Getting in Synch: Understanding Student Perceptions of Synchronous Online Instruction
This study examines the impact of transitioning from in-person classrooms to remote online business education and provides analysis of key factors impacting course and instructor ratings as well as strategies for higher education institutions to provide engaging instruction.
“Zoom”ing into teaching and moving out of traditional classrooms during the COVID-19 pandemic has been a path full of twists and has impacted student perceptions of courses as well as instructors. One challenge has been to make the quality of synchronous online instruction perceived by students as positive as classroom-delivered ones.
We analyze primary data collected in the course evaluation process from Business & Accounting students over six semesters between Fall 2019 to Spring 2022, covering pre-pandemic instruction in the classroom and the conversion to virtual instruction via Zoom. A total of 1782 observations for 38 courses were examined using mean comparison, regression and correlation analyses, and pairwise comparisons.
We provide insights from the evaluation of those instructors who were able to make their Zoom-delivered courses perceived by students as equivalent or better than room-delivered ones. Specifically, clear presentation, stimulating delivery, providing feedback and encouraging discussion were positively correlated with successful online classes.
We find that there is a clear downward shift in course and instructor ratings as the change to synchronous online delivery was made. However, in the Spring of 2022, even though instructors and students were still not completely back in the classroom, both instructor and course ratings moved back closer to the pre-pandemic levels. The parameters associated with instructor ratings, such as providing feedback, clear presentations, stimulating sessions, and encouraging discussion, showed similar downward fluctuations. Also, aspects related to course content were affected by the transition to online modality, including training on critical thinking quantitative analysis, research and writing abilities, and overall usefulness of the content. Moore’s model of Transactional Distance helps explain these changes.
We recommend that practitioners allow sufficient time for students and faculty to learn through online instruction delivery and supply training for both populations in adapting to learning in this delivery mode.
The disruption in higher education caused by COVID-19 has provided a wealth of information on the pluses and minuses of online delivery. Careful inspection of trends can help provide guidance to higher education leaders.
One of the many changes the COVID-19 pandemic brought was the opportunity to try alternate ways of connecting and learning. This study shows how this experience can be used to guide the future of higher education.
Further research is needed to explore the in-depth reactions of students and faculty to the switch from classroom to online delivery, to explore whether these findings can be more broadly applied to other subjects and other types of universities.