Students had a range of responses to the sudden shift to remote learning during Spring term 2020. While many students expressed appreciation for PSU’s efforts to keep them safe and for their instructors’ efforts to support their learning, some areas of challenge also emerged. Below, we focus on some common themes and offer suggestions for approaches instructors might take to address these challenges.  While there are many situations students face that are outside of the control of individual instructors, the following are a few common scenarios that instructors may be able to take action on addressing. 

Quotes and vignettes are based on student feedback received during Spring 2020. See more details about Spring 2020 remote learning experiences in the Office of Student Success Remote Pulse Survey and the Disability Resource Center Student Survey. Student quotes have been edited for clarity.

Students felt overwhelmed in digital spaces.

“… The zoom lectures often feel like they are moving all over the place and even the instructor is having a difficult time staying on task, as there are more interruptions than typically experienced in lecture halls. … The zoom lectures seem to be more stimulating and exhausting than in person lectures…”

“…One class has a reading list on the syllabus, which can be access through D2L, but the articles on the reading list are in the library, and not grouped by week or in any order, so one has to have the syllabus in one window, and the library list in another window to open the correct articles. Another has videos that are buried in the Table of Contents…”

“It’s much more difficult to read and focus. I feel frustrated with some professors who make me jump through hoops as a person who gets help with DRC. “

Suggestions for Instructors

  • Consider reducing duration and/or frequency of Zoom sessions in favor of asynchronous learning activities to meet course goals.
  • Intentionally plan your Zoom sessions and share interaction guidelines with students. Set standards for how students should ask questions, and whether and when they need to have their cameras and mics enabled.
  • Give extra attention to how you organize your course in D2L. Consider a weekly course structure, which may be different from how you’ve previously organized your course.
  • Work with the Disability Resource Center as needed to enact remote accommodations that meet students needs.

Spring term coincided with global crises.

“Trying to survive is hard enough, let alone worrying about class. Trying to maintain eligibility for grants by going full time when I can’t even cook dinner some nights. Sleeping badly which doesn’t help. Eating poorly which doesn’t help. Having to relocate to a different household due to my roommate being very ill doesn’t help. Losing my job doesn’t help. My whole life has been uprooted”

“Mental and physical health challenges that are being felt by most of us doesn’t seem a priority in adapting our course load to this reality.”

Suggestions for Instructors

  • Anticipate that you and your students will be feeling a variety of emotions that may make teaching and learning more challenging. Consider additional flexibility in how students engage in and demonstrate their learning. Universal Design for Learning offers valuable suggestions. 
  • Balance curricular challenges with a supportive and affirming learning environment. Offering students multiple opportunities to take quizzes or complete homework is one way to support students.
  • Share information about campus services and resources with students. For example, the Food Pantry, SHAC, Learning Center, and Financial Wellness Center are all resources here to help students succeed. The C.A.R.E. Team addresses concerns regarding specific student’s wellbeing. Faculty and staff may submit a CARE report to notify the team of a student concern.

PSU students continue to lead busy and complex lives.

“It is very difficult to sit through a Zoom class session when my child is also home. As a single mother, my resources have been stripped due to this virus and the virtual experience has been hard to manage at home with family.”

“…. I have deadlines almost every day of the week, and many of them can’t be started whenever I want to, as I have to wait for a professor to upload assignments, or for another student to do their work first, that means I can’t control when the work needs to be done, which is hard because I am a primary care provider to a 5 year old, who no longer has school, so I mostly have to do work after she goes to bed, sometimes until 2am.”

“I don’t have a space in my house (a one bedroom apartment) where I can study or attend classes without interruption, and I don’t have childcare for my daughter.”

Suggestions for Instructors

  • Trust your students and recognize that they may be facing challenges to showing up to your class that you can’t anticipate. Consider the impact of course policies on students at the margins. For example, might a “no late work policy” disproportionately hurt essential workers or students who take care of family members? 
  • Offer flexibility where possible. This might mean offering alternative ways to complete assignments or attend class sessions. 
  • Connect your class to students’ experiences. If you’re not sure how your course content relates to students, ask them to help make the connections. Seeing how what they’re learning in class connects to the real world and their own lives helps sustain engagement and motivation.

Students feel increased time pressure.

“I found some instructors made classes even more time consuming than in the past and this is not the time for busy silly work.”

“… I feel the professors have decided to make up for lack of in-person time with additional assignments which only stresses myself and others out as we try to figure out our life financially and health specifically….”

“Since switching to remote learning there has been an increase in coursework for most of my classes. Since going to remote learning I also have had less access to reliable internet, which has made online learning more difficult.”

Suggestions for Instructors

  • Plan your course activities and expectations carefully, so that students spend about 3-4 hours on course work for each credit hour of a course. This total time includes both instructional (“class time”) and homework/study time.
  • Anticipate that students are juggling additional stressors and may benefit from extra time to complete assignments.
  • Ensure strong alignment between your required course assignments and your course learning outcomes.

This article was last updated on Nov 12, 2020 @ 3:49 pm.

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