COVID-19 Survey Results: Student Feedback

Students Desire Flexibility

A detailed report summarizing the analyses can also be found here.

Most student comments related to remote instruction and their experiences with COVID-19 spoke to their desire for flexibility in their new learning environments. Notions of flexibility related to course delivery, such as lecture format, the availability of materials, the availability of instructors and TAs, and structure of exams and assignments.


Students preferred recorded lectures that they could watch on their own schedules. Live synchronous lectures were not preferred because of internet issues that interrupted participation in live lectures, scheduling incompatibilities, or the desire to relisten to course material. In a question rating their preferences, students equally preferred asynchronous and recorded synchronous lectures. However, in their narrative comments they advocated for recorded synchronous lectures (and labs/tutorials) because they (a) provided students with scheduled obligation that encouraged structure and motivation, (b) gave students more accessibility to instructors, (c) were more engaging, and (d) were more respectful of the typical time commitments of a 3-unit course.

Availability of Materials

The most frequent comments were requests to have posted video lectures. Many students suggested posting material such as powerpoint slides ahead of time, if possible, at the beginning of the semester.

Availability of Instructors and TAs

A common issue raised by students was their desire to have more face time with instructors and TAs, either in lecture or office hours. Many indicated a desire in the narrative responses for drop in office hours, but in the rated question responded to by the full sample, 39% chose appointment only compared to 43% who chose dropin.

Timing and Structure of Exams

A few students noted that the window of availability for an exam may be quite narrow and at inconvenient times. Students hoped for more flexibility in the time they might take their exam to accommodate their circumstances such as living in a different time zone, being an essential worker, or having to share computing resources with others in the home. 

Instructors' Expectations for Remote Learning

The second most frequent comments from students related to instructor expectations, second to comments about lecture/lab format. The general sentiment was that instructor expectations seemed higher for remote than for in-person courses. Students asked that instructors be more understanding of the difficulties associated with the online format, including different instructional styles, higher reliance on self-directed teaching, and technical difficulties.

Increased Workload

For many students, the transition to online learning was coupled with an increase in time spent on coursework in terms of assignment-based work and direct instruction such as lectures and zoom meetings. Many students shared that their instructors assigned more work, either in the form of assignment or quizzes, to “make up” for the new online format. Some students commented that the increase in assignments and quizzes led to feeling stressed or overwhelmed. In addition, some students experienced organizational struggles due to the number of assignment and quizzes across multiple courses. Numerous students also advocated for more assignments and quizzes, but as a replacement for larger online timed exam components. A handful of students complained about the increased amount of required readings.

Students also had workload complaints about time spent on lectures and zoom meetings. Some students mentioned that for asynchronous lectures, some instructors were not mindful of the 2 hour and 50 minute timeframe imposed for in-person courses. Students also commented that having prerecorded lectures and then live zoom discussions sometimes increased the time spent on the course by as much as an hour and a half. Although attending course zoom meetings were often not requirements, some students felt that attendance at zoom meetings was important to understand lectures. Thus, for some students, a 2 hour and 50 minute lecture commitment for in-person courses swelled to four hours or more.

Exam Difficulties

As suggested in the previous section, many students commented on the increased difficuly of online exams due to more restrictive exam formats, non-ideal testing environments at home, and a general sentiment that the exams themselves were harder.

General Expectations

In general, students requested that instructors and TAs be more understanding of the overall effect of COVID-19 on their well-being, study habits, and study environments. Many students requested that instructors and TA be more lenient for late assignments and on grading.