What do online graduate students want from instructors? Just ask them.

The word what with question mark written on blackboardInstructional strategies for online learning are a frequent topic of these posts, for good reason. A well designed online course relies on an intentional approach to learning supported by evidence and learning theory. Formative feedback, authentic learning, and instructor presence are examples of instructional strategies that are well-supported and effective for online learning. Using the right instructional strategies to facilitate learning is not only important to instructors and instructional designers, it is also important to students. So what do graduate students want?

In a recently published study, online graduate students were asked what they wanted from instructors to facilitate learning. The most frequent responses were: “. . . 1) be available and responsive to students, 2) engage/interact with students, 3) provide prompt feedback, 4) foster interaction/communication among students and instructor, 5) provide expectations, 6) provide learning guidance, 7) organize course, 8) provide meaningful coursework, 9) provide synchronous sessions, and 10) use various instructional methods” (Watson, Bishop, & Ferdinand-James, 2017, pp. 422-423). The views of graduate students are an important addition to the research pool which was lacking input from this population, according to Watson, Bishop, and Ferdinand-James (2017).

They also mirror the instructional strategies supported by existing theory. The study validates this point by comparing student responses to online learning quality standards such as Quality Matters (Watson, Bishop, and Ferdinand-James, 2017). Instructor presence, for example, is a recurring theme in student responses. The extent to which an instructor is engaged in the course and promotes the engagement of students and has been established as a predictor of satisfaction with online learning (Ladyshewsky, 2013). One timely finding from the study is the student request for synchronous sessions. Our next professional development webinar, on October 19th at 6pm, will be a step-by-step guide on conducting synchronous sessions using the web-conferencing tools, appear.in and Blackboard Collaborate. If you are available at that time, consider attending.

Finally, what’s the best way to use this information? When you reflect on your teaching, consider these graduate student responses and incorporate these instructional strategies into your courses. While there may be a fine line between too much, too little, and just-right instructor activity online (Arbaugh, 2010), use student feedback as your guide.


Arbaugh, J. B. (2010). Sage, guide, both, or even more? An examination of instructor activity in online MBA courses. Computers & Education, 55, 1234-1244. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2010.05.020

Ladyshewsky, R. K. (2013). Instructor presence in online courses and student satisfaction. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 1-23. Retrieved from https://digitalcommons.georgiasouthern.edu/ij-sotl/vol7/iss1/13/

Watson, F. F., Bishop, M. C., & Ferdinand-James, D. (2017). Instructional strategies to help online students learn: Feedback from online students. TechTrends, 61(5), 420-427. doi:https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-017-0216-y

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