Students want the in-person experience virtually with flexible communication options


With the dawn of COVID, institutions of higher learning faced a steep learning curve when it came to providing virtual instruction and facilitating effective communication. While many students migrated to online learning, a recent study of 3,052 students found they remain ambivalent about it, and 58% said the remote learning experience has not been worth the price of tuition


The future of higher education is likely hybrid with a mixture of online and in-person instruction. This makes cultivation of both connectivity and community particularly important for students to successfully learn online.


But what do students want in the post-lockdown educational environment? When it comes to digital communication, what has changed in the way they want to interact with teachers and each other? 


Flexibility is key, and so is creating a sense of being part of a learning group instead of feeling isolated in front of a computer. Let’s look at these and other changing student expectations after more than 18 months of quarantine. 


1. Students want flexibility


Many students are juggling work, home, and childcare responsibilities while going to school. This makes offering asynchronous communications options that support self-paced learning important:


The ability to call in to online lectures and participate via text was important to 22% of students in the survey mentioned above
Some students (19%) want to be able to participate anonymously
Lecture recording and transcript access is wanted by 38%
Print versions of online assessments are important to 27%

One way to insert flexibility is to create a daily presentation via video conference. Synchronous students, who are learning in real-time, can go into breakout “rooms” for discussions using Google docs. Asynchronous students can access the course on their own schedule and add their own remarks to the document.


This means the teacher can use the document created by the students for a group discussion. By melding different methods, instructors don’t have to come up with different methods to address each learning modality. 


2. Students want the hybrid model of online and in-person instruction


Of the surveyed students, 54% said they want to primarily learn in person, and 46% would like to keep some parts of learning online, including the flexibility to attend classes on campus or online. They want to continue working with digital course materials such as slides and homework and reading assignments. 


In addition, 84% of students said they want to be able to access learning materials, including lecture presentations and assignments in one place. Students want video, too – 75% want to be able to view recordings of lectures. They also would like to be able to attend instructor office hours virtually via video conference. 


3. Students want a sense of community and belonging


The campus experience has traditionally been touted as a value-add when students attend college, but many students today do not feel that campus life is much of a benefit. What they most value are instructors who nurture community and belonging, whether the classroom is in-person or virtual.


When students were asked about what they felt provided real value for their investment, 46% replied that it is participation in extracurricular activities, 41% value living on campus and the resident experience, and 59% like having access to recreational and health facilities. 


The things most students valued, however, include:


Mentorship from faculty to facilitate understanding of and application of their strengths: 76%
Faculty who facilitate a sense of community and belonging: 71%
Instructors who provide constructive feedback to aid academic success: 85%

Students also want to be seen as individuals who instructors care about. They feel that faculty is making some headway in building community and fostering belonging. To facilitate this, two-thirds of students want to stay connected to both teachers and classmates via messaging and collaboration applications. 


4. Students want to be engaged


No one wants to sit through a long lecture, least of all students. They want learning to be exciting, augmented with discussion, interactivity, and collaboration. A Fall 2020 student survey showed that active learning is key for students to remain motivated


They place a high value on active and engaging learning experiences and want teachers who encourage both collaboration and discussion. These students also want to know how what they are learning is relevant to real life and the transferrable skills they will need for a successful career:


67% want discussion, collaboration with peers, and interactive exercises
76% want learning to have relevancy; to be challenged to apply what they are learning to the real world
85% prefer instructors who provide the feedback they need for academic success
79% want to develop transferable skills 

This means investment in classroom technology to provide the tools of engagement, such as live chat and discussion and polling apps. Textbooks that are interactive allow students to read and assess how they are learning as they go along. 


5. Students want to feel cared about


When students feel that faculty genuinely care about them, they respond by working harder academically, being more engaged, and focusing more on tasks. This improves academic performance and their overall development. It also gives them more confidence to learn. 


Those students surveyed who agreed that they have at least one instructor who cares about them as an individual were more likely to recommend their school, say they are engaged and motivated, give a higher rating to the online experience, and see the value in their investment. 


Feeling cared for isn’t just about the instructor, it’s about the sense of community they create. Those who achieve this find that:


71% would recommend their school vs. the average response of 60%
62% say they are engaged and motivated vs. the average response of 45%
63% see the value of their investment

Facilitating the digital communication changes that students want can be boiled down to asynchronous learning coupled with collaboration tools. This allows students to take more control of their education, facilitates connections with faculty, and empowers an active learning environment that fosters engagement and motivation. 


Kwall: Your website is the portal for student engagement 


You only get one chance to make a first impression, and with online learning eclipsing campus life, the look, feel, and usefulness of your website can draw in students or push them away. 


You can count on KWALL to support the development of your higher ed website, help you implement a CMS, and support you while you use it. We can also help you create a maintenance and support plan that works, so you can manage content through a content management system


KWALL specializes in helping colleges and universities increase student engagement through the quality of their websites. Reach out and contact KWALL today to talk about how we can help you.


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