In a PIE webinar discussion about the student experience of online communication and learning, Nova Scotia Community College International director, Katie Orr, revealed that her institution is one of many to reap the rewards of an extensive survey, rather than depending on what she described as ‘folklore’.

Orr indicated that while universities might not like the results of the i-graduate survey, it serves as key information in providing the benchmarked feedback that is necessary to improve services for their students.

“If they tell us there’s still something we need to do there, we need to pay attention”

“If we don’t ask, they won’t tell us,” she said. “So if they tell us there’s still something we need to do there, we need to pay attention.”

Although NSCC has had to pay particular attention to the high demands for immigration related advice that is required by their students – as well as quickly familiarising themselves with the iCent app – each university has faced its own slightly unique challenges with the shift online.

The first International Student Barometer survey for the Northern Hemisphere, set up by i-graduate, has sampled over 28,000 students, and while it has provided constructive criticism from its participants it has also been a great source of positive feedback for education institutions.

Perry Hobson, pro vice-chancellor for Global Engagement at Sunway University in Malaysia, was surprised at the high approval levels that were reported by their students on the survey considering how quick the turnaround was to online learning due to the pandemic.

“From the survey, we were 10% higher with satisfaction than the global average,” he said.

Hobson acknowledged that while much of Asian society already had high levels of internet consumption, he soon realised that universities were one of the only areas of Asian society in which face-to-face interaction was still the norm.

The survey alerted Sunway University to the problems of lack of space to study at home, particularly for those who live in multi-generational households, and informed them that many students were still accessing online learning services from the campus – which in some respects defeats the point of the systems put in place.

Director of Client Services for North America and Europe at i-graduate Nannette Ripmeester said that the broader results of the survey thus far have shown that even though students are forgiving with some of the teething problems of moving online, the most common frustrations that students share are regarding exams and communication about financial support.

Ripmeester sees the data as integral but encourages universities to now act on the results on the survey.

She said that the International Student Barometer help institutions “to track the entire life cycle for your study cycle of your students and it’s great to have a lot of data… but if you just have that data and put it in a drawer, it’s not going to do any good for you.”

The webinar also covered an array of other topics including the movement towards hybrid education, recruitment post-university as well as building connections between international and domestic students.

“Previously our virtual learning environment was just cloud storage”

One such proponent of the movement towards hybrid education was Osama Khan, vice-provost of Education at the University of Surrey.

Khan claimed that the transition has meant that “Microsoft is our office, 365 is our ecosystem” and although he acknowledged that Covid-19 has numerous downsides, he recognised that it has simultaneously sped up the process of forcing those at universities to adapt to the inevitable shift towards more regular use of technology.

“Due to this pandemic, we got a massive upskilling of our academic community using a virtual learning environment. Previously our virtual learning environment was just cloud storage, you [would] upload your slides for the students to download; whereas now we are curating guided activities,” he said.

i-graduate has now extended the period for universities who wish to participate in the ISB until the end of February 2021.

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