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Fall Student Experience Creating Online Converts

When it comes to interactivity among classmates, nothing beats texting. Nearly a third of students (31 percent) in a recent survey chose that over any other interaction option in online learning, including interactive whiteboards (mentioned by 29 percent), breakout rooms (18 percent), live surveys and polls (14 percent) or gamification such as badges and contests (7 percent).

Customer experience company Sykes ran the survey through Pollfish and received usable responses from 1,500 U.S. college students ages 18-plus whose coursework had been moved online this past fall in response to COVID-19.

The lack of interaction hit students hard. Thirty percent said not being able to have in-person contact with faculty was the most difficult aspect of the shift to online learning, while 29 percent said it was not having in-person contact with fellow students. Another 21 percent missed the campus community; 14 percent believed they didn't learn as well; and 6 percent said they were less comfortable contributing during online classes. (In counterpoint to that last grievance, another question found that 36 percent of students were "more confident" contributing during online classes.)

Most also said some of their online courses felt like a community; 53 percent said they felt "just as much" or "more" like a community than in-person classes.

Students said they wished they'd had more support in the fall with some specific areas: doing a better job of collaborating with classmates online (mentioned by 45 percent); dealing with technology issues during class (44 percent); and getting the necessary class tech for working online (43 percent). About a third of the group (36 percent) also said they would have liked to know more about how to use breakout rooms and/or how to give better virtual presentations.

Recording of online classes has become the norm. Almost four in five students (79 percent) said their instructors provided access to recorded versions of classes for on-demand viewing. While a third of students (35 percent) said they'd prefer getting feedback on their coursework through "typed comments," the majority would like real-time response — either via a video call (cited by 41 percent) or an audio call (24 percent).

Almost all students said their professors were understanding regarding the personal challenges they've faced as a result of the pandemic. In the survey, 56 percent said faculty had been "more supportive than I expected," while 39 percent said they'd been "fairly supportive." More than half of respondents (52 percent) reported that their instructors had adapted to the shift "adequately" or "very well." Another 44 percent said faculty did "OK"; and just 4 percent said they did "not very well."

Students' experiences with online learning — good and bad — have turned most into converts. Seventy percent said their online learning experiences during the fall have made them "more likely" to take online classes in the future.

"Our student respondents told us that while they feel quite personally supported by their online instructors, there's also ample opportunity to improve their virtual learning experience," said Steve Davis, higher education business development executive at Sykes, in a statement. "The rippling effects from COVID-19 have dramatically transformed higher education systems for good — and with 84 percent of students surveyed indicating that virtual learning can offer an effective learning environment, now is the time to further invest in elevating the virtual student learning experience."

The full results, along with analysis, are openly available on the Sykes website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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