Factors such as engagement and instructor efforts to connect with students play a key role in students' likelihood to return to campus in spring 2021

What makes students more likely to return to school in spring 2021?

Factors such as engagement and instructor efforts to connect with students play a key role in students' likelihood to return to campus in spring 2021

Students still prefer in-person learning to online learning, and students who say they believe their instructor made an effort to understand their goals, interests, and challenges–and actively engage them in the learning experience–were likely to return to school in the spring 2021 term, according to a new survey.

The Top Hat Field Report: Higher Ed Students Grade the Fall 2020 Semester survey of 3,412 higher education students in the United States and Canada, was conducted by Top Hat and designed to uncover student sentiment about the online learning experience now that educators and institutions have had months to plan for the fall academic term.

The report shares insights on their experiences and highlights the challenges adjusting to online learning. It also sheds light on how different teaching practices, technology and tools, and connection with instructors and fellow students impacted their learning experience this fall.

Related content: Faculty approaching fall remote learning with uncertainty

“When we surveyed students in the spring, shortly after emergency campus closures driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, they told us that the emergency remote instruction they received left much to be desired,” said Nick Stein, CMO, Top Hat. “While they were understanding back then about the incredible challenges their schools and instructors were facing, they had much higher expectations about how their education would look in the fall. Thankfully, what our latest student survey shows is that many instructors are providing the more engaging, interactive and human experience students desperately need. Instead of replicating a ‘sage-on-the-stage’ lecturing model over Zoom, many educators are leaning in to active learning and creating community in their virtual classrooms. And we are also seeing that students are likely to continue their studies next term and beyond.”

“[This] second survey allows the higher ed community to gain valuable insights into the remote and hybrid student experiences that will mostly continue through the spring term,” said Phil Hill, partner at MindWires, LLC. “It is becoming more and more evident how important increased student engagement is and will be to enable student success during the pandemic.”

Students continue to give low grades to the online learning experience

Ahead of the fall 2020 academic term, institutions invested in technology, tools, and training for educators to provide high-quality online learning experiences. Yet many instructors expressed a lack of confidence in whether students would be successful this term–and students felt the same way.

Almost seven out of 10 (68 percent) students indicated they were not learning as effectively online as they would have in person. More than half (54 percent) expressed at least some concern about their ability to pass the current school term.

Despite months of planning by institutions for the fall academic term, students indicated many factors that contributed to their difficulties with adjusting to online learning. This included a lack of an engaging in-class experience (76 percent), lack of face-to-face interaction with faculty and students during class (75 percent), lack of reliable access to study spaces (48 percent), the need to balance coursework with caregiving responsibilities (39 percent), difficulty navigating or using online learning tools (38 percent), and difficulty accessing online learning materials (28 percent).

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