The sudden change from on-campus teaching to distance learning in March 2020 changed the way university and college professors taught classes.
While some professors reverted to old ways after returning to campus, others sought new approaches. The result is a mix of different course types available university and college students.
It’s no longer just about whether a course fits a student’s schedule and schedule. Students should ask additional questions. Yet times are changing rapidly and information can quickly become outdated.
1. How long does the course require?
The online pivot has encouraged some professors to add or remove course material. As a result, the time students spend on a course can vary significantly from teacher to teacher. This can especially be a problem for students who have heavy course loads while balancing other professional and personal responsibilities.
Aside from internships and field courses, most universities and colleges have few standards for how much time students should spend outside of the classroom.
Ask, how much reading is needed? Are there heavy writing requirements in online articles and discussions? A course with weekly assignments is easier to manage than a course with only one major assignment due at the end. Course advisors may have copies of lesson plans or an instructor’s lesson plan may be available online.
Although students should not take only “easy” courses, it is important to manage the workload well. Stress is a contributor to student mental health issues. It’s good to be challenged, but don’t take too much of it.
2. Do I have to take courses? Can I work remotely?
Many students now combine online and face-to-face classes in their programs.
The difference between online courses and face-to-face courses has blurred. Many face-to-face courses now have significant online components. If instructors record classes, provide comprehensive course materials, and allow assignments or tests to be submitted online, the class grading structure can allow for face-to-face class attendance and infrequent attendance.
This can benefit students juggling family or work commitments with college or university.
But be aware of how lectures can affect your grades, experience, and learning. Teachers work hard in class to engage and inspire. Conferences can be entertaining, interesting and can open up new learning opportunities. The body language of teachers communicates additional information. They can edit parts of a recorded lecture that they deem too spontaneous to keep.
Whether or not learning outcomes depend on peer collaboration, many students find it motivating to be around their peers. At the same time, the creation of learning communities can also take place in online environments.
It’s also easy to spend more time than expected replaying recorded lectures.
3. Is the teacher accessible and flexible?
Some teachers have become more understanding and responsive to student needs during the chaos of COVID-19. Others less. Professors are generally required to describe how students can reach them, including the preferred method of communication and the response time of the email or online system in the program. This will also describe any flexibility built into their course.
Students often share their experiences with different courses and instructors with each other, which can be helpful. Keep in mind, however, that these experiences may have changed during the pandemic.
Another way to get information is to ask the professor directly. Their response (or lack thereof) can be helpful. Just respect the work-life boundaries that most professors have established regarding digital communication outside normal working hours, as they also juggle commitments amid increasing workloads, while trying to alleviate burnout during the pandemic.
4. Will I need special equipment and materials?
It became clear during the pandemic that some students struggled with internet connections, underpowered devices, and equitable access.
Operating systems can be a problem when installing specialized software (such as the ArcGISPro GIS software used in our geography field). Campus computer labs are typically set up for specific software, but it’s worth investigating how responsive computer support is for students using their own devices.
Students should also ensure that they will be able to access textbooks. Anecdotally, we’ve seen situations where copyright constraints affect how international students can access digital textbooks, or deliveries are delayed or blocked by customs.
5. Does the grading system show my abilities?
Many teachers have had to rethink traditional notation. Some are now more flexible with deadlines and formats.
Some professors offer the possibility for students to resubmit. Open book exams have become more common during COVID-19.
Find out: How many quizzes and exams are included in a course? What type of questions are on a test? How are the tests administered and scored? What are the assignments? Do the grading rubrics clearly indicate how the instructor will grade the assignments?
And ask yourself why you are taking the course? Does homework help you learn or just prove that you already know something? What matters most to you for this particular course?
Different teachers teach differently. If you’re a student with choices in a program, it makes sense to know what you’re getting.