Listening to Students

by Jeff Grabill, Director of MSU Hub and Associate Provost of Teaching, Learning, and Technology at Michigan State University

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When we left campus in March of 2020, few of us imagined more than a year of learning and working from home. But that is precisely what we are facing. Unhappily. Personally, I am unhappy. I haven’t hugged my mom and dad in nearly 8 months. My children are away at school and in “bubbles,” so I can’t hug them either. I miss my colleagues. I miss seeing and talking with students. I regret the patterns of thinking and working that have us locked in crisis.

Like many institutions, MSU isn’t built for the way we are learning and teaching. As one of my very smart colleagues wrote to me recently, we have students and faculty, not online students and online faculty. Despite the fact that our students don’t want to learn this way and our educators don’t want to teach this way, our online semester is going well. But few are happy about it.

I’m with you.

Yet here we are, together. And togetherness is the path to happier teaching and learning experiences for the remainder of this year. At least this is what students are telling us, which is really what I want to share in this post: the path to happier and more effective online learning experiences, according to the student voices in my inbox.

Here is what I am hearing:

  • Students are stressed, exhausted, and struggling with all of the anxieties that we are all struggling with — that I am struggling with.
  • Given those underlying issues, they are experiencing classes as moving more quickly than normal, with a higher workload than normal, and using way more technologies than normal. I doubt faculty are intentionally moving faster or assigning more work, but perhaps this is happening. Or perhaps students are experiencing classes this way because life is more complicated.
  • We are all spending way too much time staring at screens, students included.
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In the face of these challenges, students want to be seen, to be heard, and to be respected, which brings me to the one thing that students want (overwhelmingly so): They want to connect with other human beings. This includes other students, yes, but they also want to be seen and heard by you. They miss human relationships. They miss being together.

They want to ask questions.

They want more time to be in conversation with others.

They want informal class time with others.

They want to be asked how they learn.

They want to be asked how they are doing.

They want to be asked if they need a break.

Here is the great news for those of us who want to be fantastic, transformative educators — this stuff is easy. It isn’t complicated to

  1. Slow down.
  2. Check in on well being.
  3. Be flexible with assignments and deadlines.
  4. Make more time for questions and for interactions for people.
  5. Communicate frequently and respond to questions in a timely way.

Students want more togetherness. The great news is that more human connections will enhance learning, and along the way, might just make us all a bit happier.

Written by

MSU Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology

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