Survey explores transition to online learning

by Kalani Simpson, UNMC strategic communications | November 05, 2020

Image with caption: Andrew Robertson

Andrew Robertson

As a pandemic reached Nebraska, and teaching and learning went off-campus, an opportunity presented itself.

"We decided to see how this was going for everybody," said Andrew Robertson, institutional research analyst II, in the Office of Institutional Research. "We offer a lot of online programs. But we'd never done an entire student body working remotely."

It was, he said, "An unplanned but massive field test for distance learning."

And it was the perfect circumstance for a study, "Effects of remote learning on educational outcomes during COVID-19 quarantine."

The initial survey, which included 1,045 respondents, including 708 students, is the first step in a larger series of surveys and research publications to improve quality of remote learning at UNMC.

So what did they find?

"Most of the instructors and students experienced only a small decline in educational quality, or otherwise completely unchanged," Robertson reported.

"There were a lot of positive perceptions among faculty and staff," he said. "Staff responded very positively to remote working."

It wasn't perfect, of course. Among students, 63 percent responded that they had difficulty focusing or paying attention during remote learning instruction or activities. And 49 percent, or about half, had a personal preference for face-to-face learning.

"One of the things we saw," Robertson said, "was that students consistently reported that they preferred not necessarily a return to the classroom, but a return to campus spaces. They wanted to visit and study with other students.

"Now maybe not the same interest in getting back to lectures."

But instructors responded that 80 percent of students have adapted reasonably well to extremely well to remote learning.

And there was a strong response that whatever "normal" will be, going forward, some elements of this past spring's distance-learning model should be kept.

In addition to specific questions to answer, the survey allowed respondents room for free-form response.

"Those were a lot of fun to read," Robertson said.

Many said that distance learning allowed them to spend more time with families, and pets. And, seeing their instructors in their "home setting" -- including with pets -- led to a more personal connection.

Faculty seemed more accessible.

Even though learning was distant, "They felt there was more opportunity for direct student-teacher interaction," Robertson said.

See a summary of survey responses.

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