Colleges and Universities Must Boost Virtual Academic Resources to Support the Ideals of Educational Access and Opportunity for All!
AUSTIN, Texas – July 13, 2020 – A new poll by OneClass finds 75% of college students are unhappy with their school’s e-Learning quality, so online student engagement organization, Upswing, used their student data to uncover the unexpected challenges students faced during the COVID-19 pandemic when their colleges were forced to deliver all services online and shared their findings in a webinar.
Upswing’s webinar breaks down COVID-19’s impact on e-Learning and details what institutions must do to boost online engagement and better support online courses, services, and communications during the summer and upcoming fall semester.
Watch a replay of Upswing’s webinar here.
“This compelling stat shows 3 in 4 students polled say they are unhappy with their school’s e-Learning quality during the pandemic,” says Upswing co-founder and CEO Melvin Hines. “It’s important to disaggregate the experiences students had in the poll about their colleges versus their online experiences.”
Hines says students recognized the stress college administrators endured to ensure college could continue but says the real burden for students was suddenly being thrown into an experience they weren’t ready to handle.
Findings Based on Virtual Assistant Ana
Upswing based its findings on data from its integrated service platformandvirtual assistant, Ana, for three months during COVID-19.
They reviewed 603K interventions with 54K students at 60+ diverse colleges across the country. Upswings data reflects 15% of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) and 5% of Hispanic-servicing institutions (HSI), including community colleges and 4-year universities.
After analyzing 266K messages sent or received from students using Ana and capturing the students’ sentiment during this period, Upswing identified five different inflection stages to draw its conclusions.
Ana’s engagement data showed an immediate disruption in late-February when students were reacting to COVID-19. Upswing shows actual student messages captured detailing what the students were saying during this time.
Ana is half automated and half-human supported, so Upswing’s team felt the influx of student support.
After the semester, Upswing saw a 342% increase in unique student messages sent during the COVID-19 pandemic compared to typical student experiences and identified the key challenges students were struggling with during the pandemic.
These challenges include feelings of immediate disruption, adjusting to the new normal, accessing different resources, the mental health impact, and uncertainty about next semester.
Ana messaging detailed what students felt at each inflection point, and Upswing saw students struggling with isolation, worrying about the pandemic, lack of access to technology, or fear about their future.
Upswing’s key conclusion is that students need to feel supported.
“It’s important to reach out to students and let them know support is there,” says Hines. “A lot of students felt very much alone without having the ability to connect with anyone else from their campus. We’ve focused on helping students navigate these uncharted waters they’ve found themselves in.”
Mental Health Plays Key Role in Student Engagement
Upswing found mental health plays a significant impact on student engagement.
According to Marissa Rodriguez, an Online Student Engagement Expert at Upswing, if schools are on the right track, student engagement increases because students open up and talk to Ana about it.
However, if a school isn’t able to connect with students, it could cause a bad mental state, resulting in students wanting to drop out because they don’t feel supported and have no outlet to express their feelings.
“During this time, we focused on overly supporting students and saw an increase in unique student responses by 376% from the previous year. We use Ana to create a support system and become a virtual friend for students, which breaks down barriers to open up the lines of communications and support students by providing them with the professional resources they need,” says Rodriguez.
Upswing found students have great uncertainly about next semester. Students must decide if they will continue their college education in-person, continue online or go part-time, or drop out altogether.
Solutions to Boost Academic Engagement
Armed with student data, Upswing recommends three solutions to boost virtual academic engagement.
1 – Review Your Service Hours
Upswing learned typical hours available for students, 10 am-4 pm, Monday – Thursday doesn’t support the hours of demand needed for online students.
And many students are being impacted by a lack of access to student services.
Hines sheds more light on this finding in his blog post you can read here.
2 – Involve Faculty in Online Engagement
Faculty are the first line of student academic support receiving and sharing information.
“Faculty are key to an online environment, so think of your faculty as an ally with online student engagement,” says Rodriguez. “We encourage schools to work with their faculty to bridge that communications barrier creating stronger student relationships in a virtual environment that will greatly impact the student’s willingness to persist.”
3 – Use Communications Layers to Address Student Needs
It’s crucial to provide resourceful, timely, and empathetic communications.
“Colleges need to meet students at the channels they’re going to and establish two-way communications, including social and text messaging. If students don’t have multiple places to look for information, then they might get stuck on something that can easily be prevented from moving forward,” says Rodriguez.
Students need a place where they can ask questions, get answers, and continue to have an open dialogue to move communications forward.
“By having a two-way communication, it allows staff to understand what are the major trends happening with the questions students are asking, so you add or adjust services to accommodate the student’s needs,” adds Rodriguez.
Hines says schools have weathered an unexpectedly challenging semester, and now everyone is looking to the fall.
“The new challenges we’re facing in light of COVID-19 highlight the need for virtual student support systems that mirror on-campus support systems. The pandemic is a wake-up call for colleges and universities to boost their virtual academic resources and support the ideals of educational access and opportunity for all.”
Upswing is an Austin, Texas-based online student engagement organization focused on removing the barriers to degree equity. Learn more about Upswing at https://upswing.io/
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/embed/-iYWjH4FfuA