Now that students are remote, are you ready to help them succeed?

Expert Insight

Now that students are remote, are you ready to help them succeed?

Once the race to move students to remote instruction is complete, the next questions will be about how to help them succeed. From online learning’s exemplars we know it can offer greater flexibility and personalization at scale than traditional formats, but the lack of daily in-person interactions can make it harder to know who is struggling. Students already facing academic challenges, those navigating newly complex living arrangements, or those with unreliable internet access will need extra help in the coming weeks and months.

Individual faculty members may not be able to address the deeper structural barriers students face to learning remotely, but there are a few simple things they can do to make sure the students most in need of help get it.

Use discussion boards to look for academic red flags

One of the unique benefits of remote instruction is that discussion boards provide a window into student thinking and experiences as they learn new material. It might not be possible to read every word students post on a discussion board, but searching for common signals of distress can help faculty quickly find students who need help.

This idea comes from Champlain College Online, which developed a list of frequently used “Risk Phrases” and keywords, which include:

  • Help!
  • Tried over and over
  • Frustrated
  • Don’t understand

Champlain College created an automatic script that finds every time these words appear in posts. Central staff support instructors who regularly teach online by making a prioritized list of students to proactively contact.

Even without centralized support or lists, faculty who are new to remote instruction can still look for concerning words or phrases individually.

Learn student’s online lingo

Faculty members unaccustomed to interacting with younger generations on social media may be surprised by just how many acronyms there are now beyond the standard LOL. To fully understand discussion board posts and communicate effectively with students needing help, here is a guide guide to common internet acronyms students may use to express frustration or lack of engagement:

  • IDC—I don’t care
  • IDK—I don’t know
  • TL;DR—Too long, didn’t read
  • ELI5—Explain like I’m five. This is an expression common to online forums where a user asks for a simple explanation for a complex idea.

Faculty members interested in making themselves approachable online can also try common parlance themselves such as:

  • AMA—Ask me anything
  • HTH—Here to help
  • DFTBA—Don’t Forget to Be Awesome

Conduct a two-question stress test

In the midst of a pandemic and an abrupt departure from campus, students are experiencing much more stress than usual. This comes at a time when they physically distant from the faculty and staff who can help them. To identify and support stressed out online students under normal conditions, DePaul University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs developed a short, voluntary survey. Originally used during peak periods of student stress like the mid-point of a term, this survey has new relevance during today’s Covid-19 crisis.

Conducting the survey is relatively simple. Students receive a brief email that asks them to rate their stress on a scale from 1 to 5. Then they check boxes for the factors contributing to their stress, selecting all that apply. DePaul’s original list included the following stress factors:

  • Classes (i.e. grades, working with professors)
  • Personal (i.e. illness, death, relationships)
  • Financial (i.e. job, debt, tuition)
  • Time Management (i.e. balance of work and school)
  • Campus Climate and Community (i.e. isolation)

This list could be adapted to include some or all of the following to make it relevant to the disruptions of COVID-19:

  • Household member who is ill
  • Recent death in the family
  • Distressing news about COVID-19 spread
  • Xenophobic incidents
  • Unreliable internet access
  • Unreliable internet access
  • Lack of a reliable device to access course material
  • Concern about the economy
  • Concern about my current finances

Data from the survey will allow faculty and staff to see which students are experiencing the most stress and connect them to the right resources—whether well-being strategies, extra academic support, or asynchronous or offline learning options. If conducted on a broad scale, surveys like these will also give administrators insight into how the current crisis affects a newly-remote student body and where non-academic factors and inequality pose the greatest risk to student success.

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