I can certainly empathize with this instructor.  As an online writing
instructor, I have also had my share of students who registered for my
course because they had to take it but didn't want to and wanted to be
invisible.  Initially, this bothered me, but then I put it into perspective.
  Approximately 1500 students take developmental writing at my institution
in the Fall semester, and about 700 of these repeat the course in the
Spring.  From this number, a percentage of these students are not going to
attend class (for a number of reasons).  An online course will attract more
of those students than will an onground class because the teacher is
invisible.  It is not a reflection of the instructor;  it's simply one of
the facts of life in cyberspace.  I emailed these nonparticipating students
a few times and then figured they were busy making their beds, and I wasn't
going to be able to prevent them from lying down!

In terms of group discussion, I, too, had many a group fall apart due to
lack of participation.  I simply combined groups to get a decent number of
participating students in each one.  (This is one reason to have large
groups initially.)  In fact, last semester, I started out with four groups
and ended up with one!  I finally learned my lesson.  This semester, I
started out with one group (the entire class).  As luck would have it,
though, I have a very enthusiastic group this semester.  No problem.  I just
break them into groups as needed.

Finally, regarding the ineptitude of students on the computer, I would call
that cyberexcuses.  It's hard to believe that students aren't email and
internet savvy if they have computers and register for an online course.  If
they have those kinds of problems, they can ask a friend for help.  Sorry,
but I lack sympathy for these excuses.

Lonna Smith
Department of Linguistics and Language Development
San Jose State University
Phone: (408)924-4431

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