Demystifying the Student Perspective

‘Demystifying the Student Perspective’ series was developed in 2011 to bridge the gap between post-secondary instructors and undergraduate students to better teaching and learning.
From March 21st – 23rd, 2012, we gathered a group of 5 students for an online panel to delve into their thoughts about their experiences with online course work. All participants are Undergraduate Students of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Communications, Arts, and Technology.

Link to the discussion:
Recording of the Student Panel Discussion:
Video recording no longer available.

Summary of the Student Panel:

“Youth have “grown up with technology”, all students are automatically facile with technology, are harder to engage, and want to use technology in all aspects of your education.” – Jim Julius
What are your thoughts on this kind of characterization of today’s students?

Diana: Having grown up with a computer since 10 years old, Diana doesn’t notice much of the impact because she has been using it for most of her life. She believes it is always good to have technology around especially in learning because its easier to use computers, easy to carry around and pairs well with traditional textbooks.
Gracey: Gracey agrees that at least this generation as well as the next one will have technology engrained in everyday life. It’s important in every aspect.
Tracy: Tracy likes the idea of going online and looking at an e-book. They are important because you can access them anytime and its convenient.
Mark: Mark thinks technology has always been used in education – Pencil, paper, word, VCR are a few examples. If the technology make sense, it should be used in education.

What does the average educator need to understand about young people, technology, and learning?

Diana: The average educators need to know that not everyone has the same devices. Not everyone has an iPad. Also, not everyone brings a laptop to class. Students still use pen and paper to capture notes in lectures or from textbooks. Educators should accommodate the average student. Its good to know that not everyone in the class has the same technology.
Mark: Mark believes that the current generation is more used to the books and physical medium to learn. A lot more helpful because we grew up but different from the next generation.
Gracey: As a design student at SFU, Gracey basically has to be on the computer all the time because her projects involve using creative software. Most other majors still use paper and pen to write notes. As for Gracey, she can’t write on paper because its slower. Educators should know, who their audiences are. It depends if educators allow a student to have technology in classroom. You have to find balance of the particular medium to be engaging rather than distracting.
Tracy: Majors do play a role in how technology is used in the classroom. For example. language courses are more interactive, so being face to face is better than in front of a laptop. In my first year, I tried to write notes on paper because that’s what she was accustomed to in high school. She now finds that it’s faster to type with a laptop instead. She prefers professors to use slides and post them online, but not all professors do this. Recordings are a nice touch too.

Just how mobile do you want your learning to be?

Hilda: She likes how it is easy to access resources like slides and textbooks online, but she would not prefer to make it mobile since course work should be more structured.
Gracey: Gracey does not have data on her smart phone, so she would only be able to access items on her phone through WiFi. She is a bit opposed to it because reading a lengthy amount of text on a phone can be quite exhausting. Mobile is important to some aspects but not totally necessary.
Tracy: She think it’s good enough as it is. She does enjoy putting notes on her phone for browsing, but if we extend the system it might be overdoing it. Reading too much on transit can cause headaches.

What are the challenges to online group work? What tools would help you with collaborative projects?

Hilda: For group work, initially she likes to meet face-to-face and then finish up any additional work online. It’s good to be present to set deadlines and insure everyone knows the deadlines. Progress can be tracked using a tool called “trello“. It allows you track tasks and which ones are started or completed. A majority of communications is still done through email, but sometimes the groups do get overwhelmed by emails.
Gracey: Communications is easiest face to face and it’s much preferred than online. She likes to use Google Documents for text-based projects or presentations.
Tracy: She likes to use Google Documents and Skype as online tools to help communicating with group members. Face to Face is still best since it’s quick to provide feedback and raise additional questions. group consensus can be reached faster. With online it’s hard to see facial expressions, thus miscommunication can occur.

Of the listed tools, how many of those have faculty recommended?

Diana: Most professors don’t suggest tools especially in group work. Professors just expect you to meet up and get the assignments done. Students choose the tools they want to get the task done.
Hilda: She finds most tools from friends since it’s been tested by friends already. The tools professors use are Sakai or whatever platform is used by the school.
What types of online learning activities have you found to be engaging and useful; and what types are of less value? Why?

Gracey: She has had experience with an online humanities course. For project-based or language courses, she would want face to face as discussions can be difficult online. Text-based courses are good with online platforms. It depends what you are doing.

Mark: Most professors do not use podcasts, but it would be a great idea for distance courses. Having more interactive videos with audio would enhance the learning experience online. Currently, there isn’t a lot of innovation in online learning.

