The Anonymous Factor

In a case study that explored asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of online students, results found that one of the main advantages students enjoyed was the the anonymous factor.

Why is being anonymous an advantage?

Students felt that they could ask more questions to their instructor. Students reported that they hesitated to ask questions or communicate with their instructors in face-to-face classrooms, but in a virtual space, they felt comfortable asking many questions, and starting conversations.

While being anonymous was a huge advantage to online students, one of the biggest complaints from online students was the delayed feedback from their instructors. Students mentioned that one of the main disadvantages of not having a teacher in the classroom was the delay of immediate feedback or communication. In the face-to-face classroom, students can receive feedback instantly. In an online environment, responses to questions can take hours, or even a day or two before an instructor gives an answer back.

The research found that students expect consistent and timely facilitation of email from instructors. The same case study found that online faculty gave prompt feedback at the beginning of the semester; however, as the semester progressed, the frequency of responses decreased, and the response time increased. Similarly, students indicated that the instructors email response time and grading had slowed down towards the end of the course. The students indicated that they preferred the instructor to be consistent in terms of responding to students email and grading students projects.

Tips for Giving Prompt Feedback

According to “Seven Principles of Effective Teaching: A Practical Lens for Evaluating Online Courses”, instructors should provide two types of feedback: information feedback and acknowledgment feedback.

  • Information feedback provides information or evaluation, such as an answer to a question, or an assignment grade and comments.
  • Acknowledgement feedback confirms that some event has occurred. For example, the instructor may send an e-mail acknowledging that he or she has received a question or assignment and will respond soon.
  • Instructors should give prompt feedback on discussion assignments by responding to the class as a whole instead to each individual student, so instructors can address patterns and trends in the discussion without being overwhelmed by the amount of feedback to be given.
  • Instructors should structure a feedback mechanism to encourage student inquiry and collaboration instead of quick, immediate answers to a question that itself be a barrier for effective student learning.

More tips from Faculty Focus:

  • Be consistent with feedback, this includes the format you are giving feedback in, as well as the timeliness of feedback.
  • Give positive messages when giving feedback. Positive messages encourages the students, and makes them feel part of the learning community.
  • Encourage a 24-hour turnaround on email responses.

Overall, while students enjoy having anonymity in online classes, instructors should incorporate good, consistent feedback and communication skills to help foster students expectations and motivations. This helps promote effective learning, online.