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Weekly Tip: Online Student Perspective of Instruction Practices During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Find the Graphic: Light bulb. below for easily implemented strategies!

Pressure makes diamonds.

—George S. Patton Jr.

We all felt the intense heat and pressure of distance delivery. It is easy to become buried in individual thought processes as we plow through the challenges of the last couple semesters and the semester ahead, but let’s take a moment to understand the impact some of our Global Campus (GC) colleagues had on their students and use the student feedback to reflect on and refine our teaching – whether we are planning to teach face-to-face, online or somewhere in between in the fall.

At the end of the Spring 2020 term GC students were invited to complete a survey designed to explore the extent and ways in which COVID-19 impacted their college education. The survey received 231 full and partial responses regarding challenges students faced and messages they would send to the instructor. Other questions focused on faculty engagement and communication with students, use of educational technology, and structure of courses.

Student responses clustered around teacher presence, the use of regular live conversations and feedback, and the deliberate and tailored use of educational technology. For those who think that COVID-19 did not impact GC students, these survey responses tell a different story.

Teacher Presence

Teacher presence played a significant role in global students’ ability to feel seen and heard. Students were especially attuned to compassion shown by the instructors:

I know my instructor had a lot to juggle herself, but making time to speak with me on the phone made a world of difference in my ability to get back on track and succeed in her class.

My online instructor was more available after the covid-19 shutdown. He was very open to my suggestions and responsive to changes in the protocols of curriculum such as no longer requiring test proctors. It would have been impossible for me to secure myself in a room without interruption now that I am living with my parents along with my own family (with a 9-year-old).

And prompt feedback:

More presence in the form of regular feedback helps reduce the perceived “isolation” of the online courses.

Prompt grading of assignments is appreciated.

[My professors] were great at returning emailed questions promptly.

Teacher presence is also apparent in our course design and how we deliver instructions:

Make instructions clear as far as course goals and timelines…some have made just looking at Blackboard a weekly treasure hunt to try and figure out what is due.

While a treasure hunt sounds fun, we are confident that this student did not want the process of searching for class materials online to be one.

Simple Compassion, Feedback, and Course Design Changes for Big Teaching Presence Impact

Graphic: Light bulb. The “How are you doing?”  email: This email can be as simple as.

Hello [student name], I hope you are enjoying the course. How are you doing so far?

Personalizing it with the student’s name adds even more of a powerful touch, but if you have many students, simply copy the above, paste inside of a Canvas email, choose the class you would like to send this message to, select the “send individual email” check box (located right beneath the subject line), and send.

  • If you are still using Blackboard, you can do something similar by going to the gradebook, email, then email all or selected users.

Graphic: Light bulb.  Verbal Feedback Tool: Canvas has amazing features that allow you to turn text to speech or to record a video in the speed grading environment. The video tool not only speeds up the process of providing feedback, but it also allows the student to hear the care and concern in our voices that is sometimes harder to perceive in written feedback.

  • If you are still using Blackboard, you can use their recording tool, though it is not in the grading environment. Go to the gradebook and, after finding the column and student grade, select the circle with the downward carrot (sits just right of where their grade sits), select “Quick Comment,” then “Text Editor,” and the “Feedback to Learner” and “Grading Notes” will open, each with their own rich context editors. There you will see a microphone icon for recording.

Graphic: Light bulb. “Tour of the Course” Video and Weekly “To-Do” Lists: Use Zoom or some other screen capturing tool to record you and your screen as you show off the many elements of your course space. Remember for the best user experience, design your course so that it takes as few clicks as possible to locate material and maneuver around. A weekly To-Do list is like being in two places at once! Make use of lists, to-do videos, and/or a course schedule to help keep your students on track.

It was not just the teacher’s presence that the students missed. They also desired conversation and interaction with peers.

Regular Live Conversations and Interactions

Students longed for live interaction and really appreciated opportunities to speak with their instructor and peers. Weekly live meetings offered an opportunity to discuss questions and new ideas with others. Regardless of instructional mode, students appreciated when faculty provided the option of attending reviews of content, office hours, pre or post exam debriefs, weekly Q&As, group work time, and more. One student mentioned specifically how much they appreciated the opportunity to debrief and discuss test results with fellow students. Others mentioned a few instructors even took time to talk with students on the phone. Students mentioned how much they appreciated the effort by these instructors to help them succeed.

It’s great just knowing instructors care and are listening.

Several responses were quite sobering. They included stress, depression, and financial concerns due to job loss.

This semester stressed me out so badly. Trying to stay on top of my studies, step in to help with daycare for grandchildren whose school closed, having a Covid scare with my daughter who had to isolate from her family so I had to step in, taking care of my elderly roommate to keep her safe, having my business shut down by Governor, no money coming in for almost 6 weeks, and the pile of reading and papers that I had to keep up with…. Almost broke me.

Students shared many challenges, yet they were determined to complete their education in spite of these obstacles.

Graphic: Light bulb. Simple Interaction Changes for Big Learning Impact

  • Be in Multiple Breakout Rooms at Once: Prior to the live session, record a mini lecture that concludes with a challenge/question for the students to work through. During the live session, separate the students (if need be) into breakout rooms. In each breakout room, one student shares their screen and sound as the group watches the mini lecture, another student documents their questions regarding the lecture, and a third student documents the group’s response to the concluding challenge/question. Have the class reconvene as a whole or visit break out rooms personally as discussion occurs to address questions regarding the lecture and assess student understanding.

Technology reaches beyond the live sessions and bolsters many aspects of your course.

Deliberate and Tailored use of Educational Technology

Students appreciated when faculty incorporated educational technology in purposeful ways. With so many educational technology options available, deciding what technology to include in your course can be difficult. However, students recognize your efforts when you start by identifying the goals of the course and then selecting technology that aligns with those objectives and meets the students’ needs. For example, students appreciated instructors who sent out email reminders and updates:

“[My instructor] would send out a random video during the week that was very encouraging and would re-emphasize the important info for the week or what information we should pay attention to. That was incredibly helpful.”

Students also benefitted from seeing their instructors engage in the LMS features such as the discussion boards:

“Professors engaging in the discussion posts really promote further learning and thinking on the topic.”

Effective use of educational technology can be a challenge, but when done well, students acknowledge their experience with technology as an important part of their learning. Without opportunities to read peers’ thoughts and interact, students learning online or remotely sometimes feel isolated and unsupported. 

We asked students if they had any messages that they would like for us to pass on to their instructors.

One student wanted faculty to remember that online courses require the same community, connection, and access to one another as in face-to-face courses. Other students wanted instructors to know that they do not have the freedom to focus solely on being a student. They also have kids, families, and jobs that compete for their time and focus while at home. They appreciated the faculty who were more flexible during these challenging times.

 While this pandemic is far from over, as we consider returning to in person learning, how do you see ways to continue addressing the issues these students reflected upon during their emergency remote learning experiences into your courses in semesters to come?

Resource Links

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing aoi.li@wsu.edu.

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact aoi.li@wsu.edu or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.