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This content was published: January 26, 2021. Phone numbers, email addresses, and other information may have changed.

Quickpoll Results: What have you struggled with in one of your current classes?

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Throughout Fall 2020 term, the Online Student Services team conducted quick polls collecting brief, anonymous student responses to learn more about their experiences in remote and online learning at PCC. The responses to this installment’s topic: “What have you struggled with in one of your current classes?” reiterates many themes from our first two poll questions: “What has made you feel successful in one of your classes?” and “Do you have a clear idea about what is expected of you in your classes?”.

a frustrated student working on a laptop

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

In just over 24 hours (Nov. 19-20, 2020), students submitted nearly 600 responses describing their struggles in Fall classes. Most of the responses could be categorized into several broad thematic areas. Interestingly, students who had prior experience in online classes before PCC went fully remote and students who were new to remote learning reported many of the same struggles.

Focus & Engagement

Many students mentioned challenges focusing on schoolwork and engaging with classmates and instructors. Difficulty focusing was attributed to remote learning without a distraction-free environment in which to study and to stresses related to COVID-19 and the turmoil of current events in the fall. For many students, this was also complicated by lack of access to high-speed internet necessary for Zoom lectures. Students also repeatedly mentioned difficulties engaging with peers, even through group projects and discussion boards, and in timely communication with instructors.

Focus. It’s hard to stay focused in my classes because I have too many distractions at home, like my kids for instance.

Getting reliable signal to have class not get interrupted. We need a place to sit and have wifi.

Feeling engaged with my peers, my teacher, and the coursework.

Coordinating for group projects.

Just not having the interaction with the class and teacher and the ability to ask simple questions while in class vs having to write an email.

One thing that I have struggled with is getting responses from professors through email.

Time Management & Motivation

More students described struggles with time management and motivation than any other theme in this poll’s responses. When students mentioned time management, many issues arose relating to services and opportunities that have been complicated by the pandemic. Students are essential workers, are struggling to find child care, are helping school-aged children learn remotely, and are providing community and family support. Many mentioned being overwhelmed and fatigued, and feeling less motivation for schoolwork and class attendance.

Finding time between life and school. With Covid, child care has been something risky and hard to find.

Getting classwork in on-time while simultaneously doing volunteer organizing work to ensure that my community has access to Covid testing and food resources while also dealing with innumerable changes at work due to the surge in coronavirus cases. I stretched past my breaking point weeks ago but somehow I’m still going.

I’ve been finding it difficult to stay motivated with my courses with everything else occurring in my life.

Juggling my health and wellness with school. Being stressed out about being unemployed since March with no end in sight.

Course Organization

Keeping in mind what we know about many students’ struggles with time and focus during this period, course organization surfaced as an opportunity for instructors to make remote learning easier and less time intensive for students.

One of my classes is not very well organized in D2L, meaning that I have to go to 3-4 different places to see what is due and when (it’s incredibly stressful, and a miracle I haven’t missed anything).

It’s hard to keep up sometimes because it feels like assignments and quizzes are all over the place. Like there’s not just one area that lists every assignment that needs to be done. You have to check various platforms and areas within each course to really stay on track.

There are times when I have struggled to understand a topic or finish an assignment. For example a module gets opened on Sunday and then by Monday night there is an assignment due for that module. There is always a rush to get it done fast rather than understanding the material.

Requires printed material and I do not have a printer.

One of the classes is completely unorganized. Right now I, like many other students, are balancing a lot on their plates. Having a class where the assignments aren’t clear, due dates aren’t clear, there’s no course calendar for the course, it’s absolute chaos and unclear. It’s the biggest struggle. When things are organized and clear, then it’s really up to the student to do the work. When the class feels like chaos and disorder, it’s a total struggle to keep up.

Our most recent post in this series, “Do you have a clear idea about what is expected of you in your classes?” by Morgan Johnson and earlier post Organizing Content for Student Success by Rondi Schei both offer tips and strategies for online course organization. What Works Well
and the wealth of Instructional Best Practices can help with the continuous improvement process to make courses organized and engaging.

Instructor & Staff Flexibility

Due to the climate in which students were learning during Fall term, many expressed the desire for understanding and flexibility from instructors and staff. Students wanted more instructor and staff availability, and they wanted instructors and staff to acknowledge the complications inherent in working and living in both a pandemic and a fraught political and social landscape. Students expressed their desire to be understood as humans with complicated lives, who are navigating an unexpected environment.

Juggling deadlines when everyone is facing extra stress with pandemic, civil unrest, and isolation. If it makes no difference to learning, it would be reasonable to have an amnesty day or generous extensions on late assignments.

Adapting to the process of learning material remotely, getting technology to consistently work and figuring out how to get the help I need in my classes have all been consistent and challenging problems. The expectations of teachers for grading is the same, but the learning landscape has changed significantly, overnight. The amount of time and energy I need to put in to get the same or worse grades is much higher and much more frustration riddled.

Timed exams and quizzes have been hard to deal with at times. My computer has been having issues where it will randomly shut down and restart several times a day, using up 3 to 4 minutes of time each time this happens. I also deal with kids in the house during these times too, which also makes exams hard and more stressful due to having an allowed exam time. Some teachers have helped this issue by giving more time or shorter exams, but others I haven’t been able to finish due to outside factors. I understand why exams are timed, but the added stress really makes it hard to do well mentally during exam times.

I wish that my instructor was more flexible with grading during this time. I feel that instructors should acknowledge what is going on in the world right now (pandemic concerns, election worries, racism, police violence, etc), and adjust their expectations accordingly. Students have a lot more on their plate right now than they do in usual terms.

Many students reflected they knew that instructors who were new to teaching remotely were doing their best, and that the shift to remote learning and the current environment is challenging for everyone.

Online schooling overall has been difficult. The teachers are doing the best they can with the situation, they’re not doing no wrong. It’s just hard to stay focused on school during this online situation.

PCC students are balancing busy lives, even moreso during this unprecedented time in our country. Shared empathy can guide us as students and instructors continue to adjust to living, learning, and working in an environment that is unstable and deeply challenging. Creating and facilitating engaging and easy-to-navigate online courses allows students to focus more of their energy on the process of learning.

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x (Comment #41923) by Poulami Mitra 2 years ago (Comment #41923)

I have struggled with students not wanting to read the textbook and constantly asking for a study guide and what can they skip.

x (Comment #41924) by Brad 2 years ago (Comment #41924)

Thank you so much for doing these “quick polls”. They are very helpful for me to keep up with our student’s concerns.
Please keep doing these.

x (Comment #42006) by Darryl 2 years ago (Comment #42006)

I’m glad I’m not alone. Being an older student who is recently returning to college, it has been a struggle two-fold. I feel you need the instructor’s in person contextual input into the material being taught to get a better understanding