Can you hear me? What are students saying about their online learning experiences? Are we as leaders of online learning listening? As a leader in our state-led supplemental program, Wisconsin Virtual School (WVS), and a partner in the Wisconsin Digital Learning Collaborative (WDLC), I believe it is our responsibility to take the student voice seriously. I have no doubt that you are nodding in agreement.
WVS has been operating since 2000. WVS has implemented an end of course survey for more than 10 years. Our return rate has been historically low despite our efforts to have online teachers remind their students, posting the survey link in all courses, encouraging our school local education guides (LEG) or coaches to remind students to take the survey, and keeping the end of course survey anonymous. However, we do review the survey results annually with our leadership team and with our online instructors. WVS also provides an annual “WVS by the Numbers” for stakeholders (students, LEGs, schools) to review. (Thank you Michigan Virtual School for letting us use your title idea!)
Reviewing results of student course surveys is one thing, but acting on what we learn is where the student voice begins to be heard. Student opinions are a critical part of improving our overall program quality in areas such as:
- Course selection: what we offer from various content providers both now and in the future
- Communication practices of online teachers and students
- Technology used for accessing the courses and student/school readiness for online course delivery
- LEG/coach training and resources: tools and resources to prepare students for an online experience
So you heard enough from me. In the “WVS by the Numbers” survey, students rate course content, online teachers, LEG support, what they like most, what they like least, etc. The survey also collects student comments on overall quality of the experience.
“The course was poorly constructed and I was extremely confused throughout the course.”
“Some of the assignments in this course had little or nothing to do with the information provided.”
“I had numerous issues with the curriculum of this course, between instructions being unclear and the content not being helpful.”
“Spelling errors in lessons.”
We review comments like those above for frequency and then correlate them to a particular course or content provider (students are asked in the survey to indicate the course title), our action is to review the course again and determine whether we offer the course in the future. We also consider whether our teachers can provide additional direction or support. We strategize what we can do to improve the student’s experience.
“Enjoyed it, but it would be nice to have extra practice on every assignments in case of not understanding, and that they weren’t graded, but optional.”
“My teacher made the course fun…….. However, I feel like this should be a two semester course. It felt like half the time I was jamming information into my head and praying it would stick (and that’s not just, because I was behind sometimes in coursework).”
“Personally, I would like to see that the tests do not affect our grade as much as they currently do.”
Comments from students such as these have us reflecting on the assessments in the courses. Where can we improve? Is there an appropriate amount of content to meet course objectives and standards, or is there too much? Are more formative and more frequent assessments needed? Improving online course assessments is a topic of focus in our upcoming online teacher professional learning opportunities as a result of the student voice.
“Would have liked emails or something to provide when an assignment was coming up.”
“I understand that the teachers are busy, but I wish it was easier to contact them than just emailing.”
“I also tried to contact my teacher several times through email.”
Communication, communication, communication…we include this in every teacher training, in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and other opportunities we have to emphasize the importance of quality and timeliness of responses. It is an important part of our expectations of a WVS teacher. As a result, we’re exploring more frequent synchronous sessions, extended virtual office hours, and online homework help as ways to improve support and communications.
“Google Chrome marks all course content as an “Unsafe Script” and content will not appear unless the user manually allows the script to run.”
“Didn’t like I couldn’t use Chrome.”
“I did not like the schedule/ ‘to do’ list on my home page. It did not accommodate weekends or holidays and I found this frustrating and hard to make up for.”
“Tests do not work on my school provided NetBook.”
As technology rapidly changes, we have to prepare students and supports schools to ensure that their access and participation in an online course is not inhibited by “technology frustration.” This is one of the key areas we respond to quickly and frequently in an effort to provide that quality experience. Our recommended Student Orientation course (provided at no cost to schools and their students) includes basic technology readiness skills for online learning. We also provide the Computer Technology Readiness for WVS Online Courses document as a resource, largely as a result of the input we received from students and their LEGs/coaches. WVS recommends “curriculum review” access to IT support to test the various courses with the connections and devices the student will use to access their online courses.
In conclusion, I feel we are on the right path in hearing what students have to say about their online learning experiences and improving the quality of that experience.
“Can you hear me now?” Our answer at Wisconsin Virtual School is, “Yes students, we do hear YOU!”
(WVS by the Numbers: The data is from 701 WVS student completion surveys collected August 2013- July 2014 and current data collected from WVS student records from the 2013-14 school year. This data is provided for the sole purpose of WVS and its partner schools. Unauthorized use is strictly forbidden.)