Spring 2020 Student Survey

During the latter part of the spring semester, we surveyed our students about their experience moving to a remote learning environment in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While there were many positive responses, our students also revealed that they experienced increased stress due to family responsibilities, a sense of isolation and a lack of community. To differing degrees, they struggled with technology and Internet access issues. They had trouble focusing on school because their living situations did not allow for quiet, uninterrupted time, while the need to be on screens continually given the number of courses they were taking made focusing on class difficult and challenging.

At the same time, our students indicated that their professors were the single-most important influence on academic engagement during the spring. In general, students asked that we:

  • Be flexible but do not reduce academic rigor
  • Listen to their needs and understand their challenges 
  • Communicate with them and be transparent about the work you are trying to do together
  • Reimagine and adapt your teaching to the new environment
  • Involve them in your planning and teaching

Below are some additional suggestions to help you adapt your teaching for remote/hybrid environments and for mitigating some of these challenges our students are facing.

Table of Contents


Challenges Recommendations Resources
1. Some students found it hard to focus for long Zoom sessions

Break up Zoom sessions with a range of activities: Consider employing Active Learning strategies by combining and alternating among multiple short activities within a single class session to keep students focused.

2. While at home, some students have family obligations leading to unpredictable time for class and classwork

Create a balance between synchronous and asynchronous engagements: Consider breaking up a class into synchronous (live, real time) and asynchronous (recorded, offline) components by varying between short, live classes with activities that ask students to watch a recorded lecture or complete a reflection activity in advance of meeting online.

3. Some students reported that extended screen use was causing migraines and aggravating learning disabilities

Low-tech time: Consider designing activities that students can engage in without using a computer (e.g., pen & paper assignments that can be photographed with phones for upload to Canvas, relevant podcasts substituted for some readings, at-home experiential learning activities). Ask students about their accessibility and learning needs.

4. Some students worried that the constraints and uncertainties of their home situations would lead them to underperform on a high-stakes project, paper, or exam

Scaffold big papers, projects, and other assessments: Consider breaking up long-term or wide-ranging assignments and assessments into smaller pieces, which gives your students more flexibility in completing components within a bigger project and gives you more opportunities to check in on your students’ progress. Consider how you may engage your students in a feedback process at each stage.


Challenges Recommendations Resources
5. Some students, especially in large classes, felt a lack of engagement in their classes held in Zoom

Establish guidelines with your students for the expectations and norms of this new ‘classroom’ space: Be explicit about your interest in hearing from students about how the learning experience is working for them, including their social needs related to learning. Encourage students to engage with their classmates throughout a synchronous session by sharing thoughts related to class in the chat. Use ice-breaker activities to kick things off, and consider setting expectations for students to interact with one another asynchronously on Canvas discussion boards.

6. Some students missed the opportunities they had in face-to-face classes to interact socially and academically with peers

Build in time for students to connect with one another: Within synchronous time, consider creating time and space for students to engage in small group activities with their peers by using Zoom breakout rooms and a shared document in Google Apps or Canvas Collaborations.

7. Some students found it hard to coordinate among peers for group assignments that involved connecting synchronously outside of class sessions

Teach students how to do group work in this new environment: Create low-stakes activities early on to help build relationships among peers. Confer with students about appropriate group sizes and group members, given time zones and at-home time restrictions. Assign clear roles within group projects to help structure students’ participation, or build in peer feedback.

8. Some students were struggling to attend classes while living in different time zones

Record lectures and make them available offline: Post lectures on your Canvas site so that students can watch to study or be able to catch up on a session they missed. Develop specific roles or prompts for those who may be watching recorded sessions, such as students in other time zones, that will enable meaningful contributions and connections to the class community. If multiple students are in similar time zones, consider adding a synchronous student-led session or a weekly office hours slot at an accessible time for this group.


Challenges Recommendations Resources
9. Some students became frustrated at the reduced accessibility of their professors after the loss of on-campus office hours

Extend office hours availability: In addition to more office hours, consider reaching out proactively to students one-on-one or in small groups. Promptly responding to student emails and Canvas messages will help your students to feel more engaged in their coursework.

10. Some students are skeptical of their own ability to learn in the largely unfamiliar medium of an online course

Give feedback early and often: Learning is an inherently social process. In Spring 2020, more students reported looking to their professors for support of their academic engagement than their families or friends. Especially in an unfamiliar learning environment, your students will look primarily to you for evidence that their effort in class is helping them to meet learning goals.

11. Some students worried about whether they knew enough about their grades in a class

Give grades early and often: Georgetown students often have high expectations for themselves and their academic performance, which can lead to extreme stress around grades. Especially during remote learning, it may lessen your students’ anxiety to reliably know how well they are doing in your class at points throughout the semester.

12. Some students felt uneasy about using exam proctoring solutions such as Proctorio, while other students found that proctoring tools did not effectively ensure academic integrity

Make assessments open-book/open-note: Instead of focusing on how to proctor a current in-class assessment in a remote space, consider developing a ‘take-home’ alternative that will be more flexible for students to complete on their own time. Academic rigor can be maintained through making questions open-ended or requiring comparison across multiple sources.