After our faculty wrapped up its first seven days of teaching online, Director of Studies Tracy Miller surveyed parents and students in an effort to discover what was working and what could be improved. The responses, gathered from 80 students and 30 parents, will help our faculty fine tune their classes and improve the overall experience. Here, Dr. Miller answers questions and shares some of what was learned.
What were your biggest takeaways from survey results?
After a slightly extended spring break, and amidst the uncertainty of the world at large, students and families alike reported being glad to be back "at school," even in an online format. Students were grateful to see their teachers and classmates demonstrating great tenacity in establishing and adjusting to new modes of learning. Families were grateful for the routine of school to be back in place and for our efforts to bring as much of Thacher to their homes as possible.
In designing our program, we had looked to research best practices for teaching and learning online. We considered what peer schools had done and took into consideration the many different circumstances that our students would be in while learning online, including navigating time zone differences. With all of this in mind we aimed to blend synchronous (time-specific) online classes via Zoom with asynchronous, independent work. The great majority of students reported satisfaction with this model. They are glad to be meeting regularly with their teachers and are also grateful that they have the independence to then "sign off" and work independently, at their own pace.
From families, we heard a lot of positive feedback about our structure and our level of communication. We know that we are partnering with students' families in new ways in this format and are eager for families to feel connected to faculty and aware of what's happening in their students' classes each week. These efforts have been well received, which is wonderful. Many parents were impressed by how confidently and independently their students were able to settle into their classes. While students by and large felt like the work, balanced between time on and off line, is keeping them quite busy, some families are eager for more structure. This is good feedback for us, and we have some ideas in place to respond to it in the coming weeks.
Finally, both parents and students reported a high level of satisfaction with the support they are receiving from teachers and advisors. Everyone is feeling grateful for the efforts faculty and advisors are making to be available and responsive, to prioritize relationships and connection, and to make sure students and families alike know that we are committed to them and here to help.
Was any of the feedback surprising to you?
I was surprised by how many students reported struggles with spending so much time each day online. It is easy to assume that digital natives like our students would take to online learning with ease. The reality, however, is that our students are used to a cadence that involves sitting outside under the Ojai sun for Assembly, walks across campus to class, early mornings at the barns and all kinds of rhythms to their schooldays that are difficult to replicate online. Students are feeling some strain in this new format for sure.
How will you and the faculty respond to these findings?
Sabina McMahon and I will be working together to gather and share more widely both the many resources we have in place to support students and the variety of programs we are offering during our 12-2 collaboration time. Our athletic director, Tyler Popa, has compiled a great list of resources for students, and offers both fitness challenges and wellness options like a school-wide Zoom yoga class earlier this week. Our mindfulness expert, Melