Perspectives XI: Offering Students Flexible Options

By Alena Buis, Art History & Mirabelle Tinio, Modern Languages

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Early in 2020, students all over the world experienced a sudden, dramatic, and unprecedented shift in their academic world. One year later, we continue to teach and learn in the virtual environment, and are now contemplating a return to in-person instruction for the fall semester. Over this past year, some Langara instructors have shared their perspectives on the impact of moving to online teaching and learning.

Our eleventh contribution comes from Mirabelle Tinio and Alena Buis who have collected perspectives from our students in a variety of departments about their thoughts on the return to campus in the fall of 2021.

We look forward to bringing you more perspectives. If you would like to contribute, please contact Jessica Kalra at jkalra@langara.ca.

Offering Students Flexible Options

After almost a year of teaching remotely, this semester faculty were asked to prepare for a return to on-campus learning. For some this was a relief. For others the news was a shock. Many questions arose. Faculty turned to colleagues and leaders for answers. Many instructors also asked students for their perspectives. What were they thinking about the return to face-to-face learning? How did they feel? Were they excited? Nervous? What questions did they have? The following article shares student quotes and findings from informal conversations with students. Please note that this is a casual collection of candid perspectives and not an empirical study.

The Respondents

Interdisciplinary Studies

In Interdisciplinary Studies, two classes were asked about their preferences for the fall. They were asked their top three preferences from the following six delivery options:

  • Fully on campus,
  • Mixed mode on campus and synchronous online,
  • Mixed mode on campus asynchronous online,
  • Online fully synchronous,
  • Online fully asynchronous, or
  • Or mixed online synchronous and asynchronous.

While the sample was admittedly small, the instructor was still surprised that only two students put taking classes fully on campus as one of their top three options. Some preferred to stay online due to COVID, but others chose to do so for pedagogical reasons, and/or because they will not be in Vancouver in the fall.

Modern Languages

At the same time some 79 students in Modern Languages responded to an informal poll on their preferences for course delivery in the fall semester. Only 10% preferred to attend classes fully in-person, while 90% preferred online courses or a mix of face-to-face and/or an online asynchronous or synchronous component.

Among the respondents, many cited concerns about safety on campus and during their commute. A few students mentioned difficulties engaging with their peers and instructors in the online environment. A large number of students preferred the convenience and flexibility of online courses and expressed a desire for more choices. It is important to note that some of their responses were not related to the current pandemic health orders, suggesting the need to continue offering a variety of learning experiences in years to come.

Emergent themes

We have grouped some of the comments by theme.

Preferences

“My preference is primarily due to safety, but I prefer learning in a classroom setting.”

“Learning style preference, motivation to study and opportunity to do the homework on campus, proper studying environment, opportunity to socialize and make friends.”

Concerns about safety

“My preferences are primarily because of safety. However, I have begun to enjoy learning online rather than in person.”

I live with my parents and they are in that higher risk age. I also attend classes more and learn better through online learning. I live an hour away by public transport, however that part isn’t as big of an issue.”

Commuting

“Over the past year and a half, I have adjusted to online learning. I appreciate the eliminated transit time and being able to review lectures at my own convenience. However, I would love to start meeting my classmates as well, so having 50% in-person would fulfil both my preferences. But, we are still in the midst of a pandemic, so fully online would be valid and fine for me too.”

“Not having to commute to the college has been fantastic in terms of saving time in the day for other things. My hope for the fall semester would be that we students could see many classes continue to be online-only. It is great for someone like me who also has to work while being a student. 40 minutes or so each way from home to the school is time I can utilize doing more studying/daily life chores.”

“Safety is a concern of course. However, I have been involved in online learning for a year, and now I got used to it already. It is more convenient to study at home and it saves time on commuting. It is necessary to go back to campus and have some real conversation, but if some time could be give studying online at home, that’s also a good choice.”

Desire for more choice

“I chose 50% in-person and 50% asynchronous because I learn better at my own pace but there are still some courses that need an in-person delivery like labs, language class (Japanese, Chinese, French, etc.), Math/stats.”

“I prefer having in-person classes but would not mind if some classes are done online. I think this would limit the number of students on campus. As well as gives students a choice in whether or not they want to physically be in class or online.”

Flexible Options  

The overwhelming response has been that students would like more choices in how, when, and where they learn. This aligns with what others in higher education are hearing as well. The 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, identifies Blended and Hybrid course models as one of the technological trends impacting learning experiences, and building resilience as “flexible movement between remote and in-person experiences will help institutions minimize disruption and ensure continuity of course delivery through future crises” (p. 8).

Steven Crawford, District Director for the Maricopa Center for Learning, and Innovation, reflects on post-pandemic trends in the 2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, reminding us:

Community colleges must provide more flexible options for our students as we shift from remote teaching to quality online learning and increase the use of blended/hybrid modes/teaching models. Although many faculty and students want to return to the classroom, others want to maintain the flexibility offered by online and blended learning courses. Colleges need to expand their learning modalities to meet the students where they are. Some students will need to have a classroom experience to be successful, but others will need the flexibility of participating part-time in a classroom experience to continue working while pursuing their education.

(2021 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, p. 43.)

According to the findings of the Academic Plan Consultation Session, “At Langara we value accessible, high-quality, flexible pathways to enable students to achieve their academic, career, and life goals.” In the past year, dedicated and innovative faculty have demonstrated they could offer high-quality learning in multiple modalities. By honouring student perspectives that suggest a desire for multiple modes of delivery, we have an opportunity to be even more flexible in the learning pathways we provide.

When we go back this fall, let’s go back to better.

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