5 Ways to Lose Your Online Students’ Trust

Photo by Taras Chernus on Unsplash

In “Your Zoom University Professor is Watching You,” I wrote about a personal experience I had when taking a course at Harvard. This caused me to reflect further and remember number of the times I lost confidence in my professor. While there are many stories I could share (and maybe one day I will), for me the most common way professors lost my trust was when the professor was not being open and honest; thus, if you want to keep your students’ trust, it basically all comes down to transparency.

Here are my top 5 ways in which you can lose your online students’ trust:

1. Not Disclosing Monitoring Software in Use

In addition to the privacy rights of your students, it is professional courtesy to let your students know that their exams will be monitored, that you are using attention-tracking software, that chats in the live class are logged, that eye movements are being monitored (yes, this is a thing!), and the like.

I was personally surprised and upset to find out when teaching my own class that Canvas logs if a student looks at a different screen (presumably to lookup an answer?) when taking a unproctored quiz/test on the platform.

Now imagine if this happens to come up from in class after a test was taken? It would be a difficult conversation to have in front of so many students when it could have been proactively addressed by the instructor during the first days of class.

2. Being Unclear About How Participation Points Are Tracked

The phrase “don’t worry about it” surprisingly causes students to become worried about whether or not they are doing enough to earn all of their participation points. In my last class at Harvard, I could tell that the Professor was super chill and would give everyone points, but not everyone was as convinced since participation points can be subjective and even lead to detrimental grade changes.

2. Flip-Flopping

If you need to change your mind, it is perfectly okay. You are the teacher and sometimes the course needs to be changed and adapted to the needs of students. However, it is incredibly important to consider any impacts that a decision may have on your students. That is, is your decision going to hurt anyone’s grade?

For example, I once took a course in which the professor had shared that we would need to complete a certification online and that it was worth a certain percentage of our grade. As a student, I thought of it as easy points since as conveyed, all we had to do was complete the task. So, I completed it that night at my leisure with a Mountain-Dew, Extra-Hot Cheetos, and Netflix playing in the background.

I immediately emailed my results to my professor, proud as can be (or as could be considering my life choices at the time), relieved that I wouldn’t have to worry about this in the coming weeks. Yet, when the due date had come around, the professor suddenly pivoted and stated that whatever percentage we got on the certification would be the points we would receive. Shocked and fed up with the number of syllabus changes, I passionately blurted out in front of the class “You can’t do that! You always change things and I can’t let this one stand. This is going to hurt some of our grades.” — an embarrassing moment for the professor as I had said a lot more than just this…

Looking back, I regret making my professor look bad, but it was at that point that I had momentarily lost respect for a professor; I think there is an important lesson to be learned here: your students can turn on you.

Therefore, I reiterate here that if you want to keep your students’ trust, make sure your decisions won’t negatively effect anyone if changing your mind on an issue.

4. Not Keeping to Your Word

If you say you are going to post grades for an assignment by Thursday night, then do it. If you can’t keep that commitment, at least send an email to everyone letting them know that you have encountered a snag. Same thing goes for a scheduled course. Leaving your students hanging and wondering over and over is a really great way to get your students to stop taking you seriously.

5. In-Person Sessions Were Wasteful

Not every university requires that students complete an on-campus requirement, but if your class requires for people to meet live, you better make it worth it. The last thing you want is for your students to walk away feeling like what was done could have been completed online and that the whole paying for plane tickets, hotels, and transportation was a waste of time and money. If your planning for in-person sessions is weak, it’ll show. Not only that, it will lead to a whole lot of resentment.

So what do you think? Please comment below and don’t forget to share on social media!

About Dr. Michael Lozano

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