By Kat Kiefer-Newman
I know that I’ve complained before about Bb9 (it was frustrating, to say the least, when it first came online). I didn’t even know then what I will euphemistically call the challenges I would be dealing with now. Today, I sit here typing this blog wondering what bad thing will happen next. And be assured something bad is lurking just on the net horizon. There are gremlins in my tech, evil little menehunes, the proverbial ghost in the machine, and their only joy is in making my online classes go off the road and into the ditch.
Maybe that’s a lot of hyperbole, but from the start of the semester, nine weeks ago, I’ve had a problems. HelpDesk now answers my calls “Hey, Prof Kat, what’s wrong now?”
Of course, every semester instructors and students expect tech challenges to come up, particularly in the online classes. For example, I have students who can’t open .docx files. Yes, still, even though the “new” MS Word came out in 2007. (Oh, and a new MS Word version is in the works — that’s going to be another fun transition. By “fun” I mean walking-on-hot-coals fun, of course. Want to know a quick workaround for students who just can’t seem to get at your .docx files? Here’s a link. Want the patch? Go here.)
This is in addition to the anticipated problems that just happen each semester: students who can’t get the textbook in time for the first assignments, those pesky SLOs, students who miss classes or assignments and want make-up work or extra credit, performance reviews (more on this in a minute), students new to online formats frequently who don’t understand the rules of netiquette, which can create a stir in discussion boards, among other things, details that somehow always go awry, heck, sometimes just getting the roll sheet settled can take a couple of weeks (census rosters, anyone?).
These Bb9 problems are really doing a number on me, though. I have my emails forwarded to my Blackberry now and don’t know if it was worse before with hours of problems to negotiate every time I logged in, or what I have now, which is virtually immediate response time, but I’m having 24/7 problems. I’m fielding enough emails to choke a horse. And what about these emails? As frustrated as I am, my students are more so. They have gpa’s and financial aid on the line; they have certifications, transfers, and future-careers at stake. My students this semester, well to put it lightly, are mad. While some of the emails I get are heart-wrenching, some of the student emails are so irritating I want to throw my Blackberry or iBook across the room.
Here’s the thing: my college doesn’t require a class on Internet protocols as a prerequisite for online students. The result of this is that I get emails full of ALL CAPS, illegible spelling/grammar/punctuation, insults, unreasonable demands for file format changes, assignment adjustments, etc.
Understand that most of my online students are fantastic. I have enormous admiration for the online college community, just in general; online students are often the most self-disciplined and self-motivated students around. Those who regularly take online classes often also juggle family duties and full-time jobs, as well as college classes and do it without face-to-face access to the instructor. These students are literally on their own maneuvering through the coursework.
However, every semester there are those that are new to the digital environment and (I believe) in their confusion, they expect the course to come to them and work for them. You can see how a required Internet protocol class would help this situation.
My final frustration in this saga is that I’m also being evaluated at the college that just switched to Bb9. I can’t wait to see what the students say. I’m sure I’ll take the heat for all of the problems, and when I have a minute to think about it, I know it’s going to really irritate me.
Until then…I’m off to avert another crisis.
About the Juggler: Kat Kiefer-Newman currently teaches as an adjunct instructor at two colleges in two different departments. In addition to her busy working (and driving) schedule she attends conferences presenting her research, is in the last stages of finishing her Ph.D., takes care of her elderly father, has recently packed up and sent off to college her second daughter, chats in status updates with her students on Facebook, does not hand out her cell phone number to said students despite their pleadings, and in her spare time she plays in her organic veggie garden. (And though she will never admit it, she also enjoys reading trashy vampire novels.)