Getting good feedback from students can be a challenge. Gone are the days where someone from the academic department came into your class and distributed paper course evaluations to every student. Response rates for online course evaluations are abysmal, and the students who respond usually represent the extremes—they either tend to be really happy with the course or decidedly unhappy. So what to do?
Recently the college I support conducted two focus groups for our online students. I didn’t facilitate the focus groups; I have to give credit here to our great online operations team and the researchers who support the college Teaching, Learning and Assessment committee. In these focus groups, our adult students were asked “If you had the opportunity to design your ideal online course experience, what are the features you would include?”
So what did they tell us?
It’s All About Facilitation
What struck me most was how much the students talked about their instructors and how little about the actual technology or course design.
Students want (fast) feedback
While it’s not surprising to most educators, the most mentioned request was more feedback with a quicker turnaround. Of course students want to know their grades, but they also are interested in how they are doing in the course and what they can do to improve. Feedback is also one avenue for personalized interaction with their instructor.
Students want interaction with the instructor and each other
Students want to know that the instructor is present in the online discussion boards. They want a sense of connection with their instructor as well as with their classmates. They complained about other students waiting until the very last minute to post to the discussion boards, thereby making real interaction difficult.
The students in our focus groups also mentioned video chat. These courses are fully asynchronous, but the students said that they would like some opportunity for real-time interaction.
Students want well-trained instructors
Students know when their instructors aren’t comfortable with technology. This is not to say that they expect the instructor to be expert tech support, but the students responded that they want their instructors to be familiar with and use more of the features in the learning management system.
LMS Odds and Ends
Many of the features the students requested are already available in our learning management system (ability to edit discussion posts, email/text notifications, synchronous chat) or are on the development roadmap (improved mobile experience). When the facilitator asked if the students had accessed the LMS training materials, students reported that they were not aware of the resources.
None of this is a big surprise.
As instructors, we need to be responsive to students and to familiarize ourselves with the technology. We don’t have to be power users, but should know our way around the features of our learning management systems.
As Instructional Technology Consultants, we need to continue to support our faculty so they can be prepared to work with students, and to emphasize that instructor presence has as much of an impact on student satisfaction as any techie bells and whistles.