What worries students about remote learning?

This semester (Fall 2020), I employed a teaching strategy, inspired by something I did last semester (Spring 2020) when the classes abruptly moved online. I created a discussion space for the students to share with me their apprehensions on remote learning. Many students who are used to on-campus classes are apprehensive about the remote learning, and those apprehensions have not lessened any. So to find out what the student apprehensions are for this semester and how can I address them I thought it was a no-brainer to hear from them. And I’m sharing in this post the patterns found in their concerns with the hope that other teachers might benefit.

Before start of the Fall classes, I created a google form and shared it with my students to find out their concerns. I identified patterns in their concerns, grouped them, and outlined how I plan to address them. I believe knowing some of these concerns helps me adapt my pedagogy, plan better, embed flexibility, and assess various course requirements. Most importantly, this exercise demonstrates to the students that I’m at least making an effort at accommodating their issues, an important trust-building exercise at the start of a course.

Apart from sharing with students my action plan, I also let them know that despite my best efforts, “I might fall short. It’s very important that you develop trust in my intention to help you and you’ll reach out to me whenever in this course you feel like your concerns are not getting addressed.”

Some context about the classes I’m teaching this semester: my students are mostly incoming freshmen; around 65 students responded; the course is first-year composition

With that, below are students’ concerns and my response.

Students’ concern:

Not being able to keep up with the workload, pacing of the course might be too fast, missing deadlines/due dates

My response:

  • I plan to send regular and timely reminder for the assignments; you will find due dates of the assignment in your Canvas calendar; also, I will share the assignment due dates with you very early in the course or at least at the start of each project so that you can mark your calendar
  • I have tried to stagger the workload for you; based on my prior remote and in-person teaching experience, I’ve made necessary changes to ensure that the workload remains manageable for you; but, if you’re struggling to keep up then always let me know; I’m more than happy to work with you to help you catch up and work out an alternative

Wi-fi reliability, figuring out zoom, having to learn new learning tools for different courses, not knowing how to navigate Canvas and access the course materials

  • I’ve ensured that most of the learning will happen within Canvas; so it’s very likely that you won’t be asked to learn/interact with a new tool/platform
  • To help you figure out zoom and Canvas, I will be flexible on deadlines during first couple of weeks; I’ll also share a video which will help you figure out how to navigate this course’s resources in Canvas; I’ll also provide technical help as best as I can or share with you necessary resources.
  • Wi-fi reliability is a legitimate worry; please check the syllabus policy where I’ve made room to accommodate this concern

Staying organized, focused and motivated while working from home, not having a structured time for learning

  • We’ll meet once a week via zoom; the reading assignments will follow a scheduled pattern; though not enough I believe these small measures might give you a predictable pace and structure
  • Working from home is not easy; I struggle with focus and discipline too when working from home; certain distractions are beyond our control; I believe talking about them might help and you can always reach out to me to let me know if you’re frequently not able to keep up with school work because of an issue beyond your control

Learning won’t be as engaging as on-campus learning, peer/instructor interactions might lack depth

  • Your engagement is my priority; to make this writing course relevant to you, I’ve prepared writing projects where you can research/write about a topic that’s important to YOU and your community
  • The online discussions provide in-depth interactions in their own way; I believe if you keep an open mind about what counts as in-depth and productive, you will see that online interactions offer certain opportunities that face-to-face interactions don’t

Class discussion might be awkward over zoom, social/emotional connection with peers and instructors might not be possible, lack of socialization in the remote environment

  • These are legitimate concerns; while I do miss being on campus, I don’t think building social/emotional relationship remotely is entirely impossible; maybe we need to measure the quality of our connection differently
  • To increase our social interactions, I’m creating space for humor and humanization in this course; we’ll meet weekly via zoom; there’s room for small group interactions/activities so that you can start to build a sense of community; I’ll also post video lessons and encourage video responses from you to make the learning interactive

Not getting necessary access to the instructor, what if I have difficulty learning course materials, not getting teacher’s attention to my issues/concerns, lacking one-on-one interaction with the instructor, getting necessary help on my writing

  • I will be available to meet with you Monday to Friday from 8am-4pm; shoot me an email and we’ll set an appointment depending on our mutual availability to meet virtually
  • I stay on top my email; you can always expect my response the same day or at least within 24 hours
  • Opportunities for you to individually interact with me will not be sacrificed; I can assure you that; my past students have always appreciated my availability to their concerns and learning needs; so barring any unforeseen circumstance, you’ll receive the same attention too
  • You’ll always get individual attention from me on your writing or reading; I can also share with you resources to overcome any challenge you might be facing; I’m invested in helping you become a better writer