Academic Engagement “Pulse” Survey Results
Running since the beginning of the remote instructional continuity period in March 2020, our Academic Engagement Project gathers feedback from students, faculty, TAs, and student-facing staff that is used to inform decision-making by Main Campus academic leadership and to get a better understanding of what learning looks like at GU.
Key Question on Academic Engagement
Each survey instrument centers on one key question: How would you rate your academic engagement in your classes this past week? Response categories are along a 4 point scale ranging from ‘(1) – Very Disengaged’ to ‘(4) – Very Engaged’, with middle points ‘(2) – Somewhat Disengaged’ and ‘(3) – Somewhat Engaged’. Students have been receiving this question at 1-5 week intervals since March 2020, giving us the ability to track how student academic engagement changes and fluctuates over time during the semester and across semesters. Each survey instrument also contains at least one open-ended question related to the core academic engagement question. The collection and analysis of open-ended responses gives us insight into the meaning of ‘academic engagement’ from the various perspectives of our student respondents, as well as to hear from students about influencing factors, ongoing challenges, and personal successes related to academic engagement.
Overall, we have seen a trend of declining academic engagement over time as the pandemic and the remote instructional continuity period persist. But we have also recorded high points in engagement at the beginning of each semester, with subsequent declines in engagement over the course of the semester to engagement low points at the conclusion of the semester.
According to the survey responses, our highest point in academic engagement was the beginning of the Fall 2020 semester, when 77% of main campus graduate and undergraduate students reported being ‘Somewhat Engaged’ or ‘Very Engaged’ in their classes during the first week of the semester. It is important to note that we do not have any academic engagement data from the beginning of the Spring 2020 semester to compare, as this work commenced only after the move to remote instruction after that semester’s spring break. Our lowest point in academic engagement was measured during the final week of the Spring 2020 semester, where only 38% of students reported being very or somewhat academically engaged.
We have also found differences across student cohorts in responses to survey items including the academic engagement question — we see consistently overall higher engagement among graduate students than undergraduate students. In addition, in the 2020-2021 academic year we saw consistently higher academic engagement among first year undergraduate students than among students in other years, with seniors consistently reporting the lowest levels of academic engagement.
In addition to the academic engagement question, each wave of the survey has also included questions that have been introduced according to the needs of Main Campus and school leadership. The changing nature of these questions represents the way Georgetown has pivoted during the pandemic to solicit and incorporate student feedback in academic planning and faculty training and support. Some key findings from student responses to these additional questions appear according to semester below.
- Overall engagement declined between March and May 2020 from 48% to 38%. Engagement among undergraduate students declined from 41% to 31% and engagement among graduate students declined from 61% to 51%.
- The most frequent negative influence on engagement reported throughout the semester was inability to focus or pay attention in class, with as many as 9 of 10 undergraduate students reporting this was a challenge. Another major negative influence on engagement early in the remote instructional continuity period was having to transition to a new housing situation. Compared to 3 out of 4 undergraduate students dealing with the negative influence of moving on engagement in the first wave of surveys, only approximately 1 of 4 undergraduate students reported this to be a challenge in the later waves.
- The most frequent positive influence on engagement reported consistently throughout the semester was support from professors. In each wave of the surveys, students reported support from professors as a positive influence on engagement at a higher rate than support from family and household members, advisors, IT staff, and other students. In the first wave of the spring occurring in the first week after the transition to remote instructional continuity, support from professors as a positive influence on engagement was reported by roughly 8 in 10 undergraduate students and 9 in 10 graduate students.
- Overall engagement declined between September and December 2020 from 77% to 43%. Engagement among undergraduate students declined from 70% to 32% and engagement among graduate students declined from 87% to 60%.
- About 6 in 10 student respondents reported that they frequently felt overwhelmed by a large workload, while about 5 in 10 students reported that they frequently felt stressed by the COVID-19 pandemic and frequently worried about their grade in a class. In contrast, only 1 in 10 students reported frequently participating in GU events and activities outside of class or having an intellectual discussion outside of class.
- When asked what they would ask their professors to change for the upcoming semester, 74% of student respondents requested that professors increase flexibility in coursework and 72% of students requested that professors scale back coursework and readings. Only 4% of respondents requested that professors increase academic rigor in coursework.
- Overall engagement declined between January and April 2021 from 62% to 40%. Engagement among undergraduate students declined from 54% to 31% and engagement among graduate students declined from 73% to 53%.
- In Spring 2021, OADS worked with school leadership offices to provide school-specific survey questions to respondents. Some of these questions asked about belonging and connectedness, factors influencing engagement, and remote learning successes.
- A majority of student respondents (56%) reported feeling no or very little connection to Georgetown, and a near majority of respondents (48%) reported feeling a great deal of stress. In addition, 39% of respondents reported feeling somewhat or very dissatisfied with their own academic performance.
Who Has Participated?
Academic engagement surveys have been sent to main campus student, faculty, TA, and Student Affairs staff populations. Waves and response rates of surveys are bulleted below.
- Surveys have been sent to students in Georgetown College, Biomedical Graduate Education (BGE), the Graduate School, McCourt School of Business, McDonough School of Public Policy, School of Continuing Studies, School of Nursing and Health Studies, and School of Foreign Service since March 2020. Surveys have been additionally sent to students at GU-Qatar since Fall 2020.
- Students received 4 waves of surveys in Spring 2020, 4 waves of surveys in Fall 2020, and 3 waves of surveys in Spring 2021. Each time, surveys were sent to the full population of students enrolled in classes in the schools listed above.
- The response rate on surveys ranges from 20% to 35%, with higher response rate at the beginning of each semester and lower response rate at the end of each semester.
- OADS has collaborated with the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship (CNDLS) to send surveys to faculty teaching courses on the main campus since March 2020. Surveys are sent in parallel with student surveys, allowing comparison of student and faculty survey feedback at a single time point.
Graduate Teaching Assistants (TAs)
- OADS collaborated with the Graduate School to send a survey to TAs in March 2021 to ask them about their experiences with TAing remotely and their use of Graduate School and CNDLS support services for TAs.
Student Affairs Staff
- OADS collaborated with the Division of Student Affairs to send a survey to student-facing Student Affairs staff to ask them about their experiences with student engagement and related factors (stress, well-being, ability to focus) during the course of the remote instructional continuity period.
The Academic Engagement Project has enabled student feedback to inform decision-making by main campus and school leadership and a greater understanding among faculty of student challenges and experiences related to academic engagement. Some impacts of this survey work are summarized below.
Main Campus Planning
- Data provided natural entry points to discussions about preparing for the coming semesters. From identifying the need to build in breaks during the semester, to highlighting additional support services that students might need as a result of the pandemic and the stress it has caused, the feedback helped the Main Campus focus on specific areas to proactively support academic engagement.
- Deans regularly reviewed the results of the surveys and used them in discussions with school staff and faculty to highlight the needs of students, faculty, and TAs and the impact the pandemic was having on each school’s community.
- Results were used by CNDLS to highlight ways that faculty can structure classes, keep lines of communication open, and make additional efforts to maintain supportive relationships with students during this period of remote instruction. Faculty indicated in their survey responses that they used the results of the student feedback and other resources on the Instructional Continuity website as they prepared for their courses.