Starting in Spring 2020, the Center for New Designs, Learning, and Scholarship (CNDLS) and the Office of Analysis and Decision Support (OADS) conducted surveys of students and faculty involved in courses. The surveys created a feedback loop to both students and faculty, providing counsel on how to improve the learning outcomes of students enrolled in the courses. The feedback was communicated through emails, web pages, and Zoom meetings with faculty.
A new survey of faculty was mounted this September, 2021. The questionnaire was sent by email to all course instructors of Fall 2021 in-person and hybrid courses at all Main Campus schools including Georgetown College, the Grad School, MSB, McCourt, NHS, SCS, and SFS, as well as BGE. The survey had quite a low response rate, 13%, with higher response rates for SFS and College faculty. Thus, the survey requires some care in its interpretation.
Responses to these questions show that overall, many in-person and hybrid courses are going well according to the faculty respondents, and the large majority of respondents are experiencing a high level of enthusiasm for their own return to campus. Specifically, 86% of respondents reported that their courses were going well or very well; and 74% of respondents reported that their level of enthusiasm for the return to campus was high or very high. No respondents indicated that their classes were going very poorly, and only 2% of respondents reported a very low level of enthusiasm for the return to campus. It is, of course, possible that the nonrespondent faculty are much less favorable to the semester’s experiences.
Sometimes, relationships are more robust to the kind of nonresponse problems that plague descriptive statistics like the percentage of respondents reporting some attribute. In that regard, there is a significant and relatively strong correlation between respondents’ feelings that their classes are going well and their level of enthusiasm for the return to campus. This fits some qualitative observations over time. When students are enthusiastic and engaged in their courses, their instructors experience similar positive feelings. There is probably reciprocal causality going on here – when faculty are happy to be in the classroom, enthusiastic about their being back on campus, the students become more engaged.
Another use of survey data from low response rates surveys takes advantage of text responses that respondents provide to open-ended questions (e.g., “Is there anything else you wish to share with CNDLS?”). Some such questions deliberately elicited reports of problems. The types of negative faculty reactions to the start of the semester involve dealing with students who are absent because of public-health related interventions (a student exposed to a positive case being quarantined for some days), dealing with some students’ hyper-vigilance about their own health, and struggles with the new technology installed in classrooms. In addition, several faculty commented on the difficulty of hearing in classrooms with masked students.
A separate issue raised by respondent faculty has also arisen in student advisory groups – the desire by students (who admittedly have come off of three semesters of remote instruction) to have access to synchronous zoom connections into classes they miss. The Main Campus guideline for faculty is to treat absences from classes due to health using the same case-by-case care used in prior semesters. The university found a threat to quality of learning in settings where both remote and in-person students needed the instructor’s full attention. Hence, faculty were asked to use lecture capture technology for absent students or to help them keep up in more traditional ways.
On the positive side, several faculty noted continued use of the recommended pedagogical practices propagated since March, 2020: breakout groups in class, rich use of canvas resources, check-ins with students, community building exercises, creation of asynchronous resources, flexibility over the days of the course, Google docs’ collaboration, online discussions, mandatory office hours, polls for student feedback, pre-recorded lectures, posting classroom recordings, take-home exams, virtual guest speakers, virtual office hours, zoom for small group work, and other features.
Thus, despite lower-than-desired participation, the survey may provide some information that might be useful for improvements during this semester and the spring.
Georgetown, like most US universities, is back to in-person teaching, but we all must admit the conditions are not exactly those of Fall, 2019. Both faculty and students are still adapting. Kindness and patience with one another will serve us all well.