The Unique Difficulties of Online Classes

Mistakes will be made, due dates will be botched and frantic emails will go unanswered.

By Jessinta Smith, Suffolk Community College


There comes a time in every student’s life when they are forced to take an online class, and that time in their life will most likely be frustrating.

There are a lot of reasons to take an online course: your school stopped offering a certain class on campus, the available on-campus options have filled up or the class time doesn’t work with your schedule. Whatever the reason, you’re probably going to take a class electronically and that class may easily end up being a shit show.

Why Online Classes are Particularly Terrible

I’m currently taking two online courses and they’re difficult, especially because both are English courses of some sort. When given the choice to take these classes online or drive 45-minutes to another campus, I opted confidently for the online option. Now though, I don’t know if I made the correct choice, because I’ve already had a lot of issues arise in both courses that have caused undue anxiety, stress and anger.

I’ve had to use an electronic text (which I hate), help a professor who doesn’t know what is happening, deal with assignments closing prematurely, argue correct answers that have been marked as wrong and navigate a website that is constantly closing for maintenance. I normally wouldn’t complain about these complications, but they impact my GPA and thus are impacting my future.

When you take an online course, you still have a professor assigning work and giving lectures just as you would in any other class. Unfortunately, some professors don’t know how to use the web as a teaching forum, which hamstrings their ability to operate effectively. Their technical shortcomings are made slightly more forgivable though, seeing as how the site is constantly down for updates.

My journalism course is the worse of the two classes I’m taking, purely because the professor isn’t tech savvy. This supposedly very intelligent professor of journalism has accidentally closed homeworks early, misdated assignments and graded test questions incorrectly. Professorial snafus like this are a part of the game though, and students understand that their professors are human and make mistakes.

Unfortunately, institutional mistakes are made worse by the nature of online classes. Students often take courses remotely to accommodate their busy schedules, so spending time double-checking the professors’ work and hounding them for mistakes isn’t really an option. In other words, when mistakes are made the online student suffers more.

In addition to quantitative repercussions like misgraded assignments and deflated averages, slip-ups in online classes come with their own unique set of emotional repercussions. For instance, when an unfinished assignment errantly closes early, the website will consider your homework past due. When you suffer from anxiety and are surprised to read that your assignment is past due, you have a panic attack.

Three times this semester my professor has accidentally marked a paper as past due or closed a handout early, so three times I’ve had a panic attack.

The fear of failing as a result of an external fault and my helplessness to quickly remedy the situation means my only recourse is sending frantic emails and refreshing my inbox every hour for two days.

When my professor finally does respond, the email will say that the mistake was on their part and that the date is now fixed.

Well thank you for the explanation, but I just lost several days of writing because the link wouldn’t open, so now I’m going to panic because I only have two days until the real due date and oh my god what am I going to do?! My future is destroyed. I’m going to have to move and start my new life as a stripper. What will my new name be? How do you even pick a stripper name? Is there a Big Book of Stripper Names somewhere? Even if there was, I probably couldn’t check it out at the library because I wouldn’t be a student anymore.

In addition to prematurely closing assignments, my professor also has a habit of marking my correct answers as incorrect. For example, I recently got an 80 on a test when I should have gotten a 95. I was confident that I earned a 95 because the questions were fill-in-the-blanks from my textbook, and I could see that three of my answers were unequivocally misgraded.

I emailed the professor about the exam twice and got a response to only one email. This happened two weeks ago and my grade has still not been improved. It’s cool though, I don’t need to graduate or anything.

The whole situation isn’t as stressful as it is irritating. The fact that I took the time to study for an exam and still got correct answers marked as wrong is demoralizing.

What’s even more demoralizing is that the grade has yet to be fixed—a grade that other universities look at and use to judge me, one that impacts my future in a colossal way. The ambivalence of the professor and the university toward their own mistakes says to the students that their educations don’t matter as much as their tuition does, which dehumanizes the class even more.

Online classes also present another challenge, this one more deceptively insidious. Electronic texts, though they do save money and time, are not my cup of tea. In most classes, students have the option between the physical and electronic text, but with online classes it’s their way or the information superhighway.

As it would happen, I find it difficult to focus and read screen-based textbooks for longer than 15-minute intervals. I enjoy the feeling of a book and being able to use a highlighter, so when I don’t have the traditional option, I get the sensation that something is missing.

The motivating guilt of a textbook sitting on your desk is gone, so as long as you avoid the website you avoid responsibility. Unfortunately, while the incriminating scruples that drive me study can be suspended, the culpability cannot.

Now I have a midterm coming up that I have to study seven chapters for, and I have read none of them. I will continue to place blame for this on electronic texts and not on my laziness, because I’m an adult and I am free to make my own mistakes.

Considering all the challenges then, are online classes even worth taking? The short answer is if you’re disciplined (or if you have to), then yes.

If you can’t sit down at a computer and get work done, then you probably shouldn’t take an online class. I’m not a cop though, so I can’t really tell you what to do.

If you decide to take an online class, there’s a really good chance that you will face some of these challenges. On the other hand, you’ll also get to do your work whenever you please and in your pajamas.

The trade-off is pretty equal in my book, so I say go for it. If you do fail, stripping is always an option. Strippers make good money.

P.S. There IS a Big Book of Stripper Names