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Three-Quarters of College Students Call Online Classes 'Unengaging,' Miss Campus Interactions

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In an April survey done by education technology vendor Top Hat, a quarter of college students said they're undecided about whether or not to continue their education in the fall. The survey found that 26 percent of students are re-evaluating their intentions of returning to school. Nearly seven in 10 (68 percent) consider the online instruction they're receiving right now worse than what they got in person; half said they were spending less time on their coursework.

What are the problems? Three-quarters (78 percent) called their online class experience "unengaging," and a similar share (75 percent) reported missing face-to-face interactions with others on campus.

The survey was done among 3,089 college and university students at all grade levels in North America. Top Hat software lets instructors add more active learning functionality to courses delivered virtually, in blended format or in-person. The software provides for streaming lectures; the addition of interactivity to textbook content; slide presentations; embedding of formative and summative assessments, polls, quizzes and discussions; and administration of proctored tests, among other features.

More than half of students (52 percent) said they were feeling "anxious," half were worried about passing their classes this semester and four in 10 were concerned about finishing the semester altogether. They especially missed contact with others; 86 percent said they missed socializing with other students, and 85 percent said they missed face-to-face interaction with their instructors. They also missed aspects of the campus experience, among them study spaces (mentioned by 76 percent of respondents) and fitness and sports facilities (58 percent).

Given their grim assessment of schooling during COVID-19, most still gave their institutions and faculty high marks. Seventy percent rated their schools' response to coronavirus as good or excellent; and 66 percent rated their instructors' responses the same.

"In the past couple of months, we have seen higher ed faculty and institutions around the world scramble to ensure students are able to continue their learning and finish the semester remotely, and it has been nothing less than a herculean effort," said Nick Stein, chief marketing officer for Top Hat, in a statement. "One of the biggest learnings has been just how difficult it is to do online teaching well. As the Fall 2020 semester looms on the horizon, colleges and universities are facing an unprecedented level of pressure to provide students with a significant return on investment in their education. Based on the results from this survey, students are expecting a more engaging, interactive and human experience. Getting this right will be critical to the future of higher education."

The company suggested that schools focus on several areas to improve students' experiences with online education, including:

  • Enhancing the online learning experience;
  • Pushing for more interaction with faculty;
  • Promoting social experiences with other students; and
  • Examining what and how learning materials are being used.

The complete findings are available in a Top Hat infographic.

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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