AUC Holds Open Discussions with Students About Online Education Challenges

AUC students on the computers in the library
AUC Library Now

In an effort to address student concerns about online learning and open channels of communication during this difficult time, AUC held school-based communication sessions this week for students to voice their concerns and reflect on their experiences. The five sessions explored the challenges of online learning and measures AUC is taking to mitigate them and were attended by school deans, department chairs, faculty members, the provost, the associate provost for transformative learning and teaching, and student representatives.

Some of the top student concerns raised across different schools were: 

  • Pass/fail petition for Fall 2020
  • Heavier workload
  • Less interaction and engagement during online classes – “can’t have a discussion or be challenged on Zoom” 
  • Virtual lab courses not as effective as physical ones
  • Self-learning by only reading slides
  • Faculty expectations being the same online as face-to-face even though the experience is different
  • Multiple platforms and teaching styles online complicate the process
  • Delayed responses from faculty members and teaching assistants
  • Prolonged classes
  • Faculty reliance on prerecorded lectures
  • Syllabi changes mid-semester 
  • Not all course material covered
  • Access to library and other campus resources, particularly for group projects  
  • Exams becoming more difficult and not enough time to complete them
  • Technical support for access to campus computer labs 
  • Long, unstructured day 
  • More stress and pressure
  • Difficulty concentrating and retaining information 

“We concur that students feel uncomfortable, and it’s the same for faculty – we are all being challenged here and trying to cope with this reality,” said Nabil Fahmy ’74, ’77, dean of the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. “We are here to listen and think about the different options in order to lessen student anxiety without compromising on academic quality; it’s not either or. We need to work together to make this as good as it can be.” 

Last month, 34,078 survey invitations were sent to 6,752 students to provide feedback on their individual course experiences during mid-semester Fall 2020 and capture their suggestions for improvement as well as guiding points moving forward. Survey responses came from 1,928 students on 1,474 course sections. Similar to the issues raised during the school-based sessions, student concerns in the survey revolved around increased workload, technical difficulties, lack of or ineffective communication and engagement, need for more organization and structure, “feeling lost,” as well as issues with grading, class duration and format, in addition to deadlines, assignments, exams and quizzes.

While the majority of survey responses reflected satisfaction with the online experience, the top student-initiated recommendation remained partial or full return to campus. In the school-based sessions, students have described the online experience as “passive learning” and “impersonal.”

“We understand and sympathize with the student complaints, especially in HUSS, where interaction and the ability to critically refute or build arguments is vital to the learning process,” said Zeinab Taha ’78, ’81, interim dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. “We are continuously gauging student feedback and working to modify and improve the teaching experience. We’ve talked to chairs and faculty members to be more flexible and address concerns on an individual basis. We’ve also giving more time and guidance to adjunct faculty, in particular, to emphasize quality rather than quantity. We’re asking faculty advisers to take more time in the advising process this semester to inquire about student concerns. And, most importantly, we’re making ourselves more available for students.” 

What other measures is AUC taking to address these concerns? 

Deans are meeting with faculty members to communicate the issues raised by students during the school-based sessions. In general, faculty members are advised to balance between synchronous and asynchronous work, stick to the original syllabus and designated class time, bear in mind the workload and be more flexible with grading structures, provide material through one platform only, such as Blackboard. And, of course, they should work to enhance their pedagogical methods and best practices given the circumstances, explained Aziza Ellozy ’64, ’67, acting provost and associate provost for transformative learning and teaching. 

“For example, instead of presenting a long explanatory video to students, faculty should break down the video into 10- 20 minute intervals, and after each video, give a non-graded assessment to students to gauge their understanding before moving on to the next video,” explained Ellozy, who emphasized that this is a learning curve for both students and faculty and that meetings such as the school-based sessions provide effective channels of communication and should be held more frequently – “at least once or twice a semester.” 

Ellozy advised that students having issues with individual faculty members should first speak directly to their course instructors, then if the problem isn’t solved, speak with the department chair, then with the school dean.

To access library resources, students can request the needed material, and sources and will be supplied at both the library’s plaza level or Pepsi Gate, after which books would need to be stored away for one week before being used again. Students should stay updated through their school websites for information on how to access library resources. They are also encouraged to make use of the Center for Student Well-Being on ways of coping with stress and mental health issues.

“It is important to understand and acknowledge that these are unprecedented and challenging times for everyone, including students, faculty and staff and that everyone is learning on the go; there are no best practices,” said Sherif Kamel ’88, ’90, ’13, dean of the School of Business. “We continue relentlessly to adapt to these unusual conditions as much as we can like everyone else around the world in higher education while keeping an eye on offering the best possible student-centered learning experience while having your health and safety as our utmost priority. It has been an evolving and adaptive learning experience for everyone. We know exactly where you are coming from; we hear you. Your concerns are ours; we understand them and appreciate them. This is extremely important to us, and please rest assured that the core of our interests as faculty, staff, school and as a University is you, our students.”

Echoing the same sentiment, Ellozy noted, “We’re not alone. The entire world has a problem with this emergency online learning. Teachers haven't taught that way before, and students aren't used to learning this way.” 

Ellozy encouraged students to participate in the upcoming surveys, which will continue to be executed to gather more information to guide informed decisions while the community as a whole continues to navigate the learning curve involved with the online learning process.