Most students are comfortable and confident in an online classroom. However, access to reliable Internet, discomfort meeting with teachers, and increased attempts at cheating all create shifts from classroom norms that may impact academic performance.
Many school boards and universities across the country have decided that the fall 2020 semester will be conducted remotely. As the semester progresses, some expect in-person classes to transition to an online environment.
This speculation follows UNC Chapel Hill’s decision to send on-campus learners back home following a surge of COVID-19 only one week after move-in.
A remote semester will require the majority of students to enroll in at least one online course.
Currently, 63% of students intend to take online classes this fall.
Among remote learners are roughly 35% of students who will be staying home instead of living on campus, where they may be without computers, software, and other resources available at school.
Shifting online won’t be a choice for many students, as institutions and states are making their own decisions and actions plans for the upcoming semester. Depending on the state in which students attend school, classes may be in-person, online-only, or take place in a hybrid format.
Educators and students are employing new technologies and remote teaching techniques to adapt to the new learning environment, resulting in new learning trends.
Visual Objects surveyed 400 United States high school and college students to evaluate online learning trends as students adapt to remote learning.
- Currently, 55% of students are comfortable taking their classes online. Students value the flexibility of online learning and are confident with e-learning tools such as Quizlet and Chegg.
- Only 46% of students are comfortable meeting with a teacher online while remote. Students’ fear of an awkward meeting may prevent them from getting extra help with a course when needed.
- 51% of students don’t always have access to high-speed internet, which may cause otherwise strong students to fall months behind in coursework.
- The majority of students (52%) anticipate cheating and academic dishonesty to increase while learning remotely due to the abuse of tutoring services and e-learning technologies.
- 47% of students believe that they’ll be able to maintain their pre-pandemic grades while learning remotely, despite technology accessibility disparities and other discomforts with remote learning.
Most Students Are Comfortable Learning Remotely
Spring 2020 was the semester of remote learning. As a new school year begins, students generally feel prepared for another semester of online coursework.
In fact, more than half of students (55%) feel comfortable taking their classes online.
Online learning tools such as Quizlet, Chegg, and Grammarly have given students more confidence in online learning than they may have felt in previous generations.
Allen Koh is the CEO of Cardinal Education, an educational consulting firm in Silicon Valley. He finds that students benefit from having more flexibility built into their school days. Remote learning allows a more self-paced, versatile learning environment.
“For high school students who are being offered a choice between physical and virtual classes, many of our students are choosing virtual classes because of how much more efficiency they offer,” said Koh.
Koh says that students who are learning virtually have more time for extracurricular passions than those learning in traditional classrooms.
Still, 31% of students are uncomfortable with remote learning. Students may be wary of remote learning because they lack access to necessary technology such as WiFi or because they struggle to manage their time outside a physical classroom setting.
Mike Bonsignore, an incoming freshman at Towson University, is anticipating difficulties adjusting to online courses without a strict schedule as he prepares for his first semester of college.
“I feel fairly comfortable with online classes,” said Bonsignore. “The only problem is that I’m missing out on some elements of in-person class that keep me organized.”
In particular, Bonsignore relies on physical classes to:
- Follow a daily routine and schedule
- Help organize his work
- Remain focused, motivated, and productive
Bonsignore will not be able to rely on the structure in-person classes provide and will have to develop new time management and motivation habits this semester.
Online learning is sometimes a challenge for students. However, past experiences with virtual learning and increased scheduling flexibility makes most students comfortable with online learning.
Students Feel Less Comfortable Meeting With Teachers Online
Students are accustomed to asking teachers for help when they come across challenging content. When learning remotely, however, students may not be as willing to ask their teachers for the help they need.
Less than half of students (46%) said they would be comfortable meeting with a teacher online.
Normally, students can attend office hours or meet with teachers in-person. If students are not comfortable meeting with their teachers virtually, their questions could go unanswered.
“Students are generally more reluctant in [a virtual setting] to ask for help, let alone schedule it,” said Koh.
However, Koh emphasized the importance of encouraging students to develop a positive relationship with teachers for guidance on class-specific topics. He recommends that students go into one-on-one meetings with a list of questions to keep the meeting focused.
Likewise, teachers can make themselves approachable and available to students to increase their comfort level in reaching out for help.
Schools and universities should be prepared for students to be less comfortable asking their teachers for help virtually.
Many Students Do Not Always Have Access to High-Speed WiFi, Making School Difficult
Students may struggle to perform to their academic potential if they don’t have access to reliable WiFi.
Unfortunately, over half of students (51%) don’t always have access to high-speed internet services.
Students may struggle to keep up academically if they can’t reliably log on to their virtual classes and group meetings.
Disparities in access to the technology necessary for remote learning created an educational performance gap when classes first went online in spring 2020. Students from lower-income communities fell months behind schedule due to accessibility issues.
Educators such as Emily Posyton, who teaches history in North Arlington, New Jersey, found it challenging to keep students engaged last spring because some students struggled to access online course materials.
“Some students had to share computers with siblings, so they wouldn’t be able to show up for certain classes,” Posyton said. “Others had inconsistent WiFi and tried to do work on their phones, which is hard to do for multiple classes.”
