What have we learned about online learning?


The COVID-19 pandemic compelled schools, professors and college students to interact with digital types of education in methods lots of them by no means had. Did the expertise of instructing and studying remotely make them extra open to on-line education and to utilizing expertise within the bodily classroom? Did professors get extra snug with instructing with expertise? Did it change scholar expectations about when and the way they be taught?

A collection of latest episodes of Inside Greater Ed’s Key podcast explored these and different questions. One episode featured Shanna Smith Jaggars, assistant vp of analysis and program evaluation in Ohio State College’s Workplace of Scholar Educational Success, and Jessica Rowland Williams, director of Each Learner All over the place, which pursues equitable outcomes in increased education via advances in digital studying.

Jaggars describes herself as a “essential pal” of on-line education; Rowland Williams is a robust advocate for the position high-quality digital studying can play in bettering postsecondary entry and success for underrepresented college students.

An edited transcript of the dialog follows.


Inside Greater Ed: Each of you might have spent a superb little bit of time considering and speaking and researching about what we discovered about digital instructing and studying throughout these two years through which we noticed much more establishments, professors and college students participating in it than had been true earlier than. What most altered your pre-pandemic view of the digital studying panorama?

Shanna Smith Jaggars: Two issues actually shocked me. For a few years I’ve been what you may name a essential pal of on-line education in increased education. I noticed loads of advantages. I additionally had loads of considerations. One key concern has at all times been the potential lack of digital infrastructure and helps for college kids who’re much less privileged. Earlier than COVID hit in 2019, I knew that 27 % of American adults didn’t have broadband and that these charges have been increased amongst low-income households, in rural populations or for folks of coloration. Lots of people have been involved about it, however I don’t assume they actually considered school college students by way of digital fairness, as a result of virtually all schools, together with group schools, have sturdy web entry on campus. And if you happen to don’t have a superb desktop or laptop computer, you’ll be able to simply use the pc lab. And school college students or youthful, folks consider them as digital natives.

I did fear earlier than COVID about group school college students, as a result of loads of them are low earnings or the primary of their households to go to varsity, and loads of them commute, so they could not have nice entry to on-campus labs and wi-fi.

I didn’t actually fear about college students at universities like mine. However when COVID hit and all of the lessons went on-line, we instantly started to listen to from college students who didn’t have what they wanted to be taught on-line. One scholar in a rural space informed us that each time they needed to flip in an task, they needed to borrow a automobile and drive half an hour to the parking zone of a spot with free wi-fi to add their task.

We needed to grasp how widespread a problem that is. We teamed up with a colleague at Indiana College who was listening to the identical tales. We did a examine, and I used to be shocked to seek out that throughout our two universities, 19 % of our undergraduates didn’t have the expertise they wanted to completely take part of their on-line lessons. This was increased amongst low-income college students and college students of coloration. Amongst our Black and African American college students, the speed of insufficient expertise was 28 %. As you’d anticipate, these with out enough expertise skilled much more stress and much more problem of their coursework that spring in comparison with related college students who had enough expertise.

The digital inequity downside is in all places, rather more pervasive than I believed pre-COVID. We will’t take without any consideration that populations, even populations we expect is perhaps totally ready to be taught on-line, actually have the infrastructure they want to do this successfully.

Inside Greater Ed: Jessica, we quoted you broadly in a report we revealed final 12 months in regards to the digital divide. Shanna talked in regards to the larger recognition of the digital divide issues. Did you see proof of larger inclination to assault that downside by schools and universities on account of that elevated consciousness?

Jessica Rowland Williams: There have been definitely some vibrant spots. I believe we’ve all heard tales of establishments that carried out new insurance policies, new practices to assist college students. As an general development, although, we’ve got loads of work to do.

I need to double-click on one thing Shanna mentioned. She was speaking about digital fairness amongst college students. I used to be shocked to seek out how that additionally extends into the school, notably relating to adjuncts. We take without any consideration that the school have what they want, together with entry and expertise, to show these programs. We’re discovering that typically they don’t. They don’t have the broadband. They’re those who don’t have the laptops. They’re those which might be having to go to the parking tons they usually don’t have the childcare.

Inside Greater Ed: Jessica, what else did you see that altered or bolstered your pre-pandemic perspective on digital studying?

Rowland Williams: One factor we thought collectively about as a area associated to going via the pandemic was this skill to be versatile and be taught via disruption, as a result of we have been all in disaster collectively for the primary time and having to navigate that. It’s virtually like we received a window into what it’s prefer to have disruption in life. And we additionally get a window into how on-line studying and digital studying generally is a assist via that.

