It’s the end of the term, and we know it: initial results on the latest iteration of an online class (+ a holiday wish list)

 

The 163 students in History 19WV submitted their final paper last night. You did it guys! Good luck on finals and enjoy your break! And thanks for filling out the end-of-term survey about the class.

The initial results suggest that students are increasingly taking online classes – this was the first online class for 63% of the students –  a significantly lower number than when I started teaching online 3 years ago. Most students access the web using a personal computer (66%), but more than 1/4 of the class accesses the web using their phone. Almost none of them use public computers and tablets are outliers. If ever there was an argument for pushing mobile technology in ed tech – this is it.

Another telling bit of the story: 50% of student are working part time, 89% are taking a full course-load. I don’t know if part-time work is 4 hours or 30 hours per week, but in the open comments of the survey quite a few students mention the flexibility the course affords them, which confirms what we already know: students are juggling a lot of responsibilities and schedules – and online classes are attractive because (and when) they take these competing responsibilities and obligations into consideration.

The answers to qualitative questions also point overwhelmingly towards a satisfied student base, among which most students (75%) are aware they learned differently, and more than 50% were conscious of having participated more, both in the class in general and in the online discussion section.

So, all in all, a good run, right?

Well yes – but there is always room for improvement. I came across the infographic below during a rabbit hole internet search for something completely unrelated (reviews for the safest mandoline if you must know). It made me think about frustrations some students shared in the survey.

Most of the frustrations students had was with the tech side of things – terrible sound in discussion, confusing submission file formats, not finding the rubrics where feedback was entered, being overwhelmed by the reliance on a computer for all aspects of the class. This would largely be helped if the “company” in the infographic – the university in my reality – could take a more active role in supporting e-learning.

Why eLearners Become Frustrated Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

At UC Riverside, the responsibility for running the online courses is shared in proportions I am not privy to, between the UC-wide online education program and the office of undergraduate education.

I am not exactly sure who is responsible for providing students with tech support – but what is clear is that we don’t have a centralized office that targets this specifically. The office of Instructional Technology targets faculty and instruction – not student learning. The Academic Resource Center  focuses on academics – not the technology that supports it.

I do a lot of troubleshooting on the discussion board, but I don’t have any way of making sure students and TAs have the hardware and software they need before class starts. We used Adobe Connect for discussion sections and office hours, and were plagued with feedback, sound problems and delays. Some of it is Adobe’s problem, but some of it has to do with conflicting software, bad audio on laptops, and terrible internet connections. I remind students to update their software and tell them which plug-ins to load, but this can be overwhelming,  especially to a student who is new to campus, new to online ed, or simply not inclined to look under the hood of their computer.

Some of the tech problems are beyond our control, but many of them aren’t. And if online ed is meant to make education more accessible, let’s make sure it is!

To this end, here is my wish-list of tech improvements that the university can (and should provide) to support the e-learning environment:

  1. drop in tech support where students can get help and advice on their hardware – available in a physical space on campus (maybe a multiple spots on campus) and as a virtual hub for online tech help.
  2. regular introductory workshops / online training on digital management: file naming strategies, cloud-based storage, VPN use, and safe browsing – required by anyone taking or TA’ing an online class.
  3. stronger wifi signals on campus.
  4. quiet rooms on campus (in the library?) so students have a private space to log on to discussion section.
  5. more loaner laptops, and more lending stations – and longer borrowing times.
  6. TA stipend to cover wifi cost at their home during tenure of TA-ship.
  7. TA stipend to cover use of personal computer for class time.

 

As for the other two categories in the infographic, I feel pretty good.  If a student has expectations that are not met by a class, does not have time to do the work and feels overwhelmed or bored – frustration will ensue. That is not a technology problem – it’s an expectations problem and I am pretty sure it is exists in equal proportions in face-to-face classes. As for instructional design – I work very closely with an ID, and we have the class pretty streamlined now, with a balance of interaction/interactivity and information push. We avoided flooding the discussion boards (we learned our lesson last year), and the path through the course and the pace of the course is satisfyingly even and clear.

All I need are those 7 items on the list above. That and the world’s best (and safest) mandoline.

 

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