Monday, 29 March 2021

Assessing student satisfaction with online learning: what works for Egyptian university students

Are university students satisfied with online education? Despite classes resuming on campuses this year, online education remains a key component of student life. As a commonly recognized pillar of online education quality (pdf), student satisfaction with online learning needs to be a priority for increasing its chances of successfully educating the student, argues a recent joint AUC-GUC research paper (pdf). The two universities teamed up on an online survey of 280 undergraduate business students, which took place between July and September 2020, to students’ satisfaction with online learning at their schools. 85% of the students surveyed attend one of Egypt’s top ten private universities, while 15% attend the public universities of Cairo, Ain Shams and Helwan.

Their verdict? Overall satisfaction with online learning isn’t very high. On a scale of 1-5, most students on average would rate their satisfaction at a level 3, based on factors such as the academic quality of classes, how much students learn online versus face-to-face, and whether they would recommend their courses and instructors. Their “level of interest” in online education — which looks at how much of the education is self-driven — isn’t doing much better. Reasons cited for waning interest include teaching methods, the way course content was explained, and material being insufficiently challenging. Students missing in-person exchanges and campus life were likely to struggle with motivation.

Online learning gets bonus points for its flexibility: 70% of students surveyed believe online learning saves time and offers more flexibility than classroom learning. 18.9% feel their overall learning experience is better online, and 12.9% believe they got better instructions and explanations of material online.

But it’s marked down for low interaction levels: Only 8.9% of students surveyed reported more peer interaction through online learning. Most students still feel that instructions and content delivery are better in person.

And professors have something to do with it: Overall satisfaction with teachers performance was given a score of 3.5 out of 5. Students rated teaching on a number of factors, including responsiveness, constructive student-teacher interactions, and the amount of timely and helpful feedback provided in online classes and on assignments, exams or projects.

Tech access is crucial for online learning, but unreliability can be a problem: 91% of students surveyed can regularly access the internet at home, with only 2.9% having no computers or internet connections. But 13.9% believe the pandemic negatively impacted their ability to access technology, and cite technical problems on the platforms they use. The platforms may be too complicated or subject to disturbances, says the study.

How are students learning online? Live lectures or virtual classrooms (synchronous teaching) is the most popular method for university professors. 81% of students surveyed had been taught via real-time meetings using Zoom or other apps. 72.1% had received pre-recorded lectures in video or audio format (known as asynchronous teaching). 34.6% had received PowerPoint presentations with pre-recorded audio material. 2.5% of students surveyed received no online tuition.

Professors are encouraged to cater style to audience: Awareness and targeting of different learning styles — visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic — makes online learning more effective, the paper says. Over 50% of the women students surveyed were reading/writing learners, while 29.3% of the male students were kinesthetic learners, who best learn by doing and like to remain mobile. The lowest percentage of both male and female learners surveyed were auditory learners, who learn by listening and through discussions, but are easily distracted by noise.

These learning style differences can affect the time needed to master online study material. Visual and reading/writing learners took from 3-6 hours per week on average to study the online course material, while kinesthetic and auditory learners took 6-9 hours per week, the paper tells us.

When it comes to assessment, students seem to like online exams: Most of these students were happy for their final assessment to be in the form of an online exam, the paper indicates, without specifying what percentage of students felt this way. 49.4% of private university students and 39% of public university students surveyed took online exams exclusively during the pandemic, while 42.3% of private university students and 34.1% of public university students were assessed through both online exams and research.

College students are going through the same issues as K-12: The study supports the conclusions of our previous survey of K-12 school students and parents, which showed that having more control over when, where and how you learn is seen as being online study’s biggest plus. Lack of interaction and tech issues meanwhile are its main barriers.

How can these barriers be overcome? Several studies (pdf) — including one by academics at the University of the Philippines Manila and another by academics at the University of British Columbia — recommend using asynchronous teaching for content delivery and synchronous sessions for questions, feedback and encouraging interaction. They advise conducting regular needs assessments, to understand which students face particular tech constraints or extra responsibilities in the home, and then tailoring the work assigned to them accordingly. They emphasize that personal check-ins — including emails and phone calls — help provide psychosocial support. And they recommend using a range of edtech to expand student access to a range of resources.

Your top education stories for the week:

  • Education IPO: Taaleem Management Services is selling shares at up to EGP 6.20 apiece in an initial public offering on the EGX this week.
  • Actis to double down on education investment: Global investor Actis has big plans for key sectors including health and education. The firm’s MENA chief Sherif El Kholy discussed this and more in an exclusive sit-down with Enterprise last week.
  • Private tuition fee loans: Education outfit CIRA is giving parents whose children attend its schools tuition fee loans with a 12-month repayment period under a partnership agreement with Beltone’s consumer finance arm Belcash.

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