We even have carried this notion that now that’s over. The factor I’m holding on to as we’re coming “out” of the pandemic into this subsequent section is that for lots of oldsters, they’re nonetheless experiencing the signs of what it was prefer to be within the pandemic. They’re nonetheless experiencing problem getting assist, accessing expertise, discovering childcare, discovering the quiet area to work or managing the illness or managing financial disaster like that. These issues haven’t gone away. Significantly for college kids who’re most weak, the scholars that we have to focus loads of consideration on serving, a few of these issues are going to remain lengthy past the COVID-19 pandemic.

Inside Greater Ed: Pre-pandemic, there was an acknowledgment that for all of the speak about how on-line education might be a instrument for increasing entry to college students who had traditionally been underrepresented in increased education, these exact same learners tended to wrestle extra in that modality than their extremely academically ready friends did. Did the way in which the pandemic unfolded change for both of you the view of tips on how to most efficiently present digital studying for underrepresented college students, or whether or not we must be doing that in any respect?

Smith Jaggars: I believe it’s a mixture of two issues. One is ensuring that there’s at all times a strong in-person choice for college kids. We must also be extra deliberately constructing in digital frameworks, infrastructures and approaches for these college students from the start of their time with us, in order that they get extra snug and extra fluent with the educational {and professional} makes use of of expertise and have the infrastructure to assist them in doing that. I’ve at all times been leery about simply throwing college students into an internet class for the primary time and anticipating them to have the ability to determine it out.

I’ve at all times advisable that faculties have some form of ramping up for his or her first on-line course, both constructed into the primary week of their course or some form of precourse orientation or coaching to assist them perceive tips on how to navigate an internet course. That will not be essential for all college students now, as a result of they’ve all simply achieved it, however I believe it’s going to proceed to be an infrastructure that must be in-built so the college is orienting college students to on-line studying, giving them an summary of what their digital and their in-person choices are, and serving to them ensure they really feel snug with the choices.

One of many large advantages I noticed with COVID was that every one assist companies instantly went on-line. Previous to that, most schools with on-line packages had fairly insufficient assist companies for these college students that have been completely separate from the assist companies for college kids on campus. With COVID, out of the blue the enjoying area was leveled. Everyone was getting all their companies on Zoom or by chat. Many college students favored these digital assist companies higher than having to sit down outdoors an adviser’s workplace and wait. They might be in their very own room, doing their very own factor till their Zoom appointment with the adviser. They don’t should dress and nonetheless have the identical interplay with their adviser they’d have had of their workplace. College students prefer it higher; advisers prefer it higher. Advisers can now work hybrid schedules.

Library companies, tutoring companies, writing assist companies—all the companies that you simply used to should go in individual to are actually out there by Zoom for all college students, on-line and face-to-face. Some college students are going to nonetheless need the face-to-face choice. They need to have it, however I’m actually happy that we now have this kind of different set of choices that assist meet the wants of various college students extra appropriately.

Inside Greater Ed: Jessica, you’ve clearly been an advocate for the provision of on-line and digital studying choices for these scholar teams. Did the pandemic alter your view in any respect of kind of when and the way a lot to prioritize that form of supply for what you’re most involved about?

Rowland Williams: There are some clear-cut advantages. One is decrease price to college students, since you may change textbooks with [open educational resources], free and low-cost assets which might be digital. One other is which you could ship personalised, focused directions to college students in ways in which you might not, particularly in these giant gateway programs. Loads of occasions courseware and different instruments present knowledge and perception into how college students are doing, which permit instructors to intervene early when college students are struggling or when college students are simply disengaged

All of this stuff are helpful to marginalized college students particularly, but additionally to college students generally. There’s additionally the pliability piece that she was simply speaking about. Having the ability to be taught and examine and likewise steadiness work and different issues.

We should always cease pitting [online and face-to-face] in opposition to one another. Flexibility in decisions and choices goes to be the longer term for our college students. The actual query must be, how can we ship high quality instruction in each modalities? Not which modality is best, as a result of we will’t make that call for college kids.

Smith Jaggars: I might agree with that. Somewhat than having a siloed mannequin for on-line education, the place a small group of employees and lecturers work solely with totally on-line college students, after which a very separate group of school and assist employees work with on-campus college students, if we’ve got a extra built-in mannequin the place the data and the abilities relating to on-line college students and programs and helps are unfold throughout your complete establishment and persons are in a position to work with each varieties of college students interchangeably, as a result of usually we all know that every one of our on-campus college students are taking an internet course or two right here or there.

