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What We Learned from the Fall 2020 Student Online Learning Survey: Themes and Take-aways

By Ryan Allen

The Office of eLearning delivered an optional survey for students at the end of the fall semester aimed at learning more about their experiences online and in the blended environment. We wanted to know what was working, what challenges they were facing, and what suggestions they would make to improve the experience. The survey was completed by over 500 students, representing students from every level at UD.

There is still much more work to be done in examining all of the feedback but it’s clear that there is a strong correlation to what we heard in the spring. The goal of this article is to provide a quick overview of the major themes that surfaced from four questions in hopes that it will be helpful as you prepare for the spring term and build on what you did in 2020.

Question 1

What is the most helpful thing instructors have done to help you learn this semester?

Themes that emerged:

  • They were flexible with due dates and understanding of the challenging circumstances that learning during the pandemic created.
  • They showed that they cared about the student’s health and success in their classes
  • They communicated often and were very responsive to requests for help
  • They were very organized (lectures and Isidore sites) and were clear with their expectations.
  • They recorded their Zoom classes so that students could go back and re-watch them.

 “Having an organized Isidore page was helpful for me. When professors organized their pages by what we had to do each week I felt more organized and I felt like I was less likely to miss assignments. It feels really scattered when all the homework and things to do are all over different websites, but making a weekly to do list helped me to know what I had to get done.”

 “The [best instructors] kept checking in with us (clear communication) on Isidore to make sure we were on the right track for due dates. They were also more understanding about due dates and submitting assignments because of the current, difficult situation with the pandemic.”

“The [instructors] understanding nature they had with the whole situation going on allowed me to feel more comfortable and confident.”

“[They] kept a constant and open line of communication. Being flexible and receptive to feedback.”


Question 2

What has been the biggest challenge that you have experienced in your coursework this semester?

Themes that emerged:

  • Adapting to online & blended learning
  • Missing the connections usually formed with peers and faculty
  • Overall burnout from managing a large online class load
  • Zoom fatigue
  • Remaining motivated and disciplined to complete coursework
  • Lack of communication from the instructor
  • Courses that lacked organization and detail
  • Finding quiet spaces with solid internet to attend class or work on assignments

 “Missing assignments simply because there's a million things to stay updated with. I feel like I'm looking at a screen more than I'm looking at anything else in my life, so the last thing I want to do at the end of the day is check my email or Isidore tabs for the billionth time that day. It's just the time we're in, so I understand it's not permanent, but this was definitely my biggest challenge this semester.”

“Learning online and without much break has caused burnout and I often found it hard to pay attention in class when sitting in front of a computer for most of it.”

“Being online the distractions were much greater and my motivation was lower being stuck in a dorm all day and not being able to be in a classroom interacting with my peers and professors.”

“Finding a student space that was quiet and would enable me to complete my work efficiently and correctly. It was extremely difficult to find a space living with 3 other people in a 4 room apartment on-campus.”

Question 3

What are the most important things instructors can do in Isidore or Zoom to help you succeed academically?

Themes that emerged:

  • Provide grades and feedback in a timely manner
  • Add due dates to the Calendar tool
  • Record Zoom classes so that students can re-watch them later for review
  • Clearly organize content and assignments by posting weekly plans and utilizing checklists
  • Stay in communication with the class and provide reminders of upcoming due dates
  • Encourage participation and engagement in Zoom lectures. 

 “I would say that having the ability to go back and re-watch recorded lectures has been extremely helpful - I wish we had that during normal times!”

“Be meticulously organized. What topic are we learning? What day are we going to learn about that? When is the homework due? What are some good external resources/pages in the textbook we can use for help?”

“Do as much as possible to engage students in group discussions and other activities that would normally be conducted in class (i.e., small group projects)”

“I think instructors should add the due dates to the course calendar. I only had one instructor do this and it really helped. All of the other instructors didn't use the calendar so a lot of times I wouldn't know when tests or quizzes were due.”


Question 4

What suggestions would you make to improve blended class instruction?

Themes that emerged:

  • Provide a clear and consistent schedule to students on which days they will be attending in-person vs which days they will attend on Zoom. Do your best not change the schedule from week-to-week.
  • Clearly communicate attendance expectations
  • Look for ways to use class time for discussions and interactive experiences instead of just lecturing.
  • Ensure that both audiences (in-person and remote students) are being paid attention to
  • Use Break-out rooms more often and create ways for students to interact with each other.
  • Remember to stand in the front of the camera and repeat questions from in-person students so that the students attending via Zoom can hear them.

“To improve blended class instruction, I think it is important for the professor to make it very clear when it is each person's day to go in class and what is expected to be done for class, and make sure that the instructor sticks to it. My professors cancelled in person classes a lot or switched things around which made it very confusing to know when I was supposed to be online or in person or what I was supposed to complete before each class.”

“Find a way to make the students on zoom feel as involved in the class as the students who are in-person.”

“Get classmates interacting with each other & the instructor using live, online presentation tools. Oftentimes it turns into 90 minute lectures which make me fall asleep.”

“The way one of my classes did it, was if it was typically a three day per week class, we would have groups of three, and each group would be assigned either M, W, or F and I found that helpful because I did not have to worry about being around too many people in one class.”

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