One year later: How have students fared in online learning?

On March 13, 2020, President Santa Ono officially announced the transition to online classes at the University of British Columbia (UBC). Now one year later, the Centre for Teaching Learning and Technology invited a panel of students from the Alma Mater Society (AMS) Student Leadership team to reflect on their candid experiences in a fireside chat.

Over the course of the hour-long chat, AMS leaders offered their input and perspectives on remote course engagement, online learning structures and the potential for a collaboration between students and educators.

Watch the full event recording below, or read on for highlights and key student messages from the event.


Balancing structure and flexibility in course design

Unanimously, the panelists advocated for a combination of asynchronous and synchronous course elements, while acknowledging their instructors’ need to ensure student attendance rates, accommodate time differences, and provide engagement opportunities.

The students particularly mentioned their appreciation for iterative assessments, such as weekly discussion posts or check-in quizzes, as they encourage continuous engagement with the course material. However, Evans noted that the strict weekly assignments can compound for those students taking four or five courses.

The panel suggested ways to help students balance course work, such as adding flexibility to deadlines by having all the month’s weekly discussion posts due at the end of the month, or providing choice in assessment opportunities, such as giving a ‘free pass’ to miss one weekly discussion assignment per term.

Open educational resources (OERs) were also highlighted as a useful tool for remote learning, particularly because they provide students with affordable and inclusive access to learning materials — the AMS often advocate for accessible course content. Exploring technology use and web-based resources in the classroom was also greatly supported by the student panel, because it offers novel ways to engage with course material.

Creating an inclusive space for engagement

In addition to encouraging engagement with course material, faculty have also needed to find ways to encourage engagement with their students. As educators who have taught this past year are well aware, motivating student engagement online can look quite different compared to the physical classroom.

But Nanayakkara and Mensah expressed that the online environment has provided benefits, such as more opportunities to collaborate with their peers. The other panelists shared their enthusiastic support for the adoption of project-based learning through collaboration technology, such as Zoom breakout rooms.

When provided with an incentive to work together (i.e., to complete a term-long project), students can build relationships with their peers, in turn becoming more comfortable communicating and collaborating.

An opportunity for collaboration between students and instructors

Not only does the online format promote peer-to-peer interactions, but it can also improve student-to-instructor interactions. In particular, Nanayakkara shared how some students feel more comfortable calling an instructor to a breakout room, or simply speaking to them through the screen. Educators can use this new found ease to foster better relationships with their students.

As students, the panel also recognized that instructors have needed to adapt and acclimatize to the new online teaching environment, but offered that many students are willing to help. They highlighted the opportunity to share the task of navigating the online platform, and collaborating with students in the course to find solutions to problems.

With UBC’s current planning for a return to on-campus activity in fall 2021, the students shared a hope that the lessons we have learned from our time in the online environment carry forward and create a place for shared agency in problem solving, and increased understanding and collaboration between students and instructors.

The Fireside Chat: Online Learning from a Student’s Perspective was held on February 24, 2021 by the UBC Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. The student panelists for this event were: Cole Evans, AMS President; Georgia Yee, AMS VP Academic and University Affairs; Kalith Nanayakkara, AMS VP External Affairs and Sylvester Mensah, AMS VP Administration.

Photo credit: Paul H. Joseph / UBC Brand & Marketing