Tracy: Any online learning that is not school related is what engages me the most. She does like interaction. The current online platform is just an online version of a real discussion. If the online system is more innovative with more activities, it would be more fun.

“There is a significant argument that collaboration skills are necessary ‘in the real world’” – Colin Madland
Do you find that collaborative projects in your courses are useful in developing those skills?

Diana: There are a lot of personalities types and through collaborative projects, we can develop better interpersonal skills and how to deal with varying personality types.

Mark: For business or a group oriented, it is very important to hone collaborative skills early on to be prepared for the personalities in the workplace. When a professor assigns group work, its more useful that doing it alone.

Tracy: She is a fan of collaborative projects. It’s much easier to brainstorm and come up with better ideas. Tracy enjoys the process and usually if the group gets along, the outcome of the project is good. It fosters interaction amongst students and brings about friendship.

Gracey: She loves collaborative projects and provides a good learning experience. Each member has a different strength and people can learn from each other. It’s essential to have good communication skills because in the real world you can talk to a person with a certain personality and judge their potential actions/reactions off past experiences. It’s great to

Or is the grief associated with absent group members, freeloaders and saboteurs just too much for those experiences to be effective?

Diana: Depending on the faculty, the grade distributions will be different and marked on a curve. With projects that have people not pulling their weight will impact the project, but we do have peer evaluations so that does help mitigate unfair work distributions. The courses without peer evaluations it can get very stressful. A disadvantage of peer evaluations are the people who may sabotage their group so that person will have a better grade.

Gracey: There is always that one person that does less work than others, it’s just part of how it is. It doesn’t affect me too much since it won’t make it hate collaborative projects. It’s a learning process and will be able to carry this experience to graduation and then future careers through these experiences.

Does feedback through in online class evaluations improve teaching?

Hilda: Feedback could improve teaching and learning. As a student, she doesn’t know if the feedback given will change the course since she’s never in the same class twice. Also, with online distance courses, the professor is not there and the Teaching Assistant is the go-to person. The professor just seems like they provide the notes and assignments and that’s it. It’s not very engaging online and can’t learn as much.

What changes can be done to the way online courses are administered?

Hilda: Sometimes the courses are not properly designed as professors are not familiar with the online platform. Consistency does vary and no guideline seems to be available. It is confusing from week to week. Students are forced to use the certain platform. It’s great for submitting assignments, but not very engaging. Perhaps the professors can provide more resources on tools that students can use.

Gracey: Online courses lack personality and effects the learning experience because they seem a bit robotic. Professors could utilize multimedia like video or podcasts rather than text to help understand the topic.

Tracy: Depending on the platform, it can be a bit irritating how there is a time limit on the webpage before it logs you off the system. She just wants to leave it open without logging in again.

Have you had any experience with blogging in courses? or eportfolios?

Gracey: She has had experience with blogging in WordPress for a class project. It’s great because students from the class can freely comment and provide suggestions for improvement.

Hilda: She had to do a lot of blogging for her projects and it’s great because at the end of her program, she needs to compile an e-portfolio of designs to find a job. With the documentation from the blog, it’s easier to create a portfolio.

Tracey: It’s good to showcase your projects and get feedback.

Diana: In her faculty, portfolio and blogging is not used as much. Depending on what your career path is, blogging and portfolios can be quite important. Plus, social media is on the rise.

How do you feel about everything being OPEN… to the world? (assignments, feedback, etc)?

Diana: It really depends on the level of privacy and context. She wouldn’t want her assignments available to peer, for fear of embarrassment if it was not as good as others. It’s its a showpiece, that alright, but with essays and assignments, some professors may be against it due to reused assignments/exams that students can plagiarise.

Gracey: She is fine with it being open and accessible. She doesn’t have much to hide and if she doesn’t want people to see it, she wouldn’t post it. Getting feedback is valuable in terms of personal development. Taking advantage of social media can be good.

Tracy: Sharing knowledge with each other through online tools is good!

Are you uncomfortable with your school data being stored in USA servers and therefore subject to search by US govt?

Diana: She doesn’t think many students are aware of that issue.

Mark: He is aware, but when it comes to privacy issues, whether its Facebook or corporations, people tend to overreact. No one physically in the US will look into your name specifically unless you have committed a crime. Perhaps it’s a good way to track statistics, but if you have nothing to hide, you should have nothing to worry about.