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Students prefer synchronous lectures, have more social difficulty with online courses, UTSU survey finds

Use of chat functions, dedicated question period in online classes appreciated
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The UTSU building. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY
The UTSU building. SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) released a report on students’ thoughts about online learning, covering topics from course delivery to mental health. 

The report was created out of the findings of a survey the UTSU conducted from August to September. In all, 272 students responded to the survey questions, half of whom were from the Faculty of Arts & Science. Most of the respondents were second-, third-, and fourth-year students.

“The primary goal of this report is to provide feedback to administrators and instructors on how to improve online learning for students,” wrote UTSU Vice-President Public and University Affairs Tyler Riches to The Varsity

They elaborated that the report identified several problems students are facing in regard to online learning, notably that professors’ efforts to engage students with more, smaller assignments are often ineffective and makes it more difficult for students.

The UTSU has sent the report to administrators, colleges, and deans. 

Course delivery

Half of the students preferred live, synchronous lectures to recorded lectures, though one third of students preferred recorded ones. A strong majority of students also preferred synchronous lectures to having to teach themselves the content with PowerPoint slides.

A strong majority of students preferred to write their questions in an online class, whereas less than 10 per cent preferred to ask them verbally. Similarly, over 60 per cent preferred having a dedicated question period. 

Students also reported that they liked non-graded questions that kept them engaged with course material. 

Other aspects of online learning that a majority of students agreed were helpful are instructors posting course content at the same time each week, keeping a well-organized Quercus page, and returning assignments in a timely manner.

The majority of students were also happy with their ability to reach professors and TAs easily and were happy that office hours were well publicized. 

Lastly, the two most popular course administration platforms were Quercus and Blackboard Collaborate, with 98 and 93 per cent of respondents, respectively, reporting the use of each platform. 

Students’ experiences during online learning

The report also contained some general questions about student life during COVID-19, such as mental health and friendships. 

Of the students surveyed, 75 per cent of students found it difficult to make relationships with their classmates online. Less than seven per cent of students reported that making relationships online was easy, and 17 per cent had no opinion.

For group work, students were about equally split on whether they liked being set up in groups with other students, with over one third in favor of being split into groups and about one third against. The remaining 25 per cent were neutral.

A small majority of 57 per cent of students reported that their productivity had decreased while doing online classes, though 23 per cent of students reported that their productivity had increased.