Using Student Feedback to Improve Spring 2021

On October 25, 2020, the Office of Assessment and Decision Support collaborated with CNDLS and the Office of the Provost to distribute feedback forms to all main campus enrolled students. The following summarizes the results of that survey, the third of its kind.

Wave 3 student survey results reveal a continuation of the trend towards greater student disengagement over the course of the semester, with 52% of student respondents reporting that they were ‘very or somewhat disengaged.’ 43% of student respondents indicated their engagement in the week preceding the Oct 25th survey was worse than it had been the previous week. When asked what factors negatively affect their academic engagement, 58% of student respondents reported general Zoom fatigue while 48% reported anxiety about the state of the world.  

In the face of this general fatigue and anxiety, student respondents most often reported the following to have affected their academic engagement positively:

  • Interesting course content (58% of student respondents)
  • Professors’ flexibility to accommodate student needs (48%)
  • Professors’ clear communication around coursework priorities (43%)
  • Timely feedback from professors (41%) 


Clearly, keeping lines of communication open and making additional efforts to maintain supportive relationships with our students is especially important to their academic engagement at this challenging time in the semester.  To that end, we’ve suggested some possibilities that may address such issues. We’ve grouped these suggestions in the following categories: empathy for students, engagement with material, and experience in the class. Wherever relevant, we have included links to pedagogical resources that address the challenges that the survey brought to light.  

Table of Contents

Connecting With Your Students

Students said:

  • They are struggling to focus and stay motivated. 
  • They are surprised by how meaningful well-being check-ins are, and they report learning more in classes where professors take up to ten minutes per class to discuss how everyone is doing. 
  • They appreciate the opportunity to work together with classmates as that helps build community and connection. 
  • They feel isolated from classmates and professors, but being on camera is exhausting. 

To address these concerns, you might consider:

  • Sending an email that says “I’m here for you.” Then be there for virtual office hours or appointments; additionally, these could be audio-only meetings to reduce the potential of Zoom fatigue.
  • Planning more time than you’ve spent previously asking students as a group how they are doing. Consider asking students to describe their mood via chat or via Zoom polls.
  • Emphasize the importance of mental health and self-care, and share Georgetown mental health resources.
  • Providing breaks and end class on time.  Zoom fatigue is real. They have other classes and time on-screen to balance. 
  • Encouraging presentations and breakout rooms to interrupt the “Zoom silence.”  You may also try asking them to unmute themselves to avoid the ‘vacuum’ effect. It also lowers the threshold for jumping into the conversation. 

Resources

Managing Workload

Students said:

  • The workload feels greater than in an in-person semester.
  • They feel isolated from classmates and professors, but being on camera is exhausting. 
  • They asked for faculty to communicate the major course priorities between now and the end of the semester.  

You might consider:

  • Cutting down page counts in reading assignments or cut back on the number of reading assignments in total.  Likewise, consider reducing the page counts for paper assignments. 
  • Encouraging students to doodle, draw, knit, take notes, etc while listening.  Alternatively, perhaps allow students to take turns with cameras on and off, perhaps paired with a fishbowl activity
  • Spending more time on deeper synchronous and asynchronous engagement with a subset of your course content rather than trying to cover everything.
  • Adjusting the amount you try to cover in the semester. You may not be able do as much pure content delivery online as you might in an in-person semester, and you might consider making adjustments throughout the semester as needed. 
  • Being unusually flexible where and when you can be.  These are unusual times. 
  • Lessening text anxiety by offering untimed and/or open book tests, allowing multiple attempts, and establishing a back-up way of submitting answers in case of tech troubles. 
  • Providing opportunities–particularly low-stakes opportunities–for students to work together and interact. 
  • Because there are no built-in breaks for most of the semester, consider giving students “soft breaks” — weeks or days when the workload is lighter, and/or where you do less Zoom time. 

Resources

  • Explore how to connect students with each other through our Peer Learning guide. 
  • You can learn more in our Asynchronous Engagement guide.
  • Panopto allows students to comment on videos such as recorded faculty lectures.
  • Hypothes.is is useful for student collaborative annotation of PDFs and websites.

Adapting the "Classroom" Experience

Students said:

  • They feel isolated from classmates and professors, but being on camera is exhausting.
  • Assignments feel disconnected from the world at times, which saps motivation. 
  • Syllabi that have not been adjusted to the new modality don’t work as well as those that have been adapted.

You might consider:

  • Getting creative with assignments so they are not so screen-dependent; ask students to paint, draw, interview someone, etc. 
  • Replacing some readings or video lectures with podcasts, which will help students to learn while stepping away from their screens. You can also create your own podcasts.
  • Offering experiential learning assignments and activities, where possible. Ask students to solve real-world problems through website like Ideo
  • Allowing for student choice in how they fulfill an assignment (3 short papers, 1 long paper, etc).
  • Scaffolding longer assignments so there are more opportunities for feedback.
  • Providing opportunities–particularly low-stakes opportunities–for students to work together and interact. 
  • Where possible, use synchronous class time for off-Zoom activities (e.g. writing exercises on paper, reflection exercises, etc)
  • Because there are no built-in breaks for most of the semester, consider giving students “soft breaks” — weeks or days when the workload is lighter, and/or where you do less Zoom time. 

Resources: