Dear Colleagues,

Congratulations on a successful first week in this bold new Zoom world!

In the space of a little over 10 days, we transitioned 453 sections of teaching courses to an online format. More than 300 staff, faculty, and teaching assistants took part in our Zoom training program over Spring Break to prepare, all the while moving themselves from their offices and classrooms to remote teaching locations.

This was a major change in a very short period of time, and I sincerely say ‘thank you’ to each and every one who made this difficult transition a success. I know this was not easy, and I am grateful for your collective work.

Our students appreciate your efforts as well. We’ve been asking their opinions and I would like to take a moment and share some of the feedback we’ve received from hundreds of students so far.

We’ll share full survey results when they are complete, but our undergraduates have provided us with a lot of thoughtful, heartfelt, and useful insights on what we’ve done right, what they’ve appreciated, and what we could do better as we move forward this semester, that I wanted to share some of them with you right now.

You’ll see in the results below that your students have noticed your added efforts to help them learn in this new online format. They recognize that you’ve worked hard to make this possible and many are saying ‘thanks’ for making their experience better.

Your collective efforts have helped reduce their anxiety quite a bit. Nevertheless, they remain deeply concerned about a variety of issues related to the challenges they face in our new COVID-19 environment.

A comparison between the first day of online teaching and today shows they are now less concerned about your inability to teach them, but are now more concerned about non-academic issues (sickness, mental health, their finances, access to health care, and missing out on extracurricular activities). These are likely to continue as the semester progresses, so please consider them as you structure your engagements with our students; appreciate their stress points; and be kind and generous in your interactions.

To see more of our students’ feedback on their new Voiland College online learning experience, and how we can better support them, look below my email signature.

Our students miss us. They miss their engagement with their peers. They miss our Cougar Community. Try to find additional ways to engage your students, like holding additional drop-in hours, or allowing them to hang around and chat on-line after class is over, to help remind them that we are still here for each other, no matter the physical distancing that is in place.

Lastly, please know that Voiland College is doing phenomenal during these trying times and I greatly appreciate all of your efforts. Thank you again for your hard work, generous and supportive attitude, and positivity about the future.

Be Safe Cougs!

Dean Mary Rezac's signature
Mary Rezac (she/her/hers)
Dean, Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture
Washington State University
Email: mary.rezac@wsu.edu
Phone: 509-335-5593
Twitter: @VCEA_Dean
vcea.wsu.edu

Selected responses from Voiland College undergraduate student surveys

In the following sections, I have copied some of the students’ responses directly and added some clarifying thoughts where necessary.

Overall

“(They are) doing the best they can and I appreciate it.”

“(They) are doing great right now.”

“My professors adjusted project requirements, assignment due dates, office hour times, and exams. I don’t think there’s anything that can be done to make the situation better.”

“At this point I don’t really think there is much else besides what they are already doing, now it just comes down to waiting the whole thing out and trying to stay positive with what we are working with.”

“You guys are doing great! I really appreciate it. Mental health is my next worry, especially for seniors who are going through existential crisis due to graduation and isolation doesn’t really help. I know a couple of friends who are going through this and I don’t know how else I can help them apart from listening. You know, internships are being cancelled, commencement is postponed- so they won’t get proper closure- and anxiety surrounding the effect of the virus in the economy and how that’s going to affect how easily they are going to get jobs.”

“Mental health is absolutely critical as everyone isolates. I think it would be a great idea to encourage clubs to meet online, or encourage students to spend a few minutes after class with each other and the instructor, just chatting about how things are going. In a time when a lot of people aren’t having regular social conversations, just being able to have what accounts as more or less “watercooler talk” I think might be able to go a long way.”

“It is all very new at the moment and everyone needs to be flexible. The only thing I can recommend is that professors need to be more open and understanding to make this go a lot smoother.”

“The college has done an outstanding job of being transparent and communicating quickly the rapid changes that are happening with the fluid situation.”

“The effective and efficient transition to online learning was really nice because we did not fall that far behind. I appreciate the hard work the professors put in to learn how to teach online.”

Class Structure

“Perhaps provide more content or links to information that can assist in my understanding of the subject.”

“Provide a list of topics that will be specifically talked about ahead of each lecture.”

“Please provide a better way to organize various assignments and a uniform calendar of due dates rather than having to check every link every day just to see what is due today.”

“Some professors or lab TAs do not know how to put students into breakout rooms with people they want to be with, so you just get put into a random group of people that often just keep their microphones muted and no conversations happen.”

“Record lectures, Post in class notes, find a way to require people to show up to class.”

