How Student Surveys Impact Online Learning

Written by Morgan Mack 

When instruction at Carlow shifted from in-person to online in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a group of faculty members were interested in how students were fairing under different learning conditions. The faculty members sought to discern whether Carlow students had access to high-speed internet and proper technology.  

The survey also sought to uncover which learning methods work best for Carlow students, synchronous or asynchronous, as well as what classroom assignments were helpful and which were not. 

Susan O’Rourke, PhD, professor of education, leads the team in creating and distributing the survey to students during the Spring 2020 semester as well as the Fall 2020 Semester.  

Survey Distribution and Response Rate 

O’Rourke said that there was only a 12.5% response rate for the survey regarding the Spring 2020 semester. The team at Carlow felt that the response rate was lower than they had hoped, and they would have preferred a response rate of around 25%. However, a staff member at an institutional research center that Carlow is working with was very pleased with the response rate.  

Once the surveys were completed, O’Rourke and the team distributed the findings to Carlow faculty members, the Center for Digital Learning and Innovation (CDLI), and Academic Affairs. With the data collected, faculty used the results to develop their courses for the fall semester. 

The research team has distributed another survey regarding the fall semester which was sent to all students Carlow emails on Nov. 6, 2020. The team plans on comparing the responses from the Spring 2020 survey to the Fall 2020 survey to see if anything changes. 

Student Access to Required Materials 

O’Rourke explains that another purpose of the initial survey was to identify if students had access to technology in order to complete coursework. The surveys found that there was a portion of students who did not have access to the required technologies. 

With the data collected from the survey, Carlow faculty members found laptops to loan to students who required them in order to participate effectively during the online semester.  

Once the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was approved, the team encouraged Carlow financial advisors to let students know that federal funding was available to potentially secure long-term laptops for online learning. 

Student Learning Preferences 

Additionally, the team was interested in figuring out which delivery methods students preferred. The surveys focused on whether students preferred synchronous or asynchronous class sessions as well as what learning activities students found helpful. 

The survey found that about half of the students surveyed preferred synchronous over asynchronous. About 20% of students who went completely synchronous believed that synchronous meetings were a waste of time. 

O’Rourke explains that these findings were extremely interesting and useful to Carlow faculty members. With the data collected, professors were able to make appropriate changes for Fall 2020.  

The surveys also found that students did not prefer Skype for Business, and instead they preferred Zoom or Microsoft Teams.  

Using the Data from the Surveys 

O’Rourke explains that in the beginning of the pandemic, classes were held on Skype for Business, but with information gathered from the surveys, instructors moved to Zoom and Microsoft Teams due to recorded student preferences.   

With mixed preferences regarding synchronous or asynchronous instruction recorded, the research team encouraged Carlow to deliver course material in various methods, having some synchronous and some asynchronous meetings.  

With this data, O’Rourke explains that for the Spring 2021 schedule, two sections will be available for some courses; one section will be totally asynchronous, and the other section will have a synchronous component. Depending upon how students chose the sections may match with data collected from the survey.  

Challenges Amid Changes in Learning Methods 

It takes much more time for faculty to teach online classes compared to in-person classes. Students have voiced similar challenges to moving completely online. O’Rourke explains that students reported the amount of time they spent on the online classes is much more than an in-person class.  

O’Rourke proposes a theory as to why students as well as professors spend more time working on online classes than in-person. O’Rourke speculates, “In-person classes could result in more efficient meetings versus online or asynchronous courses, but every student responds differently to teaching methods so we cannot be 100% confident in this assumption.”   

Amid the challenges faced by all at Carlow, O’Rourke explains that she is extremely impressed with how well Carlow faculty has adapted to instructional changes. She explained that all the Carlow faculty members have been receptive and open to suggestions and to learning different skills regarding online.  

Surveys such as these are extremely valuable and important for making online learning at Carlow more effective and efficient for everyone. The surveys do not take much time to fill out, and the data collected from them proves to be invaluable. 

Check your Carlow email for the most recent survey. The more people who participate, the more accurate the results will be. These surveys have changed instructional methods during the COVID-19 crisis. Consider filling out the latest survey to improve your semester during these uncertain times.  

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