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Virtual course offerings meeting student needs in a pandemic?

Virtual classrooms offer a unique value proposition to many students caught in limbo during the pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the plans and ambitions of students globally, and understandably, it’s been a tough year for them in particular. It hasn’t been a total loss though; although the move to online teaching has been a challenging transition to manage, we’re starting to learn about some of the unique strengths of virtual programming. 

We asked Study Abroad Foundation students who completed the online class series, Beyond The Classroom (BTC), to find out how, in some cases, virtual classrooms are actually meeting their needs better than the offline version. Here’s what they said. 

Learn before you go: a stress-free introduction to western culture
When asked whether BTC’s subject matter had improved their understanding of western culture, the response was unanimously positive. All students, both Chinese and Japanese, reported that they found the programming at least somewhat helpful, with the vast majority (100% Japanese, 63% Chinese) describing it as very helpful. 

This suggests that students value a platform that expands their knowledge base on foreign destinations and campuses, presumably viewing it as an opportunity to familiarize themselves before the real thing. This squares up with what students have told us about the cultural sessions hosted by HQ, rating lessons like “Uniquely American trivia” and “Ordering and Dining Etiquette” among some of the most useful topics covered. 

Standing out from the pack: extra credit and recognition
The top two factors that motivated students to sign up for BTC were an interest in topics (see above for an idea of what virtual programming can uniquely offer!) and the desire to obtain a certificate. The world is a competitive place for students these days, and any opportunity to stand out, such as extra credit or recognition, is one they are likely to take.  

By offering students incentives like certificates, recommendation letters, or even extra credit, this adds real perceived value to online programming – in some cases, more than what a traditional classroom would be able to offer. 

Meet your students on their best timeframe
Students are busier than most of us, with demands like coursework, family obligations and part-time work that quickly fill out their schedule. In fact, when asked why they hadn’t been able to participate in an online session, the most common response was a busy schedule, or a conflict of other engagements. 

By meeting students in the time of the day when they are most likely to be free and attentive – in the later evenings, around 8pm to 9pm – students by and large felt this time frame worked best for them, and reflected a benefit of online learning. A sizable minority (22%) also expressed interest in more weekend programming. We also learned that a reasonable frequency of programming makes a huge difference, too; for Chinese students, scheduled activities once a week worked well, while for Japanese, every two weeks was the better fit.

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William Haglund

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