“Provide more office hours.”

“Creating online lectures and recording lectures. I wish lectures were recorded normally. It helps with retaining information.”

“Please provide clear instructions on attending the online lectures (that you expect it to happen if at all possible).”

“Thanks to those who have posted updated syllabi and been more flexible about deadlines due to new difficulties.”

“The only professor that has made this work is my professors that has had live zoom classes. It makes everything easier and it is more open to interact. I feel like that is the only class that I am still learning in.”

Mary’s Note: Voiland College expects all classes to be held at their regular class time via Zoom and for recordings of these courses to be posted for those unable to participate synchronously.

“It’s a new environment for everyone, but I would say that becoming more familiar with the Zoom interface and establishing a standard protocol for answering or acknowledging statements would make things better. There’s a chat window, a yes/no response system in the ‘participants’ window, and then there is the audio/visual of the webcam/mic. People respond across all three. It’s generally too much for one person to observe and respond to in a timely manner so it slows things down and creates a little confusion.”

Mary’s Note: I encourage you to recruit a secondary instructor to actually be present in your class to help manage this. Undergraduate research assistants who may be somewhat underutilized right now are succeeding in this role in many units. Depending upon class size, you may want to eliminate one or more of these options.

Accessibility/Proactive Engagement

“They have made me feel welcome.”

“Give more options to ask instructors questions outside of class.”

“Some professors can be more proactive in reaching out to students like sending an email before class to expect what is to be learned in the video lecture and so on.”

“They could host optional Q&A sessions with entire class essentially.”

“The professors were responding to emails very promptly.”

“Kept informing us about the transition and other useful information during this stressful time.”

“Be ready to answer a lot of emails.”

“Some professors have not been good at communicating with students: no emails and not being available to answer questions. There has also been a lack of availability.”

Mary’s Note: Please understand that we need to communicate via multiple channels right now. If you think you’ve done enough, do more. Students are nowhere near saturated with regard to communications.

Grading/Assessment

“It’s hard to have most homework and even some test questions be all or nothing on points.”

“Possibly create a buffer for grades, like lowering the grading scale for courses ie, 91 being an A or something of the sort. Maybe get rid of the minus grades for this term.”

“Stop assuming every students is dishonest, we don’t all cheat.”

Mary’s Note: We each have to balance academic integrity without insulting our students. Most students are fundamentally honest and to suggest otherwise is offensive. If you have questions regarding on-line exams, proctoring, and academic integrity, please contact Associate Dean Sivakumar.

“The online quizzes through blackboard take time to get used to.”

Mary’s Note: Please recognize that this is a new skill and have realistic expectations of your students.

Communications

“There have been lots of emails about how the college is adapting programs and advising and that’s important to me.”

“Constant updates have been nice. Without the good communication from WSU and Voiland it would have very difficult to figure out this transition.”

“Email more free resources that are available to students that they could take advantage of like adobe for example.”

“Give more access to help such us tutoring help online.”

Mary’s Note: Please refer your students to the on-line resources available by following the COVID-19 links on the Voiland College home page.

Technology

“The eecs server is not accessible through wifi from where I am now so it’s extra hard for me to submit my homework through eecs gitlab.”

Mary’s Note: Try to use Blackboard for all file / homework submissions.

“Make sure everyone is able to use the software required. Not everyone has access to
software from their own computers.”

“One thing that I am missing is access to the ANSYS program. I have a loaner laptop from the library, but only MATLAB is available. I am not allowed to download ANSYS to the loaner laptop because a message appears that I am not an administrator.”

“Everyone using Zoom helps. I don’t know if it’s the best system, but consistency is nice. All the professors are utilizing blackboard for assignment submission now, rather than trying to have us email documents.”

“The transition has been very smooth. Being able to remotely access computers on campus for SolidWorks has also helped the transition.”

Mary’s Note: Students and faculty have a wonderful IT support structure that is available to assist them. Reach out to them- they are here to help you.

VCEA IT

Find VCEA IT support in a Live Zoom Room. You can always reach VCEA IT by creating a support ticket, by email at support.vcea@wsu.edu, or by calling 509-335-6773.

You can also visit their one-stop-shop website for all things Zoom, Blackboard, Teleworking, etc.

Crimson Service Desk

Students and faculty also have a wonderful resource through WSU’s Crimson Service Desk. Students can get Live Zoom consultations from WSU computer experts 8 a.m.–5 p.m. M-F by joining https://wsu.zoom.us/my/crimsonservicedesk.

Technical assistance will also remain available via: