if the person who is enrolled in the class is actually doing all the assignments in the class. While I will write about athletics and the issues presented by all the support athletes are given, I want to make a note here that sometimes tutors for athletes do the work for the athletes. In one class recently I observed a very poor student handing in excellent papers after he failed his first few assignments. I asked the student who was writing his papers for him and those perfect papers stopped.

There is always the problem of one student watching another student take a test or quiz and then taking it himself. (And I will write about cheating later, also.)  One year I caught a student copying the questions from an online test and sending them to a friend. Blackboard has since put into place software that prohibits students from doing this today. I took that student to Student Affairs and nothing happened to him, even though he admitted sending the questions to others. The bureaucrats did not want to expel him because they would lose the revenue!

Students deserve better than the above. They are like footballs being thrown from one person to another and this inhibits their learning and takes precious time away from them. It is not fair to any student to offer classes online that have so many problems and issues. It harms their future. It harms the future of all of us!

“Bureaucrats are happy to offer online classes because they generate a lot of income.  They don’t have enough sense to know what excellence is in an online class, nor to provide an environment that facilitates learning for those precious students.”

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