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This content was published: December 7, 2020. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

What has made you feel successful in one of your classes?

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Editor’s note

Our team started to do quick polls of students for brief, anonymous feedback on their remote and online college experience. The feedback was so overwhelming that we decided to create a blog post for each of the topics instead of summarizing them in a single post. What struck me in reading so many of the student responses was how well the themes matched what we’ve been promoting in the What Works Well efforts (revisions coming soon!) In this week’s Best Practices Post, Gloria explores what students felt helped them feel successful. We’re sharing these now in case it might help you as you approach Winter term.

Andy Freed

Going remote affected instructors, students and student support teams alike. It challenged the way instructors taught, the way students learned, and the way student support services engaged with and guided students to resources and service centers.  Everyone had to look at the ways in which students were being supported,, and then, for many, redesign those processes to match the needs within the remote environment.

The Online Student Services teams support students towards resources and services outside of the classroom, as well as provide guidance and best practices for how students can make the most of being an online learner, and more importantly how best to succeed at it. This includes setting expectations for what students will get from their online courses, as well as  what to expect from their instructor. With almost all current PCC students identifying as online or remote, it was more important than ever to identify and communicate those best practices and expectations that would help students acclimate to the online environment quicker.

Anonymous student feedbackWhat we wanted to know now, is what exactly were we getting right and what could we do differently?  Also, what best practice tips have been working and where can we partner with instructors to help make the in class experience that much more supportive.

To help guide our work towards timely, relevant and actionable ideas for support, we reached out and just asked students, What has made you feel successful in one of your classes?

In just three days, the survey garnered over 1600 responses.  The responses were categorized into themes and the top themes that received both the most positive and not so positive responses, were summarized and compiled with feedback from students.

Course Organization

The most abundant responses to the survey were ones that focused on organization. With many struggling through the work-life balance that the pandemic has further intensified, what has been found to be comforting to students, is a classroom where an instructor has created a clear schedule that provides structure and rhythm to each week.  Also knowing what is expected of them both in regards to material needs as well as performance provides students an ability to plan and budget around work, family and school.

My psychology professor created a checklist for the entire semester. It consisted of due dates, makeup dates, general time frames of when to work on certain assignments, etc., all in chronological order, separated by week. While this may sound similar to a simple “course calendar,” I found this checklist to be much more specific and comprehensive. It has been helping me keep track of where I am in relation to my professor’s expectations.

If printing or PDF editing is a required and graded porting of the class, I wish that were included in the course materials list ahead of time, so I had time to properly prepare and find resources before the term started.

Top student feedback tips:

  • Provide clear guidelines and due dates well in advance
  • Organize course info within the D2L Brightspace content modules
  • Communicate regularly with the class
  • Give specific work that will further reinforce the topic covered, not just busy work
  • List out course materials and expectations ahead of time
  • Be clear in what you require, such as things that might need to be printed or edited online.  Editing PDFs can be difficult and paying for FedEx to print hundreds of pages can be expensive when you can’t afford a printer or ink.

Timely Feedback

Providing specific and timeline feedback can make a big difference to a student, and more importantly can make them feel seen and heard, in an environment where we can all feel like just another email message, or another square on a Zoom call. Also important, is regularly letting students know what they’re doing right (or wrong) which can help them pivot as needed and manage changes to their study habits and work within the quarter system.

I submitted a paper and my instructor said good job with no other feedback. Then explained in a video that meant exactly that no problems. that made me feel really good.

It would be nice to know how I am doing in my class. We took the exam and submitted two homework assignments a week ago, and only one of the three has been graded so far with minimal feedback. I have very little idea how I am doing in regards to my grade.

Top student feedback tips:

  • Give thoughtful feedback
  • Give specific feedback
  • Respond within 48 hours if possible
  • Building in engaging group discussions shows the instructor has interest in the curriculum as well as the class community

Time management

It’s not so hard these days to imagine the barriers that students are facing during remote operations or even to put ourselves in their shoes during this  pandemic. Many staff and faculty are also experiencing the same kind of challenges in managing time for childcare, schooling, work, family time, and more. That is why time management faired pretty high on our survey with students.

