Comparing Spring and Fall 2020 Results From Top Hat’s COVID-19 Student Surveys
Now that we are most of the way through higher ed’s fall 2020 academic term, stakeholders of all shapes and sizes want to know how students have felt about the experience. I’ve written several blog posts analyzing individual student COVID surveys and quasi-meta-analyzing the overall set of roughly two dozen surveys from spring 2020. Top Hat was one of the first to survey students about their experience back in April 2020. Six months later they are one of the first out of the gate again with fresh results from their October 2020 COVID Student Survey. As was the case in the spring, MindWires has full access to the anonymized results and is conducting an independent analysis of the survey.
To start, Top Hat had a good response rate for both surveys – in April 3,143 students responded, in October 3,412 students participated. There was a higher concentration of 1st year students in October (47% of the total) than in April (39% of the total). Although only 2% of the respondents were the same for both surveys, many of the questions were the same or changed only slightly. This allows us to compare responses from the spring and fall terms to look for changes in student attitudes, or lack thereof.
Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem called “The Spring and the Fall,” comparing the landscape and her experiences while walking on roads during the two seasons. With much less panache I compare the higher education landscape and students’ experiences while learning online during the two semesters. Here we go.
Comparing Responses From Spring to Fall
We (Still) Live in Uncertain Times
Emotionally, not much has changed for students between April 2020 and October 2020. Negative emotions are still more common than positive emotions.
Students are still anxious – about 5% more this fall (57%) than in spring (52%).
Top Hat used a few different answer options in fall, and the most notable new finding showed almost half (47%) were uncertain in October.
Almost the exact same percentage of students (38%) described themselves as calm.
Over a third of students (35%) described themselves as happy this fall, compared to just under a quarter (24%) back in spring. Perhaps the large number of first year students in October are not as affected by their circumstances, given they started the semester knowing more than the students did six months ago.
Students Are Concerned About Their Own Persistence and Success
Both surveys showed students were more concerned about passing (over 50%) than about finishing (~40%) their courses during each respective term. Confidence in their ability to finish went up slightly (~2%), while confidence in their ability to pass went down slightly (~3%).
Students Miss People, Places and Things
Students still miss the people to the same extent (i.e., a lot); they miss places and things less than they did in April.
People: Students miss interacting with classmates (over 85%), teachers (over 80%) and counselors (over 25%) just as much as they did in spring.
Places: Students continue to miss some campus facilities, especially study spaces, a great deal. Overall, however, they miss facilities at decreased levels compared to spring. Based on some cross-tabulations for the October survey, Top Hat learned that first year students miss different places than second, third and fourth year students. First years miss study spaces a good deal less (57%) than all other students (71%), but miss student housing slightly more (16%) than all other students (12%).
Things: Fewer students miss access to technology than they did in spring.
Students Rate Their Professors (and Their Schools)
In both April and October, roughly 65% of students rated their professors’ responses to the COVID-19 crisis as good or excellent. The students’ rating of their schools’ responses decreased from April (71% good or excellent) to October (63% good or excellent). Top Hat did not repeat questions rating communications by professors and schools, but I would have liked to see if the students’ perceptions about that have changed at all.
Students’ collective opinions of their schools worsened from spring to fall. Almost 12% more students rated their opinion as slightly or significantly worse (see table below).
Students Still Do Not Feel Connected
Students feel only slightly more connected in October. They rated their ability to stay connected with fellow students as an average 2.0 on a 4-point scale last month, compared to an average of 1.3 on a 4-point scale in April. They rated their ability to stay connected with their instructors as a 2.5 average in October, but were not asked that question in the spring.
Students Have Difficulties Adjusting to Online Learning
Students experienced the same levels of difficulty adjusting to online learning from spring to fall with a few exceptions. A quarter fewer students stated that they didn’t have access to study spaces (Spring 62%, Fall 48%). In October over 10% more students reported difficulty navigating or using online learning tools (Spring 27%, Fall 38%). Top Hat included a new option in October, finding that over a third of students (39%) have a hard time balancing time for coursework with caregiving responsibilities.
It’s notable that in both surveys a) over three-quarters of all students felt that they lacked an engaging in-class experience while online and b) fewer than 10% of all students reported having no difficulties adjusting to online learning.
Students Compared Online to In-Person Instruction
When comparing online and in-person courses, Top Hat reframed the question this fall and got similar results. In April almost 70% of students felt online instruction was worse or a lot worse than in-person instruction. In October almost 70% of students felt they were not learning as effectively as in person.
Students Are Still Likely to Return to Their Current School Next Term
Looking at the student responses related to returning to their current school, around 70% are likely or highly likely to do so. Although the percentage of students who chose highly likely dropped by almost 10%, the total percentage of the entire likely category only dropped 5% overall.
Up Next: New Questions, New Findings
That’s a lot to digest, but there’s more to the story. Top Hat asked a number of new questions in October and ran some interesting cross-tabulations on the results. In the next few days I will write up another post analyzing new findings from Top Hat’s fall 2020 survey.
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