Campus Community Provides Feedback on the Classroom Experience
Results have been compiled from the Spring 2021 listening sessions and a survey about the Georgia Tech student learning experience. The Academic Restart Taskforce conducted the research to better understand the impact of course modalities on student learning as well as the broader student experience. The survey and listening sessions were coordinated by Casey Chaviano, assistant director for Assessment and Planning - Office of Undergraduate Education, and Kyla Ross, assistant vice provost for Advocacy and Conflict Resolution.
A total of 46 undergraduate students, graduate students, graduate teaching assistants, and faculty and instructors participated in the listening sessions. Almost 7,000 undergraduate and graduate students participated in the Academic Restart Student Survey for a response rate of 28%. Students currently enrolled in courses were given the opportunity to participate in the survey (excluding students in professional master’s programs or distance learning).
A majority of students reported that in-person opportunities in hybrid and residential courses were of value to the learning experience in the Spring 2021 term. Many faculty created and shared detailed schedules of regular in-person opportunities for those students who indicated interest in attending in-person sessions, yet not all students opted to attend. In some cases, students who were committed to attending regularly in person were permitted to do so on a more frequent basis, whereas those students opting to not attend in person engaged with course material remotely. Still some students noted these in-person opportunities were not available to them.
Similar to Fall 2020, students reported that faculty were flexible and empathetic. As noted in the research summary, the flexibility may have unintentionally led to decreased engagement in classes. Some students reported that flexibility in attendance policies and the availability of recorded course material decreased their motivation to attend regularly. While survey respondents noted relatively high perceptions of learning across course modes, some students reported being distracted while attempting to engage in class sessions remotely, which negatively affected their ability to retain information.
Students and faculty openly discussed experiencing “screen fatigue” and a lack of motivation. Many faculty and students reported that few participants turned on their videos during class sessions, which increased distractedness and decreased their joy of teaching and learning. Some students and faculty reported a loss in connection to others in their courses and on campus, and many reported that there were diminishing returns for increased effort. Both faculty and student participants described challenges with engagement in the classroom. One faculty participant described instruction as “teaching in gray scales.” Students often described their homes or residence halls as their bedroom, classroom, lab, and social space. Participants frequently noted how different types of stimulation were required to increase engagement — a challenge given the current environment, leaving individuals limited in how they interact with one another.
Student survey respondents reported higher levels of engagement with both faculty and peers in residential courses when compared to other modes. When asked about engagement with peers, 42% of those in remote classes, 49% of those in hybrid classes, and 82% of those in residential classes agreed or strongly agreed their classes allowed them opportunities to engage with their peers. When asked about engagement with faculty, 58% of those in remote classes, 64% of those in hybrid classes, and 77% of those in residential classes agreed or strongly agreed their classes offered them opportunities to engage with their instructors. While some participants reported continued challenges with technology and logistics in courses, more participants spoke about their overall sense of well-being and connectedness, which have been persistently negatively affected during the time of the pandemic.
Participants were asked questions in the following categories: Course Management and Communication; Flexibility, Motivation, and Engagement; Connecting with Faculty and Peers; and Campus Culture and Well-Being. Student survey respondents reported that instructors continued to provide clear expectations regarding attendance in their courses when compared to the Fall 2020 term.
Listening session participants noted high degrees of flexibility in their courses as a way of coping with the challenges of the pandemic. Similarly, 90% of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed their faculty were flexible with them during Covid-19.
Several participants noted the value of faculty placing an emphasis on well-being during this time. For some, this meant the promotion of self-care through wellness days (either encouraged by instructors or the Institute). Others noted instructors encouraging mindfulness breaks during lectures, acknowledging student stressors, or increasing flexibility for students, particularly around illness. Of survey respondents, 92% agreed or strongly agreed their instructors were empathetic with them this semester.
See the full summary report for more details.