I have ADHD-I and online learning is a nightmare for me. The benefits so far are online quizzes and exams are open-book open note and have a much longer time for completion than in-school learning. I also like recorded mini lessons (3-7 minutes)to cover concepts. I can pause them when my brain needs a break and re-watch when I need help with concepts. Zoom office hours are great because I don’t feel as though I am inconveniencing my instructor by hanging around their office. They are at home.

Being able to do it on my time at home or anywhere I am! Everything is posted on Monday and we have a week to finish it all. That fits my life, and schedule because I have a full career, plus being a husband and father.

Top student feedback tips:

  • Be clear and write down the timelines (reading, watching videos, discussions, responses to classmates, quizzes, tests, etc.)
  • Use the calendar tool in Brightspace
  • Create space and time to get content done.
  • Break large lessons In portions so as not to be overloading and overwhelming.
  • Not assigning different due dates for all assignments.  Having a single clear date helps us to manage to that date.

Instructor Flexibility

Another theme from our survey that resonates for students as well as faculty and staff alike was flexibility. This far into 2020, many can attest that anything really can happen.  What’s important is to remember is that we are all human.

Students want to be successful. Students during this reach for success, may also experience unexpected situations, such as the loss of an immediate family member, job loss, loss of a home, or some other serious situation. Having an instructor that shows understanding and flexibility towards something like homework due dates or exam make-ups truly makes the student feel supported.

The ability to schedule my schoolwork around the rest of my life, rather than the other way around. This one single paradigm shift has totally reversed my outlook on education, and has prompted me to enroll in an online asynchronous university after I had basically given up on university due to the difficulties of trying to work and live and go to school.

I feel like having an instructor who’s aware and acknowledges the nuances and the stresses of the current climate as well as normalizing and humanizing those experiences has been very impactful and helpful.

Top student feedback tips:

  • Whenever possible, try to be flexible and show leniency on course loads and due dates
  • Let students know that you are approachable, so that they feel comfortable asking for help
  • Be willing to schedule zoom calls with students outside of class time for those who are juggling multiple schedules
  • Be aware and acknowledge the nuances and the stresses of the current climate as well as normalizing and humanizing those experiences has been very impactful and helpful.

It’s important to stay aware of the fact that we are guiding and supporting a number of students who were not originally looking to be online students at PCC, some who have only ever done in-person learning.  It is through this awareness, that we can continue to be creative in the design of our classrooms, student support areas, and in creating content that can build connections and foster engagement much like those created when we were in classrooms or campus centers.

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x (Comment #40979) by bryan 3 years ago (Comment #40979)

Fascinating data. It would be interesting to pair these comments with what online instructors saw as a “successful” class. I wonder if the two lists don’t overlap much.

x (Comment #40995) by Alison 3 years ago (Comment #40995)

This is terrific. I’d love to see the questions posed and actual data as well!

x (Comment #41000) by Fred 3 years ago (Comment #41000)

I’m waiting for the day when a student talks fondly about the rigor of a class – how the class was challenging and motivated the student to work hard and really pushed the envelope. But unfortunately I fear that students are now more like consumers who want to feel “comfortable,” no matter the modality (in-person or online).

x (Comment #41007) by mariah 3 years ago (Comment #41007)

I particularly found the comment about having 1 day when everything is due interesting. I assumed my students would want the work spread out so while I do have a rhythm (labs on day, homework anther), I tried to spread the due days throughout the week. Turned out my students were overwhelmed by what they saw as a bunch so little things so I am rethinking my strategy taking this into account.

x (Comment #41009) by K J Pataki SY SS Ath/Geo 3 years ago (Comment #41009)

Excellent and helpful. This spills (mutually) into DL teaching; some research on their linkages or parallels would be very interesting. The fear of remotes appear to be resolvable to some degree, since we absorb and reflect what we hear repeatedly to a considerable extent, similar (dare I say) to negations of the recent national election. If we have negative momentum, we can also have positive momentum.

x (Comment #41021) by Jane Loverin 3 years ago (Comment #41021)

Thank you so much for gathering this information! Many of the comments are what I am currently doing and I am still learning what works best with remote learning for different types of individuals. Some of my best students are struggling with online and remote learning and I appreciate hearing all the different feedback from students so I can make necessary adjustments to some of my classes as well.