The 2020-2021 school year saw many institutions’ plans disrupted. Many higher intuitions moved instruction from the classroom to some version of virtual instruction. In 2019, before Covid-19, 35% of students took at least 1 online course, and 15% of students attended exclusively online. (NCES) As the disruption from the pandemic dissipates, many students find that distance learning is more attractive to them than the traditional classroom. To be successful, the institution needs to rethink both the mode and intent of communicating with students in and out of the classroom.
Instructors, support staff, and advisors are accustomed to dynamic conversations with students. As we increasingly move into other communication modalities, it is essential to keep in mind the student experience, particularly their anxieties. In a dynamic conversation, if a statement is either insufficient to answer a student’s question or creates a misunderstanding, the student can immediately ask a follow-up question. When a student is online, that is not an option. The anxiety of not knowing can quickly turn into dissatisfaction with the school.
There is no one answer to these issues, but some practices can help mitigate them.
Classroom Instructions and optional learning resources
Always over-explain an assignment. In a traditional classroom, when assignments are given, they are followed by a period students can ask questions. In an online classroom, this opportunity does not exist. Yet many instructions are close to, or the same, as they would be in a traditional classroom. By over-explaining or anticipating questions, this issue can be diminished. By asking, “will all the students understand the instructions,” instead of “should all the students be able to understand the instructions,” student satisfaction will increase, and the burden of communicating by the instructor will decrease.
Few schools, if any, will be without vital supportive resources for students. Online students get easily frustrated when they cannot find what they need to be successful. Schools go through all the effort and expense to create these services to help students struggling. Take the next step and optimize their use. Place links for tutoring, workshops, or supportive pages in the courses where a student is most likely to find them when needed. For instance, if you have virtual math tutors, put the link to their scheduling page on the home page of your math courses.
When communicating, anticipate student needs.
I recently had a student reach out to me in a panic cause her financial aid “had been cut.” It had not. She had dropped a course and added another, causing an automatic email to be sent. When she asked about it via email, she replied that her aid level had not changed, which contradicted an automated email she had received and forwarded to the counselor with questions. It was a simple matter of misreading the email. The aid counselor did not address the automated email and leaving the student with unanswered questions. By the time the issue was discussed on Monday, the student had spent the weekend worrying, something that could have been easily avoided.
Small things that seem trivial in a traditional classroom or organizational setting, like insufficient instruction, poor wording, or short answers, are significant in a virtual environment. Having an experienced professional assist in crafting communication, supporting communication, and anticipating students’ needs can significantly impact student satisfaction and overall retention rates.
https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cha, National Center for Educational Statistics, Accessed 6/21/2021