They’re all going to do it. Performing like our on-line college students are in some way some kind of separate breed that must be handled with separate infrastructures and staffs, it doesn’t make sense. We must be taking the educational Jessica was speaking about by way of how digital studying might help assist college students and integrating that into our bodily classroom areas. And the issues that we all know work in face-to-face studying, we must be integrating them as a lot as attainable into on-line programs. Take into consideration this extra as a system that has totally different aspects to it, versus two completely various things.

Inside Greater Ed: It might be too early to inform or know for positive, however have you ever seen modifications in scholar expectations and wishes relating to the pliability of when and the place and the way they take their programs? If that’s the case, in what instructions? There are particular sorts of expectations that might be very troublesome for schools and universities to fulfill. It might be particularly onerous if college students need to have the ability to attend the identical course in individual on a Tuesday, say, however go to class from their dorm room or condo on Thursday.

Rowland Williams: Everyone knows scholar enrollment is reducing, and I believe we have to dig into what which means. I believe the message college students are sending with their toes is that increased ed wants to vary and rethink its worth proposition to college students. I do assume scholar expectations are altering, scholar wants are altering. Nonetheless, I don’t know if we’ve got a superb deal with on what which means for our establishments and precisely what must be modified to satisfy that want.

Inside Greater Ed: We’ve definitely seen enrollment declines. There are loads of causes for that, and I don’t assume we’ve got superb insights but into precisely what has led one million or so college students to cease enrolling. A few of it’s the affect of the pandemic and an improved job market. However I agree with you that query has been placed on the desk in a extra direct manner.

Smith Jaggars: From my earlier analysis, I noticed that college students are inclined to have very distinct preferences about what they need to do on-line and what they don’t need to do on-line. And I don’t know that COVID has essentially modified the form of these preferences. First, it relied on the form of individual and scholar that you simply have been, whether or not you tended to love on-line or face-to-face choices extra generally. In case you have been an older working scholar, had youngsters, you have been going to be extra prone to need to benefit from these on-line choices. In case you have been a youthful, conventional scholar, you’re extra prone to need to do the face-to-face choices.

Inside that, there was loads of nuance of the sorts of programs that you simply may decide to take on-line. Even if you happen to weren’t into on-line studying generally, you may need to take on-line programs for programs that you simply didn’t care all that a lot about and wanted to get out of the way in which, and programs that you simply thought could be comparatively simple. Programs that you simply noticed have been difficult or troublesome, or the place you have been actually intrinsically within the topic and needed to dive into it, or the place you thought that the relationships with the trainer or the opposite college students within the class have been going to be actually vital, these have been programs college students undoubtedly needed to take face-to-face. I haven’t achieved a examine of that post-COVID, however the pre-COVID findings appear to resonate with what I’m nonetheless listening to anecdotally from college students.

Rowland Williams: Conventional face-to-face instructing has not served Black, Latinx, poverty-affected, first-generation college students effectively, both. We maintain it up as a gold commonplace as a result of it’s what we all know, it’s what we’ve been doing. However even pre-pandemic, there have been actual points: fairness gaps, discrimination within the classroom, microaggressions. We’ve received to maneuver away from making an attempt to digitize this conventional face-to-face studying expertise. We’ve received to rethink studying generally, rethink our studying areas. Digital offers us a chance to do this as a result of it’s slightly newer. Within the conventional classroom, we’ve received some tried and true practices that people are actually tied to. Relating to racially marginalized college students in these settings, it’s at all times vital to come back again to the truth that whether or not we’re speaking about face-to-face or on-line or hybrid, we’ve received loads of considering to do about how we finest serve them.

Inside Greater Ed: We’ve been speaking in regards to the demand aspect, what college students need and should demand from digital studying. Let’s discuss in regards to the provide aspect and the extent to which the experiences of the school and employees in delivering 100 % digital modified them. Do you assume we noticed (a) that larger publicity and observe made professors higher at, and doubtlessly extra eager about, incorporating digital approaches into their instruction? And (b), has it created sufficient willingness to experiment that it may outcome within the form of rethinking of pedagogy that you simply have been speaking about earlier than, Jessica?

Rowland Williams: After we first dove into the pandemic and everybody needed to flip their programs on-line in 48 hours, it was loopy. That was actually troublesome for people. Each school and college students had actually difficult experiences that semester. There have been some constructive tales that got here out of that, however we additionally heard that there was loads of problem on each ends. The next semester, when school had slightly bit extra time to essentially take into consideration how they needed to implement expertise or how they needed to show on-line, there was a little bit of a constructive development, I believe.

