Technologies to Connect, Clear Directions and Transparent Communication – What Course Evaluation Practitioners Need Most Amid COVID-19

Written by Yeona Jang, Ph.D., Chief Community Engagement Officer.

In this two-part series, we share a summary of the results of the COVID-19 impact surveys, two studies conducted by Explorance. This article focuses on the impact COVID-19 is having on course evaluation processes at Higher Education Institutions.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upends Higher Education in 2020, institutions around the world are forced to move their missions, activities, and operations online. Explorance’s aim is to provide insights in support of leaders and professionals in Institutional Research, Teaching and Learning, Registrars, and IT as they face the challenges of adjusting their course evaluation practices in response to the impact of the pandemic.

The information that we share in this blog is based on the COVID-19 Higher Education Impact Survey. This study was encouraged by members of the Bluenotes community (Higher Education Institutions that use Blue for course evaluations) and conducted in April 2020. The survey enabled Explorance to quickly gather, analyze, and share perspectives from course evaluation practitioners across the globe in various areas, including the impact of COVID-19 on roles and responsibilities, priorities, challenges, technology uses, and help needed from institutions​.

 

COVID-19 Higher Education Impact Survey - Respondents by demographic
COVID-19 Higher Education Impact Survey – Respondents by demographic

 

The BlueX survey software was used to build, administer, and manage the questionnaire. All surveys were private to protect the confidentiality of respondents and maintain the quality of responses. In total, we received 190 responses from 142 institutions during the two-week survey period. Below is a summary of some of the findings that emerged from the survey.

COVID-19 is impacting responsibilities today but expected to have minimal impact in the future

A larger proportion of survey respondents (58%) report an increase in work responsibilities as their institutions move courses online to continue to provide the best educational experience to students despite the pandemics. At the same time, most respondents said that they expect a minimal change in their roles in the future. The exception is those working in Academic Affairs and Registrars Offices who expect to see an increase in roles during and after the pandemic. This finding may call for further study to understand better what the increased role changes entail along with the key drivers.

The main finding from this question indicates that student feedback continues to play an important role in the mission of Higher Education Institutions, even as COVID-19 creates an unprecedented challenge for course evaluation practitioners.

A high level of agreement that institutions are prepared to manage course evaluations remotely, with one exception

We asked respondents to show their level of agreement on the “institution’s preparedness” to manage course evaluations during the pandemic. A majority expresses overall agreement in all areas except one: the institution’s ability to provide resources to take action based on student feedback. We observe a perception gap between individual professionals and those at a management level. 39% of individual professionals agree that their institutions can provide resources to act on student feedback, compared to 51% of those who are in a manager’s role and higher.

As we observe this disparity, a few questions come to mind: What’s driving this difference? How will this perception gap between individual professionals and management impact student success? Is this gap worth addressing? If so, what actions can institutions take to close this gap?

Moving courses online and engaging with students and instructors are top priorities for institutions during the pandemic

When asked what their top priority is at the moment of transition, the two leading themes for respondents at all job levels are moving courses online and engaging with students and instructors.

Most institutions were proactive in taking new actions to prevent and slow the spread of the virus. By the end of spring break, they were moving their course catalogs to an online format. Transitioning to online teaching and learning appear to not be without its challenges for course evaluation practitioners. Planning and preparing and working remotely are the two most frequently mentioned challenges.

We also observe a difference between smaller institutions and larger institutions in their 3rd most frequently reported challenge: For those working in smaller institutions, it is getting resources, and for those responders from larger institutions, it is fast decisions on evaluation policy.

Technologies to connect with others are the tools needed most during remote work

As online delivery quickly become the new normal for institutions (and the world), technology is a key facilitator in collaborating with others remotely. We wanted to measure respondents’ overall sentiment on their technology support. Nearly everyone expresses that they have the tools required to perform their responsibilities remotely – with 58.51% strongly agreeing and 37.23% agreeing.

When asked what tools they didn’t need before but needed during the pandemic​, it comes as no surprise that technologies to connect are reported as the top 3 most important:

  • Video conferencing (61%)
  • Remote access such as VPN (41%)
  • Collaborative online tools (38%)

These findings seem to indicate that the majority of work responsibilities were performed face to face before the pandemic. As course evaluation practitioners move online, they have to learn to perform their work responsibilities using tools that they didn’t need before. Therefore, institutions may consider providing them with the support they need to ensure overall proficiency in using these new tools that have become essential to collaborating remotely with others.

Clear directions and transparency of communications needed from institution leaders during this period

A study by Gallup suggests that the #1 factor that employees need during times of uncertainty is trust in their leaders and organizations. This directly correlates with the findings from our survey. We asked respondents, “How can your institution help you do your job well during this period?”, and provided seven answer options:

  • Transparency of communications
  • Clear decisions or directions
  • More resources
  • “Get together” time with colleagues virtually
  • Health and well-being support
  • New skill training
  • New tool training
  • if there is other help that was not listed, the option to specify was provided

Clear decisions and transparency of communications are the most frequently reported help needed from institutions – the basic elements that engender trust. Right behind clear decisions and transparent communications are “get together” time with colleagues and health and well-being support.

So, what does the survey findings reveal?

When we put the findings together, we notice that even though technology may be meeting needs, working remotely is still a challenge for course evaluation practitioners. Perhaps the issue is a lack of familiarity/experience in using these technologies? Or perhaps something else?

In addition, clear decisions and transparent communications from institutions are important amid COVID-19. The following image summarizes the findings.

 

Summary of the COVID-19 Higher Education Impact Survey
Summary of the COVID-19 Higher Education Impact Survey

 

What these findings suggest is that as we continue to adjust to a new normal and prepare to return to school, the items that all institutional leaders must focus on are: 

  • How to quickly provide clear decisions and transparent communications in a timely manner
  • How to check in on students/instructors/staff, and do so in a helpful unobtrusive way that will build confidence, boost trust, and give them insights to make the right decisions when they’re most needed

We hope the findings intrigue you to learn more about the COVID-19 Higher Education Impact survey in a greater detail. We invite you to watch the webinar, which explores the results at an aggregated level, and provide your feedback.

If you’re interested in receiving a copy of the report, contact us.

 


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