Despite families having more time to prepare for an online learning environment, the fall 2020 semester may have the same internet accessibility issues as last spring.
“While I’m happy that students and teachers are out of harm’s way, I do worry about students who need classroom support and resources.”
Many schools are working to provide tablets and computers to those who need them, but these items will be useless without reliable internet access. As the pandemic continues, even public WiFi networks at libraries or cafes may be unsafe, unreachable, or distracting for students attempting to complete classwork.
To keep students from falling behind, several cities have been aiming to provide free or low-cost Internet access to residents. Still, laws in 23 states are keeping local governments from offering subsidized internet services.
Students in rural areas known as digital deserts lack high-speed internet and bandwidth capabilities. These students will struggle to adapt to online learning as well as students without reliable high-speed internet access.
Posyton anticipates accessibility issues again being a concern for students and teachers as the fall 2020 semester approaches.
“While I’m happy that students and teachers are out of harm’s way, I do worry about students who need classroom support and resources,” said Posyton.
High-performing students will have a hard time keeping up with coursework without reliable access to WiFi.
Most Students Think Cheating Will Increase During Online Classes
Students are concerned that cheating will rise in the fall 2020 semester because teachers will have a harder time identifying academic dishonesty in a remote learning setting.
In fact, more than half of students (52%) believe that cheating will increase due to remote learning.
Students may feel more comfortable cheating in a remote setting. Yocheved Golani, an ESL teacher and exam proctor, believes that students will be more willing to cheat because of the decreased chances of being caught.
“When an instructor or proctor can physically move about the classroom and observe student behavior, cheating behavior lessens or stops,” said Golani. “Remote learning frustrates the entire one-on-one influence of an instructor interacting with one or more students.”
When teachers aren’t conducting classes in-person, it is harder for them to notice texts, calls, and other communication between students. Masoud Namini, general manager of an online tutoring service called Hack Your Course, has already been contacted by students attempting to cheat on tests.
“We have had several students and some parents calling and asking for help with their children’s online exams,” he said. “It’s against our policy, but finding a tutor who would do that is not difficult at all.”
Attempts at academic dishonesty may rise during remote learning, but other experts think teachers still have the tools to identify cheaters in a virtual setting.
“Remote learning frustrates the entire one-on-one influence of an instructor interacting with one or more students.”
Bobby Chernev, founder of MarkInStyle, an educational solutions platform, regularly assigned written take-home exams while lecturing and believes that they’re already a norm on most campuses. He encourages teachers to familiarize themselves with their students’ writing styles as well as use online plagiarism checkers to detect dishonesty.
Plagiarism checkers like Quetext scan a paper for plagiarized content from online sources. The service is free for both students and teachers to review coursework.
Teachers should inform their students that they will be on the lookout for academic dishonesty in order to prevent cheating in the fall 2020 semester.
Schools and universities should remember that their students believe that cheating is likely to rise in a remote learning environment.
Students Expect to Maintain The Same Grades While Remote Learning
The majority of students believe that academic cheating will be more of a problem in a remote setting. However, many students don’t anticipate their individual grades being affected by remote learning.
In fact, nearly half of students (47%) do not think that their grades will be impacted by online learning.
Remote learning is likely to have its challenges, but many students are optimistic that they will be able to navigate them and perform academically.
Ella McCarthy is an incoming freshman at Ursinus College, and is preparing to adapt to both online learning and college life simultaneously.
“I don’t think remote learning will impact my grades, but I think it’ll be harder to retain information,” said McCarthy.
Fatigue resulting from Zoom meetings and spending countless hours working online could contribute to difficulties retaining new information.Teachers can't use in-person methods of instruction, so they will have to look for innovative ways to engage students on course curriculums.
However, due to the flexibility and resources of online classes, McCarthy and others are confident that remote learning won’t affect their grades this semester.
Students Are Approaching Remote Learning With New Expectations
The global pandemic has required most students to transition from in-person to online learning for the fall 2020 semester.
This has created a number of learning trends for students and teachers:
- Most students are comfortable taking online classes, despite the significant changes this means for their daily lives.
- Students are less comfortable reaching out to a teacher for extra help when they need it.
- Reliable access to WiFi and Internet resources created educational disparities in the spring 2020 semester. This issue will likely continue in the fall.
- Students are expecting instances of academic dishonesty to increase while they learn remotely, despite technologies that help identify cheating.
- Students are confident in their ability to maintain their pre-pandemic grades in a remote environment, even though they feel some concern.
Students, teachers, and families should prepare themselves for the unique challenges and benefits of remote learning and be willing to adapt to emerging trends as classes begin.
About the Survey
Visual Objects surveyed 400 students in high school and college.
51% of respondents are female; 43% of respondents are male; 6% of respondents chose not to identify.
39% of respondents live in the South; 29% of respondents reside in the Midwest; 24% of the respondents are from the West; 8% of respondents are from the Northeast.
20% of the respondents are high school seniors; 15% of the respondents are college freshmen and sophomores; 23% of the respondents are college juniors and seniors; 26% of the respondents are graduate students; 17% of the respondents are Ph.D. students.