As a part of deciding to start Ribbon Education, Joe and I spent a lot of time talking to student-facing staff. We had our own hunches about their needs based on our time at Flatiron School but nothing could replace talking directly to those in the thick of delivering online education in 2021.
After interviewing more than twenty school staff, ranging from those at technical bootcamps to universities to corporate training programs, a few themes emerged. Over the next few posts, I highlight their biggest challenges and share how some are tackling them today.
An incomplete understanding of their students
Instructors report having a difficult time getting a full picture of how their classes and individual students are doing. This has become particularly challenging with the shift online and with increasing pressures to teach larger class sizes. There are a few factors at play here:
Fragmented data across many edtech and communication tools: Beyond a learning management system, most instructors have added a video conferencing platform, multiple communication platforms and more assessment and survey tooling for teaching online. Unfortunately, these tools don’t talk to one another so instructors are needing to check a lot of different places to figure out how students are doing and follow-up on communications.
Less in touch with students over video: Live instruction delivered on platforms like Zoom provide limited visibility into student engagement, particularly when the student’s video is off. Add larger class sizes, teachers report how disconnecting and draining “performing online” can feel.
Difficulty monitoring progress with the shift to async learning: As “Zoom school fatigue” sets in, many instructors have adjusted their curriculum into more asynchronous content. But that presents new visibility challenges as students progress at different paces and demonstrate understanding only through assignments rather than live interactions.
The current solutions to combat these challenges are manual and imprecise but they do get the job done.
To combat the fragmentation in data, instructors create a single Google Sheet to bring all the data into one view. This process works best if you have the time, access to exporting data from the tools and technical ability. We’ve also heard folks get operations or data teams involved to help with this work.
To get more visibility into the student’s experience, some have added more frequent checkpoints for feedback. If you’re looking for a robust course feedback template, check out our Exit Survey. This provides a good pulse check and allows you to utilize your office hours and 1:1 time best on the students and topics that need it the most. For 1:1s, it’s best to have a clear agenda and be aware of your students’ availability when creating the schedule.
Almost everyone we spoke to encouraged adding more frequent checks for understanding into the curriculum, sometimes referred to as formative assessments. More frequent signals from students means a teacher can react and intervene faster. Designing checks for understanding online is hard, here is an article we like on some tips.
By starting to share these common challenges, I hope this starts a conversation. I’d love to hear from even more folks. What tools or methods are you using to better understand your class and students? If you have thoughts, shoot me a note.