A Cal State Fullerton online survey about the 2020 fall semester, showcased a notable divide between students who said their online learning experience failed to meet or exceed their expectations.
Of survey participants, 40.2% said that the fall semester went exactly the way they expected.
Ellen Treanor, the associate vice president for strategic communications, said the survey will help the university decide the best plan of action for students to return to campus.
“We just really wanted to check and see how people were doing and be able to use that for planning purposes. Depending on how the results of the survey came in we can say ‘Oh, wow look! Students like this much more than we expected them to,’ or ‘Students hate this more than we expected them to.’ I mean those are important factors when we are considering reentry,” Treanor said.
The survey, conducted by the Office of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness, received 15,267 responses and had a 37% response rate. The survey consisted of two main questions that focused on students’ expectations and types of support needed from the university for a better virtual experience.
The first question read, “If you took any classes in a virtual format in fall 2020, how did your experience compare with your expectations on the following aspects?”
The question was broken into subcategories such as: communication with instructors or peers, learning of the course material, participation, feedback on work and overall experience.
For overall experience, the data was fairly even across all categories.
The results suggested 40.2% of students felt their virtual experience was about the same as they expected. Then, 29.9% chose that they felt their experience was either somewhat or much worse than expected, while 30% said they felt it was somewhat or much better than expected.
Communication with their instructors was better than expected, according to 32% of students, and 31.3% reported that receiving feedback on their work was better than expected.
When asked about her virtual experience, Alison Sanchez, a third-year accounting major, said she found it more difficult to be instructed on a virtual platform.
Sanchez said, “I feel like it’s more difficult than in person because professors are throwing a lot at us. They’ll teach a class on Zoom and then I've noticed a trend that they will also assign videos that we have to watch on top of the classes that we have to attend, and we have to turn in homework which takes up a lot of time,” Sanchez said.
The second question on the survey read, “What types of support do you need to help with your learning and success in a virtual environment this spring semester?”
The answer options consisted of IT equipment, resources, communication, academic support, financial assistance, mental health support and food or housing security. There was also a section for open-ended responses for students to share their opinions.
The data shows students feel that financial support is the most essential at 27.8%. Stronger communication with instructors or peers came in at 27.4%. Academic support was at 27.1%, while mental health support was at 22%.
The open-ended responses showed similar themes such as instructor empathy, overall better quality for virtual instruction, and a better learning environment or space.
Yugesh Deveria, a first-year computer science major and survey participant, said he took advantage of Supplemental Instruction, a CSUF academic assistance program that offers study sessions for students taking difficult courses, to try to make his virtual first year an easier one.
While the university is coming up with the best course of action to return to campus, Treanor said it is important for students to take these surveys so CSUF can gain a better understanding of what students want and make changes to benefit all students.
“Please answer those questions because all that information is used,” Treanor said. “What is the unique Titan experience that we are offering our students? Why are they here and how can we encourage the connection not only with students with faculty but students with each other?”