Faculty Town Hall; screenshot from provost.ok.ubc.ca

On November 12, UBCO hosted a faculty town hall to discuss student experiences with online learning. This event, which was open to all faculty, looked at survey results involving over 600 students’ feedback, in order to shed light on how to improve the online classroom experience. The goal of this town hall seemed to be to learn from student experiences to alleviate some of the stress related to academia.

The panelists for this event included: Tanya Forneris, Interim CTL Academic Lead and Associate Director, School of Health and Exercise Sciences; Professor Yang Cao, School of Engineering; Professor Sandy Hilton, Faculty of Management; and Professor Shirley Hutchinson, Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. These panelists commented on five overarching themes that led the discussion: organization and logistics, communication, synchronous and asynchronous classes, workload and assessment, and learning.

Concerning organization and logistics, students expressed the importance of professors being organized within Canvas. In addition, faculty found students appreciate consistency every week in assigning work, and deadlines that are clearly outlined. Improvement of organization and logistics is important in detailing the work that needs to be completed, and it also makes for easier accessibility by students. One tip for faculty regarding this theme was to consider using the Canvas calendar as a place to find all key dates for courses. Another helpful tip was to look into having consistent due dates and times, meaning choosing one day of the week where weekly quizzes and assignments are due. This can be really helpful in alleviating confusion regarding deadlines.

Theme two, communication, of course highlighted that students appreciate communication with their professors and TA’s. This includes consistency with messages and posting content, communicating expectations, such as how students are supposed to conduct themselves in exams and how they will be invigilated, and having accessible office hours. The tips provided were pretty straightforward and implored professors to actively communicate; whether it is clearly stating one’s contact information, office hours, response time, assessments, and basic course delivery, or sending messages or reminders through Canvas. Communicating is highly important as students are confused about expectations, but this can be clearly avoided if professors took the time to send out reminders and talk to students.

Another interesting fact that came up under communication, and mentioned again later, is that most students disapprove of Proctorio, an invigilation device used during exams. Perhaps this statistic will make faculty refrain from using this device in the future, or at least encourage faculty to explain why it is necessary to students.

The third theme focused on synchronous and asynchronous class formats. Statistics found that students like both formats. Particularly, they like attending synchronous sessions that are engaging, but they have expressed concerns with professors being unaware of time and continuing to teach when class has ended. Furthermore, students do not like long, pre-recorded lectures that extend over-time, nor do students like the assumption that they have extra time to devote to asynchronous classes. The tips for asynchronous classes seem simple yet effective and include breaking content into smaller chunks and keeping recorded lectures to 20-30mins so students can manage to get through them. It was said that this not only makes the burden of work easier but the student attention span is also higher if taught in smaller chunks. Professors were also reminded to make materials accessible for a longer period of time to accommodate students in different time zones. It is unfair for these students to have to wake up in the middle of the night just to access a short-term lecture, exam, or assignment.

Likewise, there were also helpful tips provided for synchronous classes. A point that was highly emphasized is that classes must be within a normal class time like in-person lessons. This means no going over time as students have other classes to attend as well. Similar to asynchronous classes, recording lectures and making them available for later was highlighted so that students in different time zones are not disadvantaged. For the same reason, faculty were also implored to reconsider attendance marks.

As university students, of course the concern of workload and assessments was brought up. It was found that students appreciate creative and flexible work, small stake assignments and quizzes, clear expectations and deadlines, and effectively structured group work. However, it was stated that students have concerns about being time-compressed during exams and assignments, thus the professor should apply a more effective time limit. Professors were also encouraged to provide formative feedback on assignments and post a grading rubric prior to deadlines. This can help improve student performance in courses.

Finally, theme five discussed learning, which is hopefully the reason we all attend university. Again, this theme pointed out that students appreciate course materials being accessible. It also pointed out how students like being able to see and hear the professor - so professors, please display your video and use a good microphone. Furthermore, faculty members were told to recognize that online learning is challenging, and to have some compassion for both the students and themselves as both parties work hard to live up to their specific expectations. This means that faculty were told that asynchronous videos don't need to be perfect, therefore they do not need to edit for hours on end. Likewise, students do not have hours on end to complete assignments, so it is important to estimate the amount of time it takes to complete a specific assignment and try to make it reasonable.

Following these themes and tips, faculty were able to ask questions to the town hall panelists. These questions ranged in many topics such as how to alleviate confusion about deadlines and how to ease the stress placed upon faculty in this online environment.

This town hall was a great opportunity to communicate student concerns and feedback to faculty. This seeks to create a dialogue between students and faculty that allows students to know that their experiences are being heard and taken seriously. It also displays that faculty are willing to learn and improve from listening to student feedback to create a more effective and less anxiety-ridden online environment.

“This Town Hall was of great importance to me and all other faculty members who have been making great efforts to transition their courses to the online environment.

The top concern students shared with us is that they are feeling socially disconnected. This is not surprising given the situation we are living. However, they also shared other concerns such as wanting a more consistent organization of course content in Canvas, more engaging synchronous classes through participation and discussions, and better communication about the course deadlines and overall expectations.

All of these are being addressed by enhancing the support coming from the Centre for Teaching and Learning through one-on-one consultations along with the development of resources and workshops specifically addressing these concerns. There is always room for improvement which should be informed by the students themselves and that’s what we wanted to accomplish through this event. Hearing their experiences and their suggestions has given us a path for continuous work to improve the online experience for all.

We also recognize this transition to online learning is difficult for students and appreciate their efforts as well as their time to provide us with feedback.”

  • Anaya Ananya Mukherjee Reed, Provost and Vice-President Academic.