COVID-19 Updates and Guidance > Updates > Additional Lessons about Online Learning - 10-19-20

Additional lessons about online learning

​October 19, 2020 

Dear faculty,

As you saw in the October 5 message about plans for winter quarter, we will continue to offer the vast majority of classes online in order to protect the health of our community during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since this adventure in universal online learning began last Spring, we all have learned a great deal about delivering high quality courses online. For your diligence, hard work and concern for our students, I am deeply grateful. This message provides some observations and recommendations based on enrollment data and feedback we have received from students, both anecdotally, and in written responses to a recent snap poll.

In contrast to national enrollment trends,  our Fall enrollment at 21,889, is 99.3 percent of what we budgeted. Your efforts surely contributed to that outcome. And the results of a snap poll, administered to all undergraduate students on October 5, show that even in these difficult times two thirds of respondents are holding their own. Students were asked, “how do you feel about your academic progress this Fall?” Close to 2,000 students responded to the poll: 23 percent (466) reported feeling “good,” 43 percent (851) reported feeling “OK” and 34 percent reported feeling “bad.”

The workshops and DOTS training you engaged in, the additional equipment that CARES funding enabled the university to provide, the Zoom classrooms several of you were able to use, the categories of online learning we were able to articulate, and the creativity and good will you have brought to this endeavor have all made a difference for many of our students.

However, a little more than a third of the students who responded reported feeling “bad.” Those feelings are of course influenced by many more factors than their coursework. Still, as we look forward to at least one more quarter of online learning for most everyone, we have an opportunity to "move even deeper into the pose," as they say in Yoga, and continue to refine our approach.

One of the overarching lessons we are learning is that faculty view their course content and materials much differently from the way many students do.

Faculty, who have worked hard to learn strategies for teaching online and have devoted hours to creating their best possible online class, see the multiple components of their class, including for example, Zoom time, content posted on D2L, additional readings or other kinds of content, small-stakes assignments, community-building activities, key course assignments, etc., as lending variety and creating multiple ways into the central ideas of the course. In many cases, they have also implemented multiple weekly deadlines as a known best practice to keep the students engaged with the content.

Students, on the other hand, are more likely to see two main course components class time i.e. Zoom class meetings when applicable, and what appears to them as an ever-expanding, undifferentiated to-do list. Students in asynchronous classes, in particular, often see the class as a barrage of homework, or even busywork, and struggle to keep pace with the multiple deadlines.

Multiply these perceptions times three, four or even five classes, and it’s easy to see how students might experience an escalation of workload and feel what many describe as overwhelmed. Moreover, some students are signaling a worrisome retreat by some faculty from the grace and flexibility they experienced in Spring and Summer. When students feel overwhelmed and unheard, they are ever more likely to decide for themselves what is and is not important, skip assignments and in severe cases, retreat altogether.

How can we help students navigate their courses most effectively?

  1. Be clear and consistent: Use a consistent pattern of deadlines and make due dates clear by articulating them in the D2L tools you’re using, which feeds into the Pulse app for students that sends D2L to their phones. 
  2. Use DePaul-supported tools: Keep technology as simple as possible.  To reduce the total number of platforms that students are using, build the course in the university’s supported learning management system, D2L.  If additional tools are needed, let’s give priority to the ones that are integrated in D2L or that are already familiar to students from prior classes.
  3. Provide the “why”: Add a description to course content (recorded or live lectures, readings, activities) that explains why the materials are essential and how the content and assignments relate to the stated learning outcomes for the course.  
  4. Check in with students: Use a midterm sur​vey to see how the course is going and to determine if there are adjustments you can make to improve student learning before the end of the quarter.  
If you would like to teach a synchronous portion of your class in a Zoom room, whether this quarter or next quarter, read these instructions​ on how to reserve a room in the scheduling system.

Like many of you, most of our students did not choose to engage with their classes online. And, of course, there is a lot going on in the world that is impacting all of us, and it inevitably impacts everyone’s performance. So please continue to be patient, be as flexible as you can with due dates, and be kind.

I wish you all the very best.


Salma Ghanem
Interim Provost