By C. Aileen Blaine
Classrooms at Youngstown State University look different amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Ranging from traditional face-to-face classes to strictly asynchronous online content, student and instructors have a variety of classroom settings from which to choose. However, with these new options come unprecedented challenges.
Before the start of the fall 2020 semester, the Institute for Teaching and Learning worked with the Academic Continuity Team to prepare instructors for teaching through the new course modalities. These modalities include traditional, web-based asynchronous, online-live, agile-hybrid and virtual campus delivery methods.
When it came to developing the modality blueprints, ITL and ACT consulted a variety of academic sources regarding the online learning environment and the most effective practices. The two teams combined efforts to form the Creative Course Delivery Committee and offer various resources through the creative course delivery website. This website includes links to workbooks and tutorials for instructors to use when designing their courses.
Alison Kaufman, interim manager of ITL, said the Creative Course Delivery Committee considered data points taken from a YSU survey regarding the spring 2020 semester, completed by 1,268 students. The responses were:
- 55.4% of student respondents felt they did not learn what was expected from their courses during remote-learning
- 59.2% of student respondents said the experience of emergency remote-learning decreased their desire to take an online course in the future
- Approximately 87% of student respondents did not feel “connected to campus” during spring 2020
“The mission of the Institute for Teaching and Learning is to leverage data and best practices to guide innovative, inclusive and integrative teaching,” Kaufman said. This means using student and faculty feedback to modify and adjust the modalities for maximum effectiveness.
In December, YSU’s Student Government Association sent out an online survey to students, asking them to share thoughts on their learning experiences for the fall 2020 semester. SGA is still collecting and interpreting the data to be used for further course development.
During winter break, instructors were offered several workshops to improve course deliveries and organization. A student panel added the learners’ perspective, offering complaints, critiques and suggestions to make courses more effective.
This semester, freshmen and seniors will receive a national survey of student engagement. ITL will analyze the responses regarding on and off-campus learning experiences and perceptions for future faculty training and support development.
Hillary Fuhrman, interim director of ITL, suggested both students and faculty remain willing to communicate and engage in the online learning experience.
“We were talking with faculty in the fall about how important it is to communicate with students,” Fuhrman said. “Especially right now, because things changed so much, so quickly.”
Cary Wecht, director of faculty development at YSU, said communication between instructors and students is important for success in the online learning environment.
“It’s really important to work on clarity in the online environment. So, setting up a structure that’s easy to navigate, and part of that [includes] regular communication about what’s coming up and what’s due,” Wecht said. “You have to be so much clearer and more transparent.”
Wecht said she anticipates the blend of in-person and online learning environments to continue beyond the pandemic, as students and faculty expressed their approval of the flexibility and centralized location of assignments on Blackboard.
“It seems like people are seeing some benefits of the technology that maybe they weren’t aware of previously,” Wecht said.