CPE faculty group highlights commitment to students, technology concerns in COVID-19 survey
July 17, 2020
Respondents stress the importance of flexibility, training and university support
Campus faculty are working hard to connect personally with students, provide hands-on learning experiences and overcome technological barriers, according to a group of faculty members that advises the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education (CPE).
And those who taught online courses prior to the spring 2020 semester reported a much smoother transition to remote learning this year than those without previous experience.
The insights are from a recent survey that CPE sent members of its Kentucky Faculty Advisory Network in May to better understand how campuses are adapting to the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey asked educators about the move to online coursework, lessons learned and plans for fall 2020.
"Campus faculty deserve our thanks and support," said CPE President Aaron Thompson. "COVID-19 caught us all by surprise, but we've seen a tremendous commitment to students and meaningful progress on a number of fronts. I appreciate our Faculty Advisory Network for providing on-the-ground perspective that will help strengthen our approach heading into the new semester."
Settling into a new reality
All of the survey questions were open-ended, and faculty members were eager to share their experiences, especially their concerns about the impact on students.
One educator noted how both traditional students and adult learners have faced competing priorities during the outbreak. She said many students are grappling with responsibilities that extend far beyond school.
"I was very aware of the need to be more sensitive and flexible. My students were dealing with new life challenges (homeschooling their children, caring for their parents, working an essential job, dealing with the loss of a job, etc.). This changed the priority of their own education. Though they still wanted to be successful, the students were now having to put new family needs first."
She said while students needed support in new and in-depth ways, typical face-to-face meetings were no longer possible and online meetings were not the same.
Another faculty member said students need better access to mental health resources on campus. A third wrote that remote learning required him to be more understanding of students and their difficulties.
"Students seem fine with the concept of video lectures, yet they do not like completely online courses. Students lose the support of their friends and the home-like setting of the university when not on campus."
A fourth said he wished he knew more about students' home situations and their resources.
"It is impossible to create a one-size-fits-all approach to remote instruction while maintaining the same instructional breadth of a face-to-face class because there is great inequity in resources available to consume course material. It was not clear to me that students who needed additional data/hotspots, etc. were receiving any kind of support from the university for them. It seems like students were on their own."
Some of the respondents said adopting new technology so quickly has been one of the biggest challenges. One faculty member wrote that:
"The transition was difficult, primarily due to the rapid change at the end of our spring break. There was a wide range of software we needed to learn quickly, without any prior training. I had to learn to make and upload lecture videos, make online exams, deploy them securely online, and grade them online."
Others said they have struggled to offer labs or hands-on learning experiences that are vital to degree-requirements. But at least one respondent said he still experienced success moving labs online.
"When we transitioned online, the in-person component of my research lab shut down completely. We submitted the appropriate paperwork to run our research experiments online, and retooled lab experiments using online experiment delivery platforms. This was challenging and exciting for the students, as we have been working with a variety of online platforms over the past year and were familiar with how to proceed. This was critical so that students could complete degree requirements involving student-centered experiential learning."
A majority of the respondents had at least some experience teaching remotely, and those with the most seemed to adjust more easily to the digital format this spring. Two faculty members with prior experience said the transition was smooth or very smooth, and the importance of flexibility was a reoccurring theme in most of the responses.
When asked what they would have done differently, one said she would have scheduled individual meetings with students to affirm her commitment to their success. Another said shifting to the "honor system" for exams would have saved valuable time.
A third faculty member explained that he was making decisions by the day and still wasn't sure what could be done differently.
"Many of the students are adult learners and students. Many have kids of their own and they are trying to help them, and quarantined, and dealing with uncertainties as well. I did not feel comfortable holding them to the usual standards."
Faculty members said better training and equipment would help ease remote learning in the future, along with more planning and feedback on student experiences.
CPE formed the faculty network last year to provide input on state-level policies and advise CPE on strategies to promote student success. The 13-member group – from both public universities and community and technical colleges – has focused on closing achievement gaps and improving academic quality among other central issues in higher education. Members also serve as a conduit of information between CPE and campuses.
Melissa Bell, vice president for academic affairs and student success at CPE, said the responses to the survey have already helped identify issues for fall 2020, and that the network's input has come at a crucial time.
"We need faculty input now more than ever," Bell said. "This group provides an excellent forum for collaboration and consensus building across the state, and we want to continue our dialogue throughout the year. I'm confident that we are laying the groundwork for some vital innovations that will far outlive the pandemic."
Last Updated: 7/23/2021