The Biggest Takeaways About My Students Amid COVID-19 Transition

The year 2020 has already proven to be a rocky year filled with encountering and coping with unimaginable obstacles. It’s no doubt that the coronavirus has affected every person worldwide in one form or another. It has forced us to accept unwanted changes as we adapt to the new norms in our lives. One such change is the transition from face-to-face instruction to virtual instruction. Often the focus is to hear about what students have learned from their professors in their classes. Nowadays, I find myself in a reverse role, as I have found myself learning from my students since this COVID-19 transition.  Here are the most important conclusions I’ve taken away from this experience after observing and researching 76 of my students during this transition:

  1. This Is the First Time With Online Instruction For The Vast Majority

Approximately 86% of my students in this study never took an online course prior to this transition. They are now getting exposure to virtual learning and an idea of how online classes operate for the first time in their lives. This can imaginably be quite daunting to absorb under such abrupt circumstances, particularly regarding classes that were traditionally using the paper/pencil method exclusively. Thanks to my department (Mathematics Department at Morgan State University) piloting and implementing the use of ALEKS (an online tutoring and assessment program that adapts to students’ cognitive learning) in select courses, my students were already using ALEKS in my classes since the beginning of the semester, so they were partially exposed to online learning. In this study, 52.7% of my students were satisfied overall with the delivery of the topics covered in ALEKS during this transition (43.2% were neutral).

Furthermore, online teaching has also been a first-time experience for most faculty. While I am no stranger to online teaching (have been teaching online courses since 2012), this is my first time ever having to conduct live classes virtually, so this has been quite a learning experience for me, as well.  The doors of compassion and understanding between educators and students can swing both ways and can go a long way, especially during times like these.

Charlita Woodruff-WhiteCharlita Woodruff-White
  1. Educational Preferences Have Shifted To A Certain Extent

Pre-transition:  The majority of my students preferred face-to-face instruction, with 73.7% preferred face-to-face instruction, 2.6% virtual/online instruction, and 23.7% hybrid instruction. Post-transition: The majority still preferred face-to-face instruction, but interestingly the percentage of those who preferred face-to-face instruction decreased to 61.8% (the most substantial difference) while virtual/online and hybrid instruction made noticeable increase to 9.2% and 28.9%, respectively.  Here are other notable highlights of my study:

  • 7% of the students did not change their instruction preference after this transition
  • 5% changed their preference from face-to-face to virtual/online instruction
  • 9% changed their preference from hybrid to virtual/online instruction
  • 6% changed their preference from face-to-face instruction to hybrid instruction
  • 3% changed their preference from hybrid instruction to face-to-face instruction
  • No preferences changed from virtual/online instruction to face-to-face
  • No preferences changed from virtual/online instruction to hybrid instruction
  1. Using Technology For Educational Purposes Is A Work In Progress

Despite the fluent abilities that Millennials and Generation Z possess when using technology for social and entertainment purposes, many students did not enjoy virtual learning, even after 2.5 weeks of adjusting to this new method of online learning. Interestingly, more than half of those who preferred face-to-face instruction and found virtual learning to be loathsome were found inappropriately using their cell phones during class prior to the transition.  I’ve taught at three universities and I learned prior to this transition that inappropriate cell phone use during class has been a nationwide epidemic in academic settings for far too long. One of my students candidly admitted that this transition gave her a newfound appreciation for going to classes.  Hopefully in light of this virtual transition, students across the nation who prefer face-to-face instruction will become more attentive in class after this transition is over.

  1. Flexibility Is Key

Before this COVID-19 transition, I was considerably firm (with kindness, I might add) regarding staying on task and holding students accountable for their attendance and assignments. But now, it’s different! Many are forced into uncharted territory of learning virtually, and it would be unwise to hold students to that same level of accountability.

Students have shared with me of some of the issues they experienced (technology issues, work schedule, time management, just to name a few). It was disheartening to learn that a few of my students were forced to continue working during this transition. One student informed me that he had to apply for a job because he now must help support his family (both parents were laid off as a result of COVID-19). There is a time to be nonpermissive and stand firm to student accountability, but that time is not the present! As educators, we should be more reasonably flexible during this disruption that affects all of our lives. These are uncharted times for us all, and we’re all in this together. Undoubtedly, this has been a rocky year, but we will overcome this together!

Charlita Woodruff-White is a lecturer of mathematics at Morgan State University.