Starting in 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for social distancing, schools all around the world began to convert their traditional face-to-face courses to an online format. In most cases these courses were offered in the same timeframes with the same rules as the face-to-face courses that they replaced.
While many of these converted courses were successful, they tended to focus on just finding a new and online way to present course material to students. At best these courses were hybrids, and in many cases weren’t designed to be permanent replacements for face-to-face learning. At Axon and Texas EMS School, our courses were designed from the beginning to be competency based, and online. As we look back at the massive pandemic-motivated shift to online learning by other schools, we decided to take a look at what the educational community was saying about the shift specifically as it relates to student satisfaction and student success. Here is what we found.
As many instructors quickly turned their face-to-face courses into online courses, students found themselves feeling isolated. Class participants stared at a screen with pages and pages of material, poorly constructed videos, and little to no interaction with the instructor or peers Since participation grades could not exist anymore, instructors added more assignments to the syllabus. All of this became overwhelming for both instructors and students.
In a regular face-to-face course, students could receive answers to questions immediately; however, when students had a question in an online course, answers were often delayed because of the asynchronous format. Or, if a synchronous format existed, many felt awkward answering over Zoom; it just seemed unnatural. These courses caused feelings of isolation and, with little to no interaction with others, students had no way to cope. As educators we proactively reach out to students who haven’t logged in in several days, not to chide them but to ask them if they are experiencing life struggles or distractions. This often leads to lengthy conversations and specific life details, but in many cases, it is played out in a simple voice mail that let’s the student know that we are just concerned about them. Even when the voicemail doesn’t result in a returned call, we routinely hear from students that just hearing the voicemail gave them a sense of optimism that helped them return to their studies.
It has long been a belief that online courses are not as effective as face-to-face courses; however, we discovered that when courses provide optimal course design and a sense of community, students were satisfied and learning outcomes were met. According to a study on distance education from the University of South Carolina, students found that the success of an online class was determined mostly through the ability to communicate with the instructor and other students. Students revealed that they found activities that allowed for ample opportunities to work with other students met their needs for both learning and socialization. Axon / Texas EMS School students are encouraged to schedule a tutoring session if they are feeling overwhelmed. The line between tutoring and coaching is intentionally blurred to allow students to find balance by re-engaging with the content.
During a pandemic distance learning has been a forced experiment for many schools and it remains to be seen whether traditional face-to-face programs will choose to retain the most successful attributes of distance learning, but at Axon Education and Texas EMS School, we are fully committed to provide education that is flexible, efficient and effective. Our approach has served us well during the pandemic, and allowed us to serve those courageous students who are committed to serving in EMS at a difficult time.