Definitely there are the skeptics who’re nonetheless skeptical and, in some circumstances, have been repulsed. College and scholar experiences with on-line studying, and their constructive experiences, have been usually correlated with the quantity of assist they acquired from their establishments, and the skilled improvement they acquired round implementing and instructing on-line, notably after they have been doing it for the primary time. Relating to school instructing and scholar expertise, we’ve got to speak about assist for school, particularly relating to serving marginalized college students. That’s not one thing that school are simply going to get up and know tips on how to do. That takes coaching and observe and thoughtfulness and studying new abilities and perhaps even a brand new mind-set about issues. When school are extra supported, college students have higher experiences.

Inside Greater Ed: The popularity by establishments of the significance of school assist and improvement is one other factor I’m hoping we don’t return from.

Smith Jaggars: I edited the particular problem of On-line Studying in spring of 2021 in regards to the transition [to COVID]. There was a examine in there that checked out two universities and the way they have been making ready their doctoral college students for future instructing. They talked to these educational directors a number of months after the onset of COVID, when all people was instructing on-line, making an attempt to gauge how this may change their preparation for doctoral college students. And the reply is, mainly, it received’t change.

Many of the doctoral college students imagine that studying about on-line instructing was vital and that they profit from coaching on it. However deans and division chairs actually downplayed the significance of it and didn’t see a transparent necessity to offer doctoral college students with coaching by way of on-line studying.

I’ve seen much more of motion across the significance of instructing each doctoral college students and present school having extra sturdy long-term coaching round inclusivity and bettering classroom local weather for underserved college students. That’s separate from coaching on digital studying or on-line studying. It might be that when division chairs and deans are eager about crucial and highest-priority issues they need their doctoral college students and their instructors to get higher at, it could be variety and inclusion subjects fairly than digital studying subjects.

Rowland Williams: The widespread false impression … is that you simply’ve received DEI work right here and digital studying work right here, and that there is no such thing as a intersection between the 2. They’re two separate issues. A part of the explanation why we expect that manner is as a result of we frequently assume, “Oh, expertise is expertise. It’s race-neutral.” And once we take into consideration on-line studying, it’s like, “You possibly can’t even see the scholars? You possibly can’t discriminate or something like that—you’re speaking to black bins on a Zoom display.” The work we do in our community is all associated to how problems with race are very a lot embedded in digital studying and the way we train on-line. There are methods which you could discriminate in opposition to college students, even when you’ll be able to’t see them. There are methods for biases to creep in. If we take this concept that digital studying is impartial of the DEI work we’re doing, we’re lacking a chance to middle marginalized college students’ wants in digital studying.

Inside Greater Ed: Let’s shut by making an attempt to look forward at how a lot lasting affect we’re prone to see. We noticed loads of experimentation and adaptation by establishments and particular person instructors. However it was a disaster and there was actually no alternative. Most of us change probably the most when we’ve got some urgent want, some compulsion to do one thing in a different way. As that eases, which issues would you most prefer to see us maintain on to on this space of digital instructing and studying?

Smith Jaggars: One factor I’m actually hoping we maintain on to is that school extra universally hold utilizing their school’s studying administration system for face-to-face programs. It’s not useful for college kids in the event that they’re taking, say, 5 programs and two of them use the educational administration system and have their schedules and their grades and every thing in it, and the opposite three don’t exist within the studying administration system. At my college and I assume others, all school have been instructing on-line utilizing the educational administration system for a semester or two. Hopefully they noticed the advantages of getting your syllabus on-line, your schedule constructed into the system, your grades constructed into the system, and can proceed to do this even when instructing the bulk or all of their lessons face-to-face sooner or later, as a result of that basically helps college students.

Rowland Williams: I see technology-enhanced studying as the longer term. I don’t assume we’re going backwards. We’re going full pace forward. We’re going to have alternatives to embed expertise and enhanced studying via expertise. That may be a superb factor if we will determine tips on how to do it proper. Our focus is knowing how can we serve college students leveraging expertise in one of the best methods attainable. One factor that’s given me a lot hope within the pandemic is shifting to a mannequin of eager about classroom studying that facilities on scholar want and incorporates college students’ voices and views. Their wants actually are the middle of the work we’re making an attempt to perform collectively. I hope that doesn’t go away.

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