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Surviving and Thriving in a COVID-19 Remote Learning Context

A Survey of Post-Secondary Students and Instructors in Ontario

eCampusLogoThis research project examined many of the effects on teaching and learning at several Ontario post-secondary institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 800 participants from across Ontario participated in the study, providing their perspectives on the current remote post-secondary educational landscape. Findings from this research shone a spotlight on the teaching and learning opportunities created for both instructors and students, as well as the challenges and needs experienced in the transition to remote learning.

While the pivot began in March 2020, this particular research project provides a snapshot of the unique experiences and perceptions of students and instructors as institutions transitioned to remote learning in the Fall of 2020 in a more measured and deliberate capacity. Given our collective immersion and resignation within the realities of the pandemic on how education was and is now delivered, it is the hope that findings from this research and the recommendations provided herein serve as a starting point for conversations regarding the future of postsecondary education and remote learning in a post-COVID world.

Funding for this project was provided by the Student Experience Design (SXD) Lab, part of eCampusOntario

Our research team investigated the following

  • Which aspects of online learning do students and educators identify as most helpful and/or challenging in the online student learning experience? 
  • What gaps do students and educators identify as influencing the teaching and learning experience, and what recommendations can be gleaned to optimize wraparound supports for online learners?

Evidently, it was a frenzied chore in March 2020 for university and college administrators and instructors to pivot to remote learning modalities. Ultimately, what has emerged from this report are narratives of both unmitigated challenges and unanticipated positive outcomes garnered from this transitional experience. The report findings highlighted important factors that impact students’ experience as online learners, including academic factors (i.e., aspects related to course design; instructor-specific factors; class engagement; concerns regarding the perceived quality of learning; interest in the course; and opportunities for skill development) and non-academic factors (i.e., difficulties learning from home; impacts on mental health and wellbeing; flexibility, independence, and access to learning; comfort and convenience of learning from home; opportunities to connect with peers; use of student supports/institutional resources; and feedback solicitation).

Overall, the findings suggest that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to learning online. Learning is a textured experience between student and educator, and institutions need to be responsive to heterogeneous needs. University administrators and instructors should not be the only stakeholders meaningfully responding to all student needs. According to our findings, students overwhelmingly felt supported and engaged by their instructors; however, there is room for a holistic and coordinated approach to remote teaching and learning – with the help of the provincial government, policymakers, students, and staff – to create an environment for academic success. Peer supports for students allow for self-empowerment, but students are also needed in key stakeholder roles to infuse their expertise into the development and sustainability of supportive educational measures.

From these findings, we conceptualized the following recommendations:

  1. Enhanced institutional and departmental supports for instructors. 
  2. Flexible, engaging, realistic, and student-centered instructional and course design.
  3. An infusion of an equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) lens into the requirements and practices of remote learning and teaching. 
  4. Coordinated, accessible, wraparound student-centered supports and services.
  5. Enhanced investments in student experience, community building, and peer-to-peer programming. 
  6. Development of practice guidelines, best practices, and evaluation and quality assurance mechanisms for remote course delivery. 
  7. Continued creation of knowledge, collaboration, and information sharing of best practices in online education.

Contact Us:

Ginette Lafrenière, MCCHR Director

T: 519.884.0710 x5237
Office Location: FSW 310