What Matters Most in Online Learning: Students comment on what positively affects their learning and what they could do without.

Concurrent Session 9

Brief Abstract

What do students want in an online course? The researcher will share results from a study which examined student comments from 566 online course evaluations. Themes focus on the best and worst things that students experienced; outcomes will be highlighted regarding students' most desired approaches and strategies for online instruction. 


Extended Abstract

The growth of online learning had been steady before the COVID-19 pandemic but has been remarkable during and after the pandemic This increase in online courses has called for the need to make sure that the same high-quality expectations are represented in both traditionally taught courses and online courses.  It is vital to the quality of online teaching that we consistently examine our online instruction practices by investigating students’ online learning experiences. End of the course surveys have become one of the most used measures of instructor effectiveness and course quality in higher education with over 90 percent of schools of higher education using them. Instructors can take advantage of the feedback from students and target specific evaluation factors to improve their teaching and their teaching effectiveness. Course evaluations can provide valuable information to teachers to identify problem areas and seeking out sources to focus on improvement.

In the ex post facto descriptive study that will be shared in this session, comments were reviewed from course evaluations to determine what students identify as strengths and weaknesses in instruction for their online courses. Past course evaluations were collected from the students in the education department from fall 2016 to summer 2019. The qualitative sections from the course evaluations were used for this study which consisted of four different open-ended statements that students could respond to. They were: The best things about this course are; This course would be improved if; The best things about the instructor’s teaching are; and The instructor’s teaching would be improved if. The student comments were collected from the course evaluations, compiled, themed, coded, tabulated, and analyzed so that both quantitative and qualitative analysis could be completed. A total of 4,901 individual statements were coded.  The results for each section included the top 20 themes identified in response to the open-ended statements. Themes from the 4 different areas were compared and summarized to identify the areas that students identified as the “best and the worst” in online learning.

What do you think students communicated as being most important to them in the online learning environment? What really doesn’t matter to them at all? If you would like to gain an awareness on what our students say about their online learning experiences, join me for an insightful session that may help you decide on where to put the most “bang for your buck” as you design your own online courses.

Level of Participation

This session is structured to inform the audience of the outcomes of the study, but also to keep them actively engaged. To begin the session, the details of the research methodology will be shared, but before the results are shared, the participants will be asked to form small groups and create their own top 10 list of the “Best of Times and the Worst of Times” in online learning. As the results of the study are presented, the groups will be asked to check similar themes on their lists. The group who checks off the most themes on their list will be given a special prize.

A brief discussion will be held with the group regarding students’ top choices in online learning and how they correlated to effective online teaching strategies. After which, the correlation between the students’ top strategies and effective online teaching practices as published on the researcher’s  Scholarship of Teaching and Learning site will be shared. Finally, the groups will brainstorm how they might enhance or change their own online courses as a result of hearing the results of the study.

Session Goals:

Individuals attending this session will be able to identify the themes that were found to be most prevalent from student online course evaluations according to  the research presented. They will also be able to describe the strategies that correlate to effective online teaching and discern how the results of the study could inform their own online teaching.