Reading the article by Hara and Kling (1999) 'Students' frustrations with a web-based distance education course'.
As a piece of research I thought this was quite weak. I accept that this was published over 10 years ago, so web-based courses were very much in their infancy, but even so – the basis on which the research was undertaken seems a little shaky. First of all the class which they studied consisted of six students, which is hardly a representative sample. Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, five out of the six students were essentially campus-based students who were taking one of their courses online. It seems odd that the title refers to a "web-based distance education course" because although it is web-based, it doesn't seem to be distance education. Thirdly, I got the impression from the tone of the paper right from the start, that the authors were not being entirely objective. I felt that they set out with the deliberate intention of challenging the hype about web-based education, and that they focused on the negative aspects. Finally, I felt that far too much of the paper was based on conjecture, drawing rather tentative conclusions from individual comments made by students.
I'm not suggesting that the findings were false. Quite clearly the students did experience frustrations. They felt isolated at times, they felt that they should have received more and better feedback from the instructor, they didn't think the tutor's instructions were very clear, and they also reported technological problems. However, the authors seemed to imply that such frustrations would not occur in a traditional face to face course. In my experience, all these problems occur just as much 'on campus'. Students entering higher education nowadays find themselves in huge classes which are very impersonal. The old saying about loneliness in crowds is certainly true, and many students feel very intimidated and remote from tutors. Many students find it difficult to make contact with staff and even when they try to do so they find restricted access or very limited 'surgery hours'.
With regard to feedback from tutors, I would say that one of the most common complaints from students at universities (as evidenced by the National Student Survey) is the lack of good quality feedback and the long time they have to wait to receive it. As for clarity of instructions, just because a course is delivered face-to-face does not mean that the clarity of instructions will be any better. Technological problems are also not limited to web-based course. A vast number of (justifiable) gripes from students at our course committees relate to campus based IT problems, whether it is technical support, network problems, printing problems or whatever.
One last comment I would make about the findings of the paper is that some of the difficulties experienced by the students in the study would perhaps be less of an issue today because of advances in technologies. In particular, I would have thought that their difficulties with internet searching wouldn't be a concern today, and also the poor experiences of asynchronous communication (for which they used email) would be overcome by discussion forums and the like.