Our fall semester started this week and I greeted a new class of students bright and early yesterday morning. This class is traditionally taught face-to-face but with the pandemic still impacting much of the country, I’m teaching the class online with a blend of synchronous and asynchronous interactions. It should be a fun class.
Since it was our first class meeting, I thought it would be a great opportunity for us to discuss their experiences from the spring. Like many instructors, these students were thrust into remote learning environments without any advance notice or preparation. I thought I’d ask a couple of reflection questions to inform my interactions with them this semester. Using the chat feature in Zoom, I asked them to reflect on two separate prompts:
- Name something your professors did in the spring that helped you succeed during the remote transition.
- Name something that your professors did in the spring that you found ineffective.
I advised them to not identify specific professors but I also asked them to be specific as possible. As I read through the student responses, I realized I had some great material for a blog post. Or actually blog posts. This week, I’m going to focus on the practices that students found ineffective. I’ll share the successful practices next week.
Lack of communication. Several students reported that their instructors didn’t communicate as frequently as they hoped. As one student shared, “My one professor did not answer his emails very quickly and so it was hard to understand what to do.” Another student wrote that it “took forever for (the instructor) to answer back emails.” Reading through the responses, it was clear that students wanted/needed a level of communication from their instructors that they didn’t receive. Thinking about the student responses some more, however, I wonder how many of the instructors provided students with expectations regarding their response times. I’m betting many of the instructors were in triage mode in the spring and were more focused on getting their content online and figuring out how to teach remotely. With more advanced preparation for the fall semester, my hope is that more instructors clearly share expectations regarding response times and are also better situated to communicate more frequently with students.
Disorganization and lack of clarity. In their responses, several students communicated that their online classes were disorganized and that the assignments they were given were unclear. One student wrote about “links that didn’t work” and another shared that an instructor provided study guides “that didn’t match with the content on test.” Again, considering the rush to put content online in the spring, these student responses are understandable. But the responses also identify the critical role we play as teachers, both in online and face-to-face classes.
Poor modeling. In a post from a few years ago, I wrote about being VOCAL. VOCAL is an acronym that can help online instructors develop a “teaching presence.” The L in the VOCAL acronym stands for being a “leader by example” which means that as instructors, we model the behavior and expectations we hope to see in our students. We’d never want our students to skip lessons and just read the text. But in the haste of the spring’s online transition, that’s what some students reportedly encountered. One student responded that their instructor didn’t offer any “recorded or live lessons” and another wrote that his teacher “just stopped teaching and depended on the text to do everything.” Another student shared that their instructor was always “extremely late for zoom and then going over the class time.”
If you’ve read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I communicate the importance of grace and empathy. And the spring challenged all of us in ways that we never anticipated, requiring more grace and empathy than usual. I totally understand that some instructors navigated the hasty transition to online teaching better than others. My hope with sharing these student responses isn’t to chastise or criticize anyone. Instead, let’s learn from the experiences of our students and agree to do better this fall. I’ll share some examples for how to do that next week.