By Eric Ritholz
Please view the FULL VERSION here:
It includes greater detail, explanation, and examples from both CUNY students and faculty.
This was a qualitative study to explore the experiences of CUNY students and faculty using technology in online and hybrid courses.
Summary of findings and recommendations
• CUNY students and faculty use myriad technologies intentionally and creatively to achieve learning goals.
• Faculty feel overwhelmed by instructional technologies available to them for teaching hybrid and online courses. More consistent training and support for technology use in teaching is indicated.
• Students do much of their work for hybrid and online courses on campus, and require access to robust wifi as well as computer labs and printing; they may have inconsistent access to technology off campus. Maintaining and upgrading campus-based computing support and infrastructure is key to student success.
• Smartphones are the most common technology that students have access to, though limitations of required digital platforms constrain their ability to use smartphones for their academic work. University supplied/supported platforms (e.g., Blackboard, Microsoft365, etc.) should be evaluated for mobile-readiness, and when possible technologies should be selected based on mobile usability.
• Both students and faculty bring into the classroom functional and user experience expectations based on consumer-facing technologies, and often report that required academic digital platforms fall short. CUNY should leverage its position as a significant customer to seek improvements to bring educational technologies in line with commercial standards in user experience and usability.
• Students and faculty express a desire for more connection and community in their hybrid and online courses; increased use of synchronous or asynchronous video could meet these needs.
• Students expressed frustration with a lack of technical support for online learning outside of business hours. Recommendations include moving course deadlines to within business hours and increasing after-hours support CUNY-wide.
• Students and faculty are interested in more training and support around technology used in hybrid and online courses but are largely unaware of existing training opportunities. Increasing awareness of campus training opportunities and creating/promoting online training opportunities across the university (for Blackboard, in particular) may address this need.
Expectations of Online Environment
Responses from both students and faculty contained implicit, and sometimes explicit, expectations for educational technology to perform as well as and in similar ways to technology they used in other settings. These expectations for high levels of usability, user experience, and support set a bar that educational technology is not meeting in many cases.
Time and Support
Both students and faculty articulated hopes and frustrations with how hybrid and online classes impacted their ability to manage their time. Underlying these hopes and frustrations we detect a shared expectation of technology as a time saver. Student responses clustered around their experiences with deadlines, support, and notifications and were framed for many by their perception that the workload in their hybrid or online course was heavier than in their face-to-face classes. Sometimes these three were entangled in the student experience as they were for this student describing frustrations with online learning: more work than on campus classes, shorter deadlines, less examples of what exactly is wanted in assignments. some professors also are less involved.
HOSTOS EdTech: Through training and accurate feedback, issues of time-management can be addressed. In general, one venue for learning is not intended to be easier than any other. However, the demands and support for each need to be handled differently.
Community and Connection
Both students and faculty expressed a wish for more interaction—synchronous and asynchronous—in their hybrid and online courses. Some faculty and students concurred with the assessment of one faculty member that “the best experience is face to face and technology can’t duplicate that.” Some students expressed the same frustration as this student at “the inability to have that person to person interaction that would encourage students to ask questions.” At the same time faculty also wished for more interaction with their classes, specifically for students to be more engaged in their hybrid and online coursework. The class discussion board was mentioned frequently. While some faculty perceived a lack of student engagement in that space, other faculty noted that some students who did not participate in face to face class sessions were more involved in the online forum.
HOSTOS EdTech: The choices available for interaction and student engagement through blackboard are robust and numerous. Discussion boards are a good start that can be further supported through the use of in-class wikis, reflective journals, student contributions to questions pools, just to name a few.
The lived experiences of students and faculty in this study suggest several aspects of hybrid and online courses that need attention as online learning continues to expand at our institutions. We cannot assume that students taking online courses are distance students who do not come to campus. Most students enrolled in online courses at our commuter colleges are also enrolled in hybrid or face-to-face courses, and this has important implications. While online courses do not require classroom space, students in the courses will often be using other spaces on campus, such as the library and computer labs, and will require access to services such as printing. As well, some students have inconsistent or limited access to technology in their homes, making the on-campus access to technology resources and space even more important. Students in hybrid and online courses may also require more training and technical support, as faculty use more and varied technologies to deliver content and create interactive experiences. As one faculty member noted,
students “are savvy with gadgets and software that enhance their personal lives, but they lose confidence when navigating technologies for learning.” The needed support will not always fall during the institution’s help desk hours, as noted by those students who have 11:59 p.m. assignment deadlines. While many of our study participants articulated frustrations with Blackboard, neither students nor faculty are likely taking advantage of capabilities that might address some of those frustrations. For example, notification or alert options are available in Blackboard and other technologies, though they may be more limited than what students and faculty are accustomed to from banks and other companies. This study indicates that many students and faculty may not be aware of the options available and may require additional training to better leverage their instructional technologies.
Hostos EdTech: New online help desk elements are being developed that will prioritize after hours requests to be put to the top of the queue. FAQ’s and resources are being updated or revised accordingly to address problems specific to HOSTOS students, faculty, and staff.
Overall, this needs to be a constant a reactive system that continues to adjust and reflect the needs of each specific learning community. Facilitating and supporting what is currently in use while readily adopting and integrating new technologies and solutions will result in a better learning experience for all involved.