Through the Looking Glass – Insights From our Student Surveys

Jake Clapp, GOA Academic Dean

Jake Clapp, GOA Academic Dean

By Jake Clapp, Academic Dean

Feedback is a critical element of learning. Imagine a student whose work is never looked at, whose errors are never corrected, who receives no positive reinforcement, and – most critically – who has no idea if, and to what degree, she is meeting her teacher’s objectives. Such a scenario would leave the student intellectually stranded.

Just as teachers have objectives, students too have goals and aims. Students want to learn, connect with their peers, engage with intellectual questions, and they want to succeed in school and beyond. As teachers we are generally very perceptive of when and how our students are giving us feedback because we can see it expressed tacitly. When they’re engaging with intellectual questions, they may look perplexed; when they’re not succeeding they may look and sound frustrated; when they’re not connecting with their peers, they may seem bored. Without these cues, a teacher may be left to wonder, “Am I meeting my students’ goals?” With only these cues, a teacher may be missing valuable information that might otherwise inform the evolution of her teaching.

At Global Online Academy, students are surveyed three times each semester, and the results are shared with individual teachers (with the student’s personal information removed so that students are encouraged to write critically). To ensure 100% participation, teachers require their students to complete the survey as part of the week’s normal coursework. Between these formal solicitations of feedback teachers are also polling their students, asking them, during video conferences and in one-on-one discussion forums, questions like “How challenging was this piece?” or “What did you think of that assignment?”.

As an administrator I also use the surveys, mostly to identify patterns in how students are responding to the online environment. The results of the surveys inform the changes we make from year to year: in how we train teachers; in our student support protocols; and in how we deliver instructional design support. They are so important that I’m still, three weeks later, I continue to comb through them looking for trends and anecdotes. Although none of these are teacher-specific, I thought I would share with you three interesting observations from the aggregated responses of our Fall 2013 Student Survey #1 (n = 288)

1) Community, socialization matter: We asked students to agree or disagree with the following statement: “I feel I am getting to know my peers in this course.” Students who agreed with this statement had an average overall course-satisfaction rating of 4.4 (4 = good; 5=excellent), whereas students who disagreed with this statement had an average overall satisfaction rating of 3.9 (3 = just ok; 4 = good). With 288 respondents, this difference implies that there may be a correlation between social engagement and student satisfaction.

2) Everyone’s experience is different: We asked students, “What has been the biggest surprise about taking a course online?” and here are a few interesting responses:

“I was expecting more of a video thing, where you really only got a one-way relationship with the teacher. But instead, I am doing assignments and talking with my classmates.”

“I never thought about time zone differences until I took an online course! I didn’t think that 2 or 3 hours of difference would be a difficulty to schedule around, but with school and other activities, I feel a bit guilty as a Pacific time resident, as other people are generally staying up to speak with me.”

“I still feel like my voice is heard and that I am engaged in the class. I had expected interesting material, but hadn’t expected this much interacting with the other students in the class.”

“I am surprised that in this online format, I am still able to develop a personal relationship with my teacher. This is an important aspect that softens the border between regular and online classes.”

“The variety of people (in terms of backgrounds, where they live, etc.) I have met so far is definitely a new and interesting experience.”

3) Responsiveness matters: The most noticeable difference, in a comparison between satisfied students (overall satisfaction rating of 4 or 5) and under/un-satisfied students (satisfaction rating of 1, 2, or 3),  was in how they agreed/disagreed with the following statement: “My teacher responds promptly when I contact him / her.” In the satisfied group, the ratio of those who agreed with this statement to those who disagreed was 77:1, whereas in the under/unsatisfied group the ratio was 9:1. This difference may imply that a student’s satisfaction with his/her online course is influenced by the perception of his/her teacher’s responsiveness.