How to give students what they want in an online class

Above all else, students want access to course information regarding technology use and instructors' expectations and syllabi prior to enrolling in an online course.

Technology waits for no one. This is the realization many higher education institutions came across as a result of the pandemic, and many of the instructional practices they adopted are here to stay, such as remote learning.

Yet, many students feel they aren’t given the resources far enough in advance of enrolling in a digital course to be successful, according to a survey by WCET (WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies) in partnership with the Ohio State University’s Office of Technology and Digital Innovation, the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, and Bay View Area Analytics.

After interviewing an online focus group of six students at six different community colleges and universities across six states, the researchers found six major concerns associated with what students are asking of their institutions regarding digital courses:

  1. Students need to know more about the technology requirements of the course before enrolling.

“Students are especially interested in better understanding the devices and software they will need for the course in addition to the estimated cost of technology,” according to WCET. One student said, “It would really help not set us up for failure… thinking that we’re getting to get this done, and then we don’t realize that we don’t have the means or the capability.”

2. Students want more information about digital courses specified in their institutions’ published course descriptions.

Course descriptions often fail to include what technology is required for the course, professors’ expectations of students surrounding engagement, and additional costs related to devices and software, according to the survey. It’s important that students understand the technologies required for the course and whether their devices are compatible.

“I was able to log into the virtual labs with a Chromebook,” one student said. “However, it was a lot harder than if I were to actually log into my desktop that has more graphics power…”

3. Students want access to course syllabi before enrolling.

Similar to the previous finding, students simply want access to detailed course information and requirements prior to enrolling. This may include information related to whether the course is synchronous or asynchronous, the number of face-to-face sessions for hybrid courses, technology requirements, and whether the course materials are open sources, according to the survey.

4. Students want to know what student services will be available to them.

“These services must include financial aid assistance, tutoring services, technical assistance, and any other orientations related to the digital course,” according to WCET. Providing such information to students on both the institution’s website and the course syllabi can help to ensure students have access to services that are crucial to their success in digital courses.

5. Students want to know the expectations for student engagement in the online environment.

“This might include policies on remote proctoring, expectations around appearing on-screen during synchronous digital sessions, virtual attendance policies, and policies associated with online forums,” according to WCET.

6. Students believe there should be shared expectations for students who take digital courses that are consistent across instructors.

Students who take multiple digital courses say that instructors’ expectations vary “significantly”—for example, some may require synchronous engagement while others expect asynchronous engagement. Students would appreciate uniform expectations across all of their professors.


  • Understand that there is a “strong desire” among students to know as much information as possible before they enroll in online courses.
  • Provide students with clear expectations regarding technology use and professors’ demands.
  • Simply giving students access to syllabi prior to enrolling can make a substantial difference in their academic success.

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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