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Author Kevin Kelly

COVID-19 Recovery and Planning Must Include Student Perspectives

By 2020-04-18April 3rd, 202314 Comments

Today is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 13 mission returning to earth safely after a potentially fatal explosion damaged the spacecraft. During the emergency the 3-person crew survived by shutting down the command module and scrambling into a 2-person lunar module. Needless to say, it wasn’t an ideal situation. An interview with astronaut Ken Mattingly provided behind the scenes details about how they created a carbon dioxide scrubber to make sure the astronauts survived with clean air until they returned to Earth. To make the scrubber the mission control team had to devise a solution with whatever the astronauts had on board – the final product used duct tape, tube socks and spacesuit parts. As The Next Web put it, “Ingenuity saved Apollo 13.”

Image of Apollo 13's CO2 scrubber
Apollo 13 CO2 Scrubber – public domain

Like NASA, over the last month our academic mission control (campus leaders and units) has supported our edu-nauts (faculty and students) who had to shut down their classrooms and scramble into online modules (and course shells). To survive this spring semester, our edu-nauts are using whatever they have at their disposal. Veteran faculty, instructional designers and more have all pitched in to help correct our course(s) and keep people teaching and learning. Ingenuity and hard work may have saved the spring term.

That said, the support for students has been less visible than the support for faculty. In my “View from the trenches” post I mentioned the power of collaboration, citing an example of instructional continuity sites shared on the Professional and Organizational Development (POD) Network listserv. A good number of the sites for faculty focus more on using tools like Canvas and Zoom, and less on viewing the course experience from their students’ perspective. 

To be fair, as of yesterday 1) That Psych Prof’s blog post included a helpful graph to determine what causes anxiety for online learners, and 2) on the same POD Network listserv, a few people began sharing resources to support new remote learners:

There are more out there, but the sharing about student support has been much less intense. Looking at these examples, there is plenty we can learn and plenty of room to grow. I love that Texas A&M pulled in a student to create a video speaking directly to fellow students. As I’ll describe in the next section, we need more student voices in the current conversations related to remote teaching AND remote learning, as well as the pending conversations related to the future – fall 2020 and beyond.

It’s time to start planning for fall – with student input

Ken Mattingly shared that the NASA team was actually more prepared for the emergency than the 1995 movie suggested. They had previously done a lot of scenario-based training to get astronauts (and mission control teams) to expect the unexpected. NASA took what it learned from the Apollo 13 experience – with input from the astronauts – and addressed a number of safety issues to prevent future catastrophes.

Today we’re still in an academic recovery mode – using precious fuel to point our online modules toward a safe landing. However, we do not have the time to wait to revise our planning for our course launch in the fall – Phase 3 of Phil Hill’s timeline of the Higher Ed Response to COVID-19. Our window to finish the planning for Phase 3 really ends in the second half of May. 

Graphic showing four phases of higher education response to COVID-19 in terms of online learning adoption.

To increase student success with that planning, we have to include students in the conversation. Right now for the most part, we talk about students without talking to them. In a recent blog post, Ithaka S+R staff called for more student-informed decision-making as well. I mentioned the same issues last week, calling for collecting student feedback, paying attention to equity issues, and considering the student experience. While co-facilitating the AAEEBL Meetup online event yesterday, I challenged the participants to put themselves in their students’ shoes – could they successfully complete and submit their own assignments using only a smartphone? 

The New York Times collected “What students are saying about remote learning” – it’s mostly high school student voices, so at first I thought we would have to extrapolate our higher ed students’ thoughts. Thankfully we don’t have to. Here are a few recent attempts to inject the student voice into the national dialogue:

Student-focused ideas

During New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily coronavirus briefing today, he said “You don’t build back what was, you build better than before.” We have known for some time that some students face additional challenges or barriers to completing online courses successfully. So here’s our chance to “build better than before.” The COVID-19 disruption of the academic enterprise offers opportunities for investment in student success and learning equity. Here is one student-focused idea to get us started:

Online Learning Mentors: In my last post, I briefly described using work study funds to pay veteran online learners to be peer mentors. I mentioned a formal mentorship program at Western Governors University and what started as a self-organizing, informal mentorship program (SUERTE) at San Jose State University. Here are some other successful models to emulate:

I’m going to stop here. If you’ve read my other posts, this may surprise you. I’m good at making lists, but have just stated that we need more student voices, and I am not a student (at the moment). My call to action is for you, the reader – yes, I mean you specifically – to go find some higher ed students and ask them to read this article and contribute their ideas in the comments section. What should campuses do differently to support student success in online classes in the fall and beyond? What should faculty do differently? I will be sharing it with my own class, for sure. Please do the same with your class, your family and friends, and anyone else you know who is enrolled now or will be in the fall. 


Update 4/19: Corrected attribution for Texas A&M video.


  • Raquel Gonzalez says:

    With everything that has been going on, its been a little hectic but with some adjusting, people can make it work! Since everything is remote now, it has been harder to keep up with school work but with dedication, anyone can do it. Something that does work for me is having Zoom classes. I am not going to lie, at first, I was a little confused with trying to figure out the whole Zoom class but with a little experimenting, I got it to work. It worked for me because I found it easier to communicate with the professor right there and then. There is a chatbox where I can message the professor privately or publicly rather than speaking in the middle of the lecture. Also, communicating with my class during group discussions is really simple because I can talk to them via Zoom on the chatbox or vocally. Lastly, my professors put their lectures and slides online now and find it easier to take notes because I can use the recorded lectures and slides as a reference.

    Some things teachers can do to support student success is offering a Zoom conference for office hours like outside the designated class time. I just feel that this can help other students who have questions and do not want to disrupt lectures if those questions are specifically for them. Also, to provide examples of past assignments that students have done to complete the current assignment. Since we are no longer in classrooms, we can’t see examples or understand how the teacher wants us to do a certain assignment like designing a movie poster. It is kind of what Professor Kelly has done for his online class which was posting a video as well as writing down the announcements and work due for the week. I know this can be helpful to others. Overall, it’s been hard to get around with what is going on at the moment, but we just have to make the best out of the situation and keep going. Stay safe!

    • Kevin Kelly says:

      Thank you, Raquel. I appreciate you pointing out the learning curve when you first started using a technology like Zoom, and the benefits you’re getting once you master that technology. Great suggestions for teachers!

  • Koby Fiorello says:

    So far my quarantine experience has been laid back. I have not had many issues. I am more worried about my family and grandparents in this crisis. Classes are all going fine and I am doing well in all of them.

    I think one main point that teachers can do to ensure the success of students is to make sure to keep reaching out to students in these troubling times. If students need more time to complete projects because of family issues or illness, they should be honored.

    • Kevin Kelly says:

      Thanks, Koby. It’s so important to remember that our classes are just one part of our lives–especially now when so many people and/or their families have been affected by the virus.

  • Tracy Tram says:

    Regarding the transition from in-person to remote instruction, there isn’t really anything that doesn’t work for me. I’ve taken online courses before, so I guess I know the drill, or how online courses work. Also, this semester I’m taking less courses than I normally enrolled in, so my workload isn’t anything overwhelming.

    On the other hand, there is one thing that hasn’t been working for me ever since the transition and that is the lack of access to resources, specifically counselors. I recently changed my major and I’m supposed to meet with a counselor from the department to discuss my schedule for the Fall semester; however, as everything has become online, it’s a lot more difficult to get the help I need. I don’t mind the fact that I now have to wait for a response to speak with a counselor; however, with the enrollment date for Fall 2020 approaching so soon, it’s stressful not having a solid plan.

    As for suggestions, I don’t particularly have any. I think my professors have been doing a great job with the change. They’ve become more lenient with deadlines, grades as well as attendance which I think has helped ease up the tension for a lot of students who are struggling during this difficult time. Also, they’ve been reaching out to students a lot more through email just to check in and let them know about upcoming deadlines and new assignments which is a great reminder.

  • Timothy Lieu says:

    Man oh man this whole online thing has been quite interesting, I’ve never experienced anything like it! At first I was like thank God that we don’t need to attend school anymore. But now, if I were to be honest, I do miss one aspect of physically going to school. That one aspect would be meeting new people and making connections. Aside from this, I am quite content and satisfied on how the school district is handling this whole situation. Zoom has been the key for one of my classes, and learning from there with 30 other students make this quite easier. By easy I mean less distractions from other students having their own side conversations and I feel as if the teacher is talking to me one on one. So I believe Zoom is definitely the answer and the key to my learning experience this semester. Now moving on, I do have a professor that does not update ILearn nor structures his email in a “easily read” manner. He sends confusing emails about omitting problems and wants us to mail certain items to him which makes it cumbersome and will be the downfall for my grades and this class. To summarize all this, this has been an adaptable situation and I must say it is working out well for me.

    There are a few things that have helped me get through this semester and that’s the Remind App. Teachers who use this *akhem* make my life so much easier. Not being able to go to class and not checking my email all the time, makes it difficult to remember what’s due. But, the way that some teachers are communicating with their students and wanting them to succeed astonishes me and I just want to thank them and continue to help all students succeed and hopefully other teachers catch along.

  • Megan Francis says:

    Since this pandemic has occurred life has been so hectic. It has been really hard adjusting to staying home all day and it is making several of us more unproductive. Since everything is online now, it is very difficult to keep up with school work. Personally, I have fallen behind on some of my assignments because I am so unmotivated working at home. Online schooling feels more like an option now rather than a major priority for us students. However if I put more dedication and focus towards my school work I will get all my assignments done. I do want to give appreciation to teachers and faculty that are adjusting to this new online schooling. They are doing a great job switching their teaching strategies.

    I think one thing teachers and faculty must do during these hard times is they must be more lenient with school work. Rather than pilling on extra school work since face-to-face classes are cancelled, professors should limit the work given and help students fully understand each topic. Online classes force students to teach themselves the material they are given. For most students this is extremely difficult. I believe teachers should be lenient with dead lines for assignments and should allow students to turn in late work. We are all trying to adjust during these crazy time. I am just glad people are staying safe!

  • Leah Moreno says:

    I went from taking only one online class this semester to going fully online. I have one class that does synchronous (meet via zoom) and asynchronous (iLearn posts and lecture video) zoom meetings which I’ve found very helpful. This class professor also makes the synchronous meetings important so that whoever attends doesn’t have to do the weekly forum posts on the lectures. It has helped my learning perspective by allowing me to have an easy transition into remote learning and effectively doing my work each week. Overall, some classes that lessen the workload and base it on what’s going on around us makes it easier to do.

    Along with adjusting meeting times and assignments, another thing that has helped a lot is using this pandemic as a way of learning about our surroundings and ourselves. For example, I have another class that has changed our final paper criteria to addressing how the pandemic has affected us (individually) while also using course terms and ideas. Generally, making coursework relatable and trouble-free I think really helps in making online learning achievable.

  • Yvonne Arceo says:

    Since remote learning has started it has been pretty hectic. I found that what has worked best for me is teachers staying consistent. I do not mean staying consistent as in keeping everything exactly the same from when we physically attended school. I mean staying consistent in the sense of, if you assign a lecture to watch every day that I usually have your class, it is most helpful to keep that consistency. I find I do better when lectures that are assigned to watch are assigned that day but not mandatory to watch at the class time. Many times, our sleeping schedules form a new normal, and we can no longer keep up with the exact times that our classes were. I found I do best in keeping up with the class when the lecture assigned is available to watch at any point in the day, and has some form of accountability. For example, a class that keeps me motivated in watching his lectures is one that has an even just one to two question quiz by the end of the day. I never fall behind. What has not been working for me are early zoom calls. Even if the class seems to be at a reasonable time, I cannot bring myself to fix my sleeping schedule no matter how many times I have attempted. It is just more useful to me to drop attempting live classes completely and having recorded lectures, or assignments instead.

    To support students’ success online I think the best way to help would be to offer assignments that are not so heavy. Balancing online classes is difficult, even more difficult when time management is a skill everyone is still trying to figure out. It can be frustrating when a professor who had assigned a seven-page paper when school was physical, is still requiring that kind of length now that everything is remote. Students have different responsibilities at home and with their families so it is important for professors to consider that they cannot expect the same level of attention to be dedicated to their school work. Campuses should do their best to leave emails easily visible on their websites. It is frustrating when a student needs a question answered from someone like administration, but can not find the email. Therefore, having contacts more easily visible on their website, as well as professors contacts more easily visible, despite us having their syllabi is important.

  • Roxanne Garnace says:

    I feel that the transition to remote instruction has been 50/50. For some classes it has been a smooth adjustment while other classes have fallen behind. I’m currently enrolled in classes where we are supposed to be using camera equipment and studios but we don’t have access to that right now so we have had to take pre-recorded videos and edit those which takes away from the experience and purpose of the course. A class I was really excited to take revolved around taking a week trip to Los Angeles and networking with the industry to assist in landing internships and jobs, this has been cancelled due to the pandemic. A couple of my classes have fallen behind while teachers are doing their best to create lesson plans and convert everything and some classes that were really meant to be taken in person have flooded students with “busy work”. What works for me is having virtual/zoom meetings during the original hours set for the class. Even though we have switched to remote instruction I think it’s important to keep the designated times that were assigned to specific courses that way it doesn’t interfere with other classes and things we have scheduled outside class hours.

    One thing I can suggest teachers do to support students in online courses is to first off – follow Professor Kelly and ask. Though I know it’s stressful to both sides, it’s reassuring as a student to know that your Professor cares about your input/feedback. It’s a set up to succeed in the course despite the changes. Another suggestion I have is to incorporate different learning styles in their lesson plans. You can do this by using games to learn, incorporating videos, one of my favorite is which is a learning website that offers courses on almost anything via video. If none of this sounds appealing you can always go back to the first part and ask the student. Some students thrive in face to face class, some don’t have computer or internet access so the first and most important part in helping a student succeed is having that conversation.

  • Camryn Moeller says:

    I wish my professors at my school would let us take our exams on our own time within a big given time period. For example, taking it within 8am and 10pm on a given day instead of a set time.

  • Sophia Dong says:

    Hi Professor Kelley,
    Great blog post! I love how you compared the Apollo 13 mission to the current epidemic going on. I agree that everyone’s thoughts must be taken into consideration for something to work efficiently! Since remote learning has started everything’s been pretty hectic & crazy! I definitely did not expect to end my last semester of college online. A lot of my in person classes have switched to online Zoom classes and it’s not the same experience as sitting in a classroom. When I’m physically in the class I’m free of distractions. When I’m watching a lecture online through my laptop in the comfort of my home, I feel like it’s a lot easier to slack off or get distracted. Instead of meeting at a certain time, I think it would be a lot easier if professors pre-recorded lectures and allowed students to watch them at any time. When scheduling a certain time for a lecture and having a “if you miss it, you miss it” policy, many students end up having technical difficulties and missing the lecture completely.

    One thing that professors can do during this difficult time is be a bit more lenient with school work. Since many college students tend to have jobs such as retail or hospitality, they are jobless and struggling to make ends meet right now. Many students are moving back home but still being forced to pay rent at their college apartments. Not only that, but for students like me who are graduating this semester, we’re essentially graduating into a major recession. I’m honestly not sure if I’m going to be able to find a stable career after I graduate and that worries me. Other than that, I appreciate all the hard work professors are doing to make the switch online. I can’t wait until all of this is over!

    Stay safe & healthy!

  • Cynthia Ochoa says:

    Hello Professor,
    This quarantine has been very difficult for me. At home I don’t have very good internet so it’s hard to do my homework and see all the lectures and everything I have to do. There are times when the WIFI is working pretty well and I take advantage of that to go online and see how much I can do before it crashes again. I am also still working and it has been a nightmare. You will not believe the amount of people that go shopping where I work. We broke the record in all of the United States on Saturday for this company and now they want more so they want to be open for longer. The way people have been reacting to this pandemic is astonishing to me because it really makes you open your eyes to the way human nature is when it comes to emergencies. No one cares for one another and about 85% of all these people don’t know how to follow simple instructions. I get home exhausted every single day and when I don’t work at my job I’m helping my mother do things at home. She just recently got diagnosed with Lupus so it’s been difficult. With everything going on, school is the last thing I want to think of right now but I’m trying.
    Right now I don’t think there is much professors can do. It would be great if could just nullify this whole semester but I know that is not realistic. So I think the only thing I can think of is just for professors to be more understanding of student’s struggles in this time of chaos. It completely threw some of us off, not just students. I hope that we are able to get through this semester with our sanity in tact.

    Best wishes for everyone,
    Cynthia Ochoa