Student Reactions to COVID-19 Remote Learning: Lessons Learned from Multiple Institutions
Concurrent Session 1
Were students’ needs met during the COVID-19 transition to remote learning? Were they able to complete their courses, despite multiple challenges? This interactive panel session helps us learn about the student experience as researched at two different public and private higher education institutions.
Were students’ needs met during the COVID-19 transition to remote learning? Were they able to complete their courses, despite multiple challenges? This interactive panelist session begins with a few quick audience polling questions and small group discussions about the COVID-19 remote learning transition on their campuses. The purpose of this session is to learn more about the student experience as researched at three different public and private higher education institutions.
As researchers, instructors, and practitioners, we know that until their basic needs are met, students cannot connect well to the course content and engage with each other. Milheim (2012) notes, “Instructors in the virtual classroom have an important role to play in ensuring students' basic needs are met” (p. 161). Likewise, Chen and Jang (2010) suggest, “Online instructors should spend time understanding their students’ intentions for study, and provide customized facilitation that help individual students reduce uncertainty and anxiety, become more assured and self-determined, and begin to enjoy their learning online” (p. 750). During the transition to COVID-19 remote learning, instructors had to quickly adapt to an on-the-fly approach to remote learning. Tensions were high as families were stressed with financial burdens, food and supply shortages, work and educational schedules, and shared technological resources. What did these constraints mean for student learning?
In this panel presentation, we present research from multiple public and private higher education institutions to help paint a picture of the student experience during this crisis situation, in an effort to learn how to best support students in the future. This panel offers a highly interactive session, asking conference participants to draw from their remote learning experience and recording that experience using Padlet.
Questions for Panelists:
Address the scope and design of the study on your campus. What role did connectedness, or social presence, play for students in the COVID remote learning process at your institution?
Was prior experience and training a factor for students? What played a key role in their transition?
What were students’ takeaways from this experience?
What should instructors and academic leaders take away and change moving forward, based on student feedback?
University A’s Student Remote Learning Experience
About our Campus:
University A is a medium-sized private university with just under 10,000 students and offers over 200 undergraduate and graduate programs. As an urban oasis known for quality face-to-face teaching, University A has been slow to blended and online learning with only a few online programs.
The Transition to Remote Teaching:
Spring Break was winding down, when students and instructors nearly simultaneously received a message from the emergency team late in the day on March 11 that classes would not resume as planned and remote learning would begin the following Monday, only four days away.
About our Study:
This study involved an electronic questionnaire with closed and open-ended questions (41 questions, including 7 demographic questions) sent to all students through a global campus email by the Dean of Students on May 7, 2020. A follow up global email was sent on May 13. There were 708 student survey participants from a total 9600 students (7% response rate). The sample is statistically significant; it uses a confidence level of 95% and a margin error of 4%. The survey instrument included inquiries related to the participants: health and wellness, technology use, and overall experience. Interviews and/or focus group sessions are planned as well as content analysis of open-ended responses.
Our survey instrument included inquiries related to health and wellness, remote learning transition, and technology use. Table 1 offers a breakdown of the demographics of the survey participants.
.61% Prefer not to answer
84% None/Less than One Year
13% 1-3 Years
2% 4-5 Years
.16% 6-7 Years
“I felt extremely disconnected, like I was teaching myself”
“Most (not all) professors made it difficult because they did not have a plan when classes went virtual. It felt very unorganized and seemed like professors just gave up...I felt like all my classmates including me lost the motivation to actually do the work and participate in class”
“I felt connected in having the live classes on zoom”
“I felt connected through the zoom chat box. I was able to write down my questions and get different answers that help me to understand and apply the learning outcomes. Also, I enjoyed the Instagram videos...because they were creative and I was already using instagram. It made the transition for me much more smoother to connect to resources available”
Health and Wellness
Students' negative and positive feelings about the move to remote learning were closely divided with about half feeling OK/great and the other half feeling worried, struggling, or in a really dark place.
Majority of students managed their time during the move to remote learning on a day to day basis (63%) expressing they “winged it”; while others managed their time with their previously used online/print schedules (19%) and creating a weekly table/chart (14%).
Remote Learning Experience
According to the respondents, remote learning required more work (60%) and more time (55%) than traditional classes. Respondents felt that they learned less than a traditional classroom setting (72%). Students received support from instructors (26%) and peers (22%), with the rest distributed over trial and error (17%), tutorials (16%), and family (14%).
Students used synchronous engagement for class meetings (30%) and screen sharing (21%). They communicated with professors mostly by email (70%) or cell phone (33%).
University B’s Instructor Social Presence Study
About our Campus
University B is a regional public university with just under 15,000 undergraduate students and almost 3000 graduate students. University B has 56 bachelor programs, 36 master’s programs, and 4 doctoral programs and has offered online and blended learning programs for over ten years.
The Transition to Remote Teaching
In the middle of Spring Break at University B, faculty, staff, and students were notified that we would be moving to remote instruction. The university extended Spring Break by a week in order to give faculty time to move classes to an online environment. Remote instruction was also required to be asynchronous due to connectivity concerns and shifts in student living and working situations.
About our Study
At the close of the semester, after the traditional student evaluation period ended, we sent an anonymous online survey to a representative sample of 6000 undergraduate and graduate students taking classes on campus. There was a response rate of 7% (N=432). We were interested in hearing from students about a class they had in the spring semester that they felt successfully shifted from face-to-face to an online environment. Specifically, we asked students to focus on a class that was successful in keeping them in touch with their instructor, content, and peers.
The instrument was adopted from Sheridan and Kelly (2010), modified to focus on instructor social presence from a facilitation vantage, and with additional open-ended questions to determine which characteristics of the courses contributed to a successful shift to remote instruction due to COVID-19.
Table 2 offers a breakdown of the demographics of the survey participants.
1% Prefer not to answer
77% 18 to 24
12% 25 to 34
6% 35 to 44
4% 45 to 54
1% over 55
During preliminary coding of the open-ended responses, three themes emerged as contributing to a shifted course being successful from the perspective of students:
Students use the terms responsive and accessible interchangeably. Students valued being able to contact their instructors, having timely responses to inquiries, and regular reminders of due dates.
Online Teaching Best Practices
Students valued clear organization of content, as well as instructors changing assessments such as cumulative tests to short answers, or incorporating reflections or materials that were authentic to the new learning context.
An area most noted and important when considering social presence in online learning was empathic facilitation. Students highly valued instructors who reached out via email or announcements, noted an understanding of the situation, and otherwise demonstrated they cared about the students, the situation, and continued student learning.
University C’s Student Remote Learning Experience
About our Campus:
University C is an urban research university with approximately 30,000 students located in the state’s largest city. The undergraduate and graduate programs offered are internationally competitive and focus on community engagement.
The Transition to Remote Teaching:
The transition to remote learning occurred in the middle of the Spring 2020 semester, prior to spring break.
About our Study:
University C is in the midst of IRB approval and plans to launch University A’s survey when approval is granted. This comparison of public and private students’ experiences can help leaders to understand students’ experiences more comprehensively to better support students in the future.
This session will end with a lively Q&A and a discussion of lessons learned, which will also be recorded for future reference. Presenters will provide slides and materials.
Chen, K. C., & Jang, S. J. (2010). Motivation in online learning: Testing a model of self-determination theory. Computers in Human Behavior, 26(4), 741-752.
Milheim, K. L. (2012). Towards a better experience: Examining student needs in the online classroom through Maslow's hierarchy of needs model. Journal of online learning and teaching, 8(2), 159.
Sheridan, K., & Kelly, M.A. (2010). The indicators of instructor presence that are important to students in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 6(4), 767-779.