Published August 31, 2021 by Bowdoin Online Learning and Teaching

Summer Student Focus Groups Reveal Favorable Teaching and Learning Practices from the Pandemic Year

In response to the 2021 Enrolled Student Survey, BOLT wanted to delve deeper with students to understand what aspects of their online courses they would like to see incorporated into in-person courses.
Rows of modern plasic classroom chairs behind long tables in a classroom in the Roux Center. The room has a background of large windows facing the outside.

Four focus groups were held over the summer, two on campus and two online using Zoom. Sixteen Bowdoin students (3 sophomores, 8 juniors, 5 seniors) from a variety of majors discussed their experiences with online learning and highlighted aspects of remote learning that they hope will continue in future semesters. 

From these discussions, nine key themes emerged:
  1. Centralized, online spaces (e.g., Blackboard Learning Management System) that house syllabi, coursework, reading assignments and grades enhance student learning and organization.
  2. Explicit and transparent syllabi facilitate student learning and enable students to better plan and use their time.
  3. Flipped classrooms with pre-recorded lectures strengthen students’ ability to understand and retain course content.
  4. Online office hours provide students with convenient scheduling options and allow them to ask questions in a low-stakes format. 
  5. Take-home and open-note exams with flexible time windows reinforce student learning and allow students to feel more confident about their test-taking abilities.
  6. Multiple assignment options for homework, projects, and final papers provide students with opportunities to creatively display their knowledge and facilitate collaboration among students. 
  7. Students remain unsure how much group work should be a mandated part of in-person learning.
  8. Students appreciate it when professors recognize the complexity of their lives outside of the classroom and provide flexibility with assignments and deadlines.
  9. Remote guest lectures and visitors improve student learning and engagement with course content and would remain relevant to in-person settings.
The data collected from these focus groups, from the faculty listening sessions, and from other surveys, polls, and discussions held over the course of the pandemic year will help inform the efforts of the Teaching with Technology Working Group this fall.