A survey of students in Hong Kong highlighted concerns relating to the efficacy of online teaching. Ka Ho Mok runs through key lessons for universities looking to improve their digital education
Online teaching and learning has been the primary instruction format in higher education globally for nearly a year. But there are ongoing questions about whether online learning is effective, compared with face-to-face classes.
A study of 1,227 students in Hong Kong found that most of them felt dissatisfied with their online learning during the pandemic. So, what can we learn from these survey results to improve online teaching delivery?
Only 26.89 per cent of respondents felt satisfied with their online learning experiences during the pandemic while nearly two thirds (62.75 per cent) claimed online learning was less effective than face-to-face classes, according to the survey. Nearly one-third (29.50 per cent) of respondents felt dissatisfied.
The negative feedback was an alarm bell for higher education institutions in Hong Kong, forcing a re-examination of their emergency online learning.
An evaluation of the responses found that students with a higher level of IT proficiency felt more satisfied with their overall online learning experience. The vast majority of respondents (71.07 per cent) with poor IT proficiency felt dissatisfied with online learning while nearly half (48.13 per cent) of those with good IT skills felt satisfied.
Other factors that had a strong impact on the effectiveness of online learning, according to student survey, were:
the stability of the internet connection
after-consultancy with instructors
the availability of class recordings
appropriate use of class materials.
Universities need to invest time and effort into improving students’ digital proficiency to ensure they get more out of their online courses. This could be done in a number of ways. For example, universities could:
organise extended induction programmes to help students adapt to the new learning environment through training workshops in the key education technology platforms throughout their freshman year
provide specialised workshops to enhance students’ digital literacy
introduce and integrate appropriate edtech in teaching and learning activities as part of courses
promote interaction via online platforms when organising co-curricular activities
develop clear guidelines and handbooks for students, making them as user-friendly as apps
engage students in critical reflection on online learning, with a creative mix of other forms of teaching and learning, including face-to-face
offer assistance and mentorship to students through a help desk and hotline where they can access advice on using different online learning platforms.
A lack of effective personal interaction was one of the key criticisms of online learning in the study, highlighting the importance of student and instructor connections. Instructors need to monitor student learning throughout the course to assure quality learning. They need to offer students support, not only from an educational and technical perspective but also meeting their social and psychological needs. Different units across the university should collaborate to co-create environments conducive to student learning, while instructors should:
develop mechanisms to monitor student learning using platforms such as the LMS and other apps, as well as via communication on online noticeboards, instant messenger or social media
check in regularly with each class using multiple channels to show they care about their learning and are available to help and advise
reach out to individual students through electronic platforms, personal calls, WhatsApp and email
make use of “early alert” systems, carrying out mid-term course evaluations and using online chat rooms to solicit student feedback.
Effective use of different communication channels highlighted above would produce a better learning community to convert students to engaged learners.
With 59.68 per cent of students claiming that the stability of their internet connection had a major impact on their online learning, universities need to take steps to ensure all students have access to the online classes and materials they need, regardless of Wi-Fi speeds:
instructors must ensure course material does not require large bandwidth and make materials accessible to students through mobile or tablet
if resources allow, universities could offer support to individual students who continually experience internet connection problems by providing them with the basics they need to learn online
when health and safety conditions permit, universities should open common spaces and facilities so students can access reliable Wi-Fi
Course instructors should record teaching so students can easily review the class later on if they cannot view it in real time.
At Lingnan University, we have adopted a hybrid approach blending face-to-face classes with online teaching conducted in classrooms, as well as communal learning spaces on campus.
In line with health and safety regulations, students are given the option to go on-site or online for learning. Instructors teach in assigned classrooms so that all students, on-site and online, study together.
As a university, we have proactively engaged students to overcome the challenges of online learning, mixing virtual and physical interaction to enhance overall learning outcomes.
Looking ahead, university leaders and instructors should consider how to get the best out of all potential course delivery modes so they can offer students the best possible educational experience and help them overcome any barriers to learning.
Ka Ho Mok is vice-president and dean of the School of Graduate Studies at Lingnan University.