Not every online professor is an all-star teacher. Just like traditional professors, some online instructors simply don’t have what it takes to run a successful course. They may be unorganized, have unreasonable expectations, be unknowledgeable about the curriculum, or simply be inaccessible. Since distance learning is growing so rapidly, many colleges (particularly for-profit programs) hire new professors with little teaching experience and limited credentials. For example, some students may find themselves in online classes about Art History taught by instructors that just finished graduate work in English Literature.
If you find yourself with an instructor that isn’t helping you learn, don’t try to just suffer through the course. Instead, take action and make sure that you’re getting your money’s worth. The following steps can help you get out of a problematic professor situation:
Step 1: Reassess the problem. Before you do anything drastic, take some time to consider the situation from your professor’s point of view. Sometimes, students simply weren’t prepared for the class or expected it to run a different way. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the professor doesn’t know what he or she is doing. Ask yourself: Was I really ready to take this course? Did I take all of the pre-requisites? Was I expecting the course to be a breeze? Have I thoroughly reviewed all of the course material? Was I expecting that I could skip work or skim the textbook and still pass? If this is one of your first online courses, you should also consider whether or not online learning is a method that works for you. Some student that thrive in a traditional school environment struggle when they don’t have the same structure, no matter how good the professor is. If, after reflecting on the situation, you still feel that the professor is at fault, move on to the next step.
Step 2: Talk to the professor privately. The best way to resolve conflict at the university level is to simply address the offending professor privately. In most cases, a phone meeting or virtual conference is better than email for such sensitive discussions. Frame your issues as concerns that you need help with. Try not to be overly aggressive or put the professor in a defensive position. In many cases, professors appreciate the honest feedback and are happy to assist. If you skip talking to the professor and go straight to an administrator, you’ll be less likely to receive help. The professor will probably feel upset that you went over his head and the administrator is likely to direct you back to the professor.
Step 3: Withdraw from the online course, if there’s still time. The next best thing you can do is simply withdraw from the online class. Most universities have the same course taught by many different professors, so save yourself the headache and find someone that is better prepared to meet your needs. You could file complaints or make a big fuss, but these actions are less likely to actually help you if there’s still time to withdraw. Before you stop doing your assignments, make sure that the withdrawal deadline hasn’t passed and that you can remove the course from your schedule without receiving a failing grade. The course must be dropped through an online program or through the registrar’s office; don’t assume that the instructor will remove you from the rolls just because you’re not showing up.
Step 4: Call your academic counselor. If you simply cannot withdraw from the online class, it’s time to talk to your counselor. Look up your “academic” counselor, not an admissions or recruitment counselor. Counselors have a lot of power to bend the rules – he or she may be able to let you withdraw past the deadline or help you transfer into another class.
Step 5: Talk to the Dean and file a complaint. If nothing else has worked and the professor is simply unbearable, you may want to speak with the Dean or file a formal complaint. Keep in mind that you’re burning some bridges with this action. The professor will likely be upset about defending himself and, truth be told, will probably not be able to transform into your dream professor just because of some paperwork. Usually, this step is best reserved for situations where the professor is particularly inappropriate or offensive. If you are dealing with a less severe case of bad teaching, hopefully you can resolve the situation before it gets to this point.