June 2021 Newsletter

June 2021 Newsletter
June 2021 Newsletter
June 2021 Newsletter

Student Interns: What the Student Voice Results Tell Us

Students have shared their own opinions with us through our Student Voice survey, and now our own EDTL Student Interns give their own reaction to some of the results, and whether they surprised them or if it is what they expected.

Students have shared their own opinions with us through our Student Voice survey, and now our own EDTL Student Interns give their own reaction to some of the results, along with their own thoughts on the questions that were posed to the student population.

Aoibhinn Nic Giolla Mhartain – UCD

As part of the student survey, students were asked to give a response to two questions. Firstly; ‘what do you value about using technology to support your learning’. Unsurprisingly, many of the comments made reference to pre-recorded lectures. Students cited various reasons for valuing pre-recorded lectures, in particular being able to rewatch lectures. Among the responses students discussed being able to revisit the content during an assignment or exam time when they struggled with the material as well as the flexibility benefit of being able to do the lectures in their own time when it suited them. The benefits of pre-recorded lectures for students should be considered by Higher Education Institutions in a post-Covid learning environment and where possible they should be retained to enhance student learning, allow for flexibility and reduce stress at exam time.

Students were also asked ‘what do you value about being on-campus as a student’. Although the responses were more varied here, most students alluded to the engagement with both peers and lecturers. It was clear from the responses that students had missed out on this interaction due to the switch to online learning in the past year. Students mentioned this from both a social point of view in terms of making friends and having the ‘college experience’ and from a pedagogical point of view in terms of engaging with course material, practical lab work and being able to ask lecturers or fellow students questions on the course content. Once again it is vital that Higher Education Institutions consider this impact on students when deciding whether to opt for an online, in person or blended learning approach in the coming years.

Ben Ryan – TCD

Unlike many of the other questions we asked students, the results of this question were very close, with 58% of students saying they would prefer to study for assessment on campus, while 42% would prefer to study at home. These results suggest that Universities need to be accommodating of the various ways students study for assessments.

To accommodate students working from home, greater access to eJournals and online readings is needed. Students who wish to study at home should not be restricted by the lack of materials available online.

For students who prefer to study on campus, there are a few important changes that have been made during the last 18 months that should be continued into the future. In many libraries there is great difficulty in securing a seat, so the implementation of pre-booking study seats has been a welcome addition. Universities should also consider that some students will be attending live online lectures and tutorials from the library in the upcoming academic year. This requires library spaces where some speaking is allowed. The current options of sitting in the library being unable to speak or attending the class while sitting in a loud foyer are not suitable for attending online classes.

Overall, the question of where students will study for assessments in an ideal world has no clear answer, so Universities must accommodate the variety of ways students like to study.

Lauren Muldowney – NUIG

I think that the results reflect positively on the benefits of online learning. With a near even split, it’s clear that the future of university learning needs to embed values of flexibility and inclusivity. There has been massive pressure to ‘get back to campus’ throughout the pandemic, so it might be surprising to see that students aren’t necessarily looking to spent the majority of their week on campus. For many, other commitments and responsibilities can make accessing higher education difficult. High rent in cities can also price out a considerable cohort, while a long commute can take its toll five days a week.

On the other hand, students still appreciate the value of an on-campus experience. Interacting socially with classmates and the opportunity to speak with academics face-to-face should be taken into account as they lend themselves to a positive learning experience. Blended learning, where some components can be undertaken off-campus, opens up opportunities for a more diverse range of students. Reflecting on these results myself, I felt that I would also choose to have fewer days on campus to allow greater flexibility in my schedule. The student population are a group with a myriad of learning styles, responsibilities and preferences. The future of higher education needs to integrate a balance between these preferences that creates the highest quality experience for all.

Katharina Kurz – MU

The question concerning engagement in person or online was assessed through two sub-questions.

‘In an ideal world how do you interact and engage with other students?’ 15% of the students we reached voted for ‘online’, whereas 85% voted for ‘face to face’.
The second question was formulated only slightly differently, the only difference is that this one tried to understand how students wanted to engage with staff. It was asked the following: ‘In an ideal world how do you interact and engage with staff?’. Interestingly, the distribution was quite similar to the former, however, slightly more voters (in fact, 3%) wanted to engage online with staff than with students. Thus, 18% of students want to engage online with staff, and 82% preferring engagement and interaction face-to-face.

We see that the vast majority of students want to interact with both students and staff face-to-face, which did not surprise me. On the one hand, we know from educational literature that teaching and learning is built on strong relationships. Relationships naturally and easily develop when meeting in person. Interruptions and glitches from technical errors, WiFi cut-outs, or awkward speech-settings online can make it significantly harder to connect with each other.

On the other hand, online environments come with significant advantages, such as the option to use the chat function or to converse via email. Both mean increased flexibility for busy students and staff, since people can respond to these requests in their own time. I personally enjoyed the possibility of attending a lecturer’s virtual office hours the most. Such ‘meetings’ in a virtual environment often only took between 15-20 minutes which meant that these short calls with educators were easy to squeeze in a busy schedule without having to set away much more time to travel to campus. The results show clearly that students generally do not want face-to-face interactions to be replaced with online interactions within the University. However, some students greatly enjoy, and want to keep utilising features provided by virtual platforms.

Alice Hynes – UL

Personally I was not surprised to see that a higher percentage of students would prefer to have their lectures carried out in an online format and for tutorials to be held on campus. This is very much in line with my own opinions. 

Having lectures available online increases the accessibility of these classes which are often aimed at providing a larger volume of information. For me though, it is more important that lectures are recorded, be it online or in-person, as this allows students the opportunity to digest the information at a pace which suits their learning requirements. Lecture halls, particularly the larger rooms which accommodate 200+ students, can often be filled with distractions, making it difficult for students to focus on digesting a lot of information. On the other hand, online lectures tend to be more efficient in my experience and are therefore better suited to the delivery of a large amount of content. 

Tutorials, which offer a space for students to really get to grips with the module content, need to take place in person in my opinion. The discussions generated from asking questions are far more comprehensive and engaging when they take place in a classroom instead of in an online meeting room, providing greater learning opportunities for students.  

I think this format of content delivery would actually increase student engagement, particularly in tutorials. In my experience, when the content of a module is delivered in largely the same format for lectures and tutorials, I have felt less empowered to engage in my tutorial classes because I don’t gain as much from them. In the instance that the delivery is noticeably different, I come to those classes with a much greater purpose and intention to engage.

Catherine Dawson – UCC

The results state that only 19% of students would like to return to the large, end of semester exam, and 81% would prefer mostly continuous and open book exams. This is not surprising at all. For years, there has been a slow cultural shift towards more continuous assessment in both second-level and third-level education. Even though continuous assessment is more work in most cases, it doesn’t rely on that student’s performance on one random day in May, but rather on their understanding of the material and how well they can communicate that understanding.

If an exam is required, an open-book exam provides that happy medium and prevents memory recall from deciding their overall grade. Open-book exams also allow students to use and apply what they have learnt to different questions rather than learning off answers beforehand. Also, anyone who has done an open book exam will tell you, it is tough to research every answer, fact or solution within the time, and study is still required, but what’s vital is memory recall isn’t.

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