Students need a variety of information about digital courses, including required devices and how instructors structure their virtual courses and expectations, before they enroll–but much of this information is not available prior to registration, according to results from a student focus group conducted by WCET and The Ohio State University’s Office of Technology and Digital Innovation.
The goal of the student focus group was to give institutions a better understanding of the information students believe is most critical to know when making decisions about enrolling in digital learning courses. The focus group and its results are part of research on the definitions of digital learning conducted by WCET in collaboration with the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA) and Bay View Analytics.
WCET and The Ohio State University’s Office of Technology and Digital Innovation spoke with six students to learn what information they want to know before enrolling in a digital course. Here’s what they said:
1. Students want to know more about the technology required for digital courses before enrolling in them. Students are particularly interested in better understanding the tech tools and software they will need for the course–as well as how much those tools might cost.
2. Students want more information about digital courses specified in their institutions’ published course descriptions. Course descriptions often do not include critical digital learning information–the required technology, the instructor’s expectations of student engagement, and additional costs. Students need to understand both what technologies will be used and whether or not their devices are compatible with those technologies.
3. Students want to see the course syllabi for digital courses before enrolling in them. Students want to better understand the requirements and costs related to the digital aspects of a course prior to enrollment. This might include whether the course will be synchronous or asynchronous, the number of face-to-face sessions for hybrid courses, technology requirements for the course, and if course materials are open-sourced.
4. Students want to have access to all information on potential student services that are available to them for digital courses before enrolling in those courses. Students enrolled in digital courses are interested in better understanding what sort of services will be available to them. These services might include financial aid assistance, tutoring services, technical assistance, and any orientations related to the digital course. By providing this information to students both on the institution’s website and on the course syllabi, institutions can ensure student access to services vital to their success in digital courses.
5. Students want instructors’ expectations for student engagement in the online environment to be more explicit and shared before enrollment. Students want to know details about their instructors’ expectations around student engagement in their digital courses. This might include policies on remote proctoring, expectations around appearing on screen during synchronous digital sessions, virtual attendance policies, and policies associated with online forums.
6. Students suggested that there should be shared expectations for students who take digital courses that are consistent across instructors. Students enrolled in multiple digital courses reported that instructor expectations regarding student engagement varied significantly. Some instructors might require synchronous engagement, while others expect asynchronous engagement. Students expressed a desire for more uniformed expectations across faculty.
Perhaps the most important must-know is for institutions to understand students’ strong desire for information about their digital learning courses before their enrollment.
The focus group consisted of six institutions evenly split between community colleges and universities from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, North Carolina, and Wyoming. Four students were enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs, one in an associate’s degree program, and one in a master’s degree program. Four students were taking courses partially online and two students were fully online. Four were adult students while two were traditionally aged students. Two students identified as Black, one as White, one as Latino/x, and two did not identify.
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