What can we learn from students about online education?

Yidan Qin shares some key lessons from a survey of students regarding what is needed to make online teaching effective

Yidan Qin's avatar
28 Jul 2021
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Advice gleaned from a survey of students about what is needed for effective online teaching

Created in partnership with

Created in partnership with

Xi'an Jiaotong Liverpool University 

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There is always a lot of focus on what we can teach students at university. Our job, after all, is to provide them with the skills and knowledge to thrive in their chosen careers. But students can also be a valuable source of knowledge and inspiration for teachers – as was the case when we asked students to provide feedback about our online teaching.

In a survey across different departments and year levels, students gave us practical advice on how teachers can deliver the best possible online education experience. To our surprise, most students believed online classes improve their study efficiency if we get three key elements right: motivation, engagement, and technical stability.

Teachers boost students’ motivation

Our students tell us that teachers play a key role in motivating them in class. Given that online classes offer more opportunities to be distracted than traditional classrooms, students point out that teachers must work harder to motivate students by delivering interesting content with regular student-student and teacher-student interaction. Specific advice from students included:

  • Teachers should regularly check in with students during the class and speak slowly and clearly. This way teachers can assess how students are keeping up with the lesson and ensure everyone grasps key concepts before moving on to more complex material. It can be helpful to chat about informal topics, not just course content, at the beginning of the lesson to liven up the class atmosphere.

  • Teachers paying extra attention to individual student projects is valuable in courses where much of the work revolves around individual students’ designs. If teachers are well-informed about their students’ work, one-on-one discussions taking place online can be productive and efficient.

  • Teachers should inject humour into online classes as a way to get students’ attention. While teaching online may make expressing humour through body language difficult, teachers can still use verbal humour.

Class engagement

A constant theme throughout survey responses was students’ desire for teachers to encourage regular student engagement. Specific advice from students included:

  • A suggestion that teachers use the “share notes” functionality in platforms like Zoom. This allows students to anonymously share ideas on their teacher’s screen during the lesson, encouraging full participation.

  • Detailed PowerPoint slides help students understand class content and can also be used as a talking point in peer groups to stimulate constructive discussion.

  • Knowledge contests where students compete to respond the fastest to the questions are a good way to encourage online students to engage in class content.

  • Simultaneous online and on-site delivery can be useful as it allows students who must study from abroad to connect with students on campus. It is vital that teachers balance engagement among all participants when delivering such classes.

Technical stability

Most students saw technical stability as critical to a positive online class experience. While some technical issues are outside a teacher’s control, students hope teachers are well versed in online platforms and patient when students face technical challenges. Specific advice from students included:

  • Technical problems can create issues for teachers’ delivery and students’ sharing. Everyone benefits when both students and teachers are patient and understanding when technical issues arise.

  • Recording classes can address some technical issues as students can review content they may have missed or misunderstood because of internet connection difficulties or other technical problems.

  • The ability to watch recordings of classes is the most beneficial aspect of online teaching, allowing students to adjust the recording to a comfortable speed and listen to whichever part they want, when they want.

  • Recorded classes can improve learning efficiency. While students may miss some key points in the physical classroom due to momentary distractions or talking to other students, when learning online they can choose when and where to find a place to focus. The ability to rewatch parts of the class is very helpful in overcoming difficulties in understanding.

From this survey, we discovered that most students find online learning highly efficient. As we continue to adapt teaching practices, educators can benefit from listening to – and learning from – their students. This will allow us to deliver high-quality, flexible learning opportunities that enable students to graduate with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed, regardless of their mode of study.

Yidan Qin is a postgraduate support officer for Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University’s Graduate School.


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