Survey report: Engaging students and academics with online learning
Miguel Flores, National College of Ireland, and Panagiotis Arsenis, University of Surrey
Published October 2020
1 Brief intro with key points
- The Economics Network surveyed participants of the EN Virtual Symposium Theme 1: Engaging students and academics with online learning, held on 8th June 2020. All participants, except one, submitted their responses between the 1st June and the 7th June.
- The aim of the survey was to gauge current and expected experience with online teaching in economics and ascertain areas for providing support.
- The survey was divided in three parts, including a total of 16 questions. The first part related to the role of respondents and their views and expectations regarding teaching online in academic year 2020/21. The second part asked participants about support or guidance they required in anticipation of the new academic year. The final part included questions related to how they planned to approach different challenges.
2.1 Role of respondents and their views on online teaching
- From a total of 87 respondents, 85 work as academic staff. 47.1% were on the teaching track and 50.6% were on the teaching and research track.
- 94.3% of respondents expected to teach online for the academic year 2020-21, most combining on-campus and online teaching.
- Around two thirds of respondents reported that they have flexibility regarding their online teaching, 8% must deliver the content following their universities’ prescriptions, and 24.1% did not know (probably because universities were largely undecided at that point).
- Most respondents expressed a positive view about the need to rapidly adapt their teaching to the online environment: 81.6% reported an opportunity for innovation in economics education, in contrast with only 9.2% who reported a feeling of frustration.
2.2 Support and guidance requirements
- Respondents were asked the level of support (in a scale from 1 to 5, where 5 is the highest level of support) they needed about online teaching, student support and course adaptation to online delivery (see graph below). In every category, most respondents felt that they required a high level of support (responding a 4 or 5).
- The category with the highest share of participants expressing the need for a high level of support was course adaptation to online delivery. Unsurprisingly, the latter suggests that until recently online delivery was quite limited in most courses except for distance learning.
- Overall, these findings suggest that most academics are quite concerned about the transition to the new modus operandi that universities across the UK (and the rest of the world) have adopted in response to the outbreak.
Overall, most respondents expressed their concern with student engagement in the ‘new’ online environment for academic year 2020-21. One of the key factors that will affect student engagement is students’ access to a suitable internet connection to allow them to follow the online classes and teaching material. This is even more relevant for international students who might have limited internet access and reside in different time zones.
Q: Where do you see the challenges in adapting your course(s) for online delivery? (78 respondents)
The following word cloud was used to extract common threads from the respondents’ answers. Student engagement and online interaction stand out.
Q: How do you plan to approach asynchronous teaching and learning and where do you see the challenges? (71 respondents)
Many respondents plan to prepare and deliver their teaching material in small pieces; for example, using short videos. They recognised student engagement as a main challenge.
Q: How do you plan to approach design and delivery of synchronous sessions and where do you see the challenges? (71 respondents)
Although respondents did not express a common approach to their design and delivery of synchronous sessions, some of them mentioned the intention to use a few tools available on their virtual learning environments (e.g. forums) and online tools for live audience response activities (e.g. online polls). Respondents, however, once again seemed to agree that the main challenge is student engagement. The availability and access to reliable technology as well as managing different time zones will also be a concern.
Q: How do you plan to approach student support and where do you see the challenges? (66 respondents)
Some respondents did not know or had not planned yet how to approach student support. Other respondents intended to use their university virtual learning environments (e.g. forums) and available online conferencing technologies, like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. Student engagement was, once again, reported to be the main challenge.
Q: Which of the following technologies do you expect to use? (87 respondents)
The answers included the universities’ virtual learning environments (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle), online tools for class delivery or lecture capture like Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Panopto, Echo360, and audience participation platforms like Poll Everywhere, Mentimeter and TurningPoint.
Q: Please indicate any resources that would help you prepare and deliver online teaching in 2020/21. (45 respondents)
Respondents identified different resources that would be useful: from university guidance to adapt their teaching to an online setting, to IT equipment (e.g. tablets) and software to facilitate online delivery, like applications that allow lecturers to use a tablet as a whiteboard substitute.
- Most respondents expected – in early June – to teach online for the academic year 2020-21, combining on-campus and online teaching. Moreover, they expressed a positive view about the need to rapidly adapt their teaching to the online environment.
- Most respondents felt that they required a high level of support, in particular on course adaptation to online delivery.
- The common concern across respondents was engagement, both among students (how students will interact and engage with peers) and within the online setting (whether and to what extent students will engage during online classes).
 The other two respondents were a graduate teaching assistant and a post-doctoral teaching staff.