As we enter the seventh week, I want to take the time to share what we currently know about how students are experiencing the semester and provide additional information on ways to continue to support their success. Over the last several weeks, we have sent two brief Huskie Pulse surveys to students to better understand how they are adjusting to their classes and to get a sense for how connected they feel so far. During the first survey which occurred within the second week, 76% of the students who responded indicated that they were comfortable with their ability to access their classes, yet only 48% felt positive about how they were adjusting to their classes and only 64% felt confident about their ability to participate. This suggests that many students may feel good about how to access classes, but are still struggling with how to engage and how to navigate the classroom environment this fall.
The recent Huskie Pulse survey, which closed the Friday of week 5, asked students if they have made at least one friend at this point in the term. Only 50% of the students who responded confirmed that they made a new friend and about 62% shared that they feel part of the NIU community. We know from higher education research that connecting to peers increases student’s sense of belonging, connection to the campus community and likelihood of academic success. I can imagine that, similarly, as educators, you may be feeling or have been feeling some of the same adjustment concerns or feelings of disconnection. So, what can you do?
1. For many students, the classroom may be the number one place they are making connections to others. Providing spaces for students to connect, hosting synchronous class meetings and virtual office hours, encouraging group projects and connecting the lessons in your class to co-curricular and extra-curricular programming occurring around campus are great ways to facilitate a sense of community and belonging among the students in your classes.
2. Encouraging students to form study groups or coordinating study groups within your online course can create safe spaces for students to connect and may reduce the barriers of connecting in a new environment.
3. Continue to encourage students to utilize the academic support resources available and consider doing your own class-specific surveys to see if additional support may be needed.
4. Remember the feeling that you have or that you have had adjusting to this “new normal” or the experiences you may see your own children, family members, etc. experiencing trying to find or maintain social connections. Use this knowledge as a guide and as a reminder about the challenges your students may be facing particularly for those who may be the first in their family to go to college, who may be a first-year student or who may be a senior taking advanced courses and trying to find ways to understand challenging material in this current context.
5. Lastly, give grace, both to yourself and to your students who have complex lives, but overwhelmingly chose this path as a means to achieving social mobility and career success.
I commend you for the incredible work that you are doing to provide the highest quality learning experience for the students in your classes. Thank you for hearing their voices, for responding to their emails and concerns, for issuing alerts when they have not engaged and for making their future your focus.
Renique Kersh, Ph.D.
Associate Vice Provost for Student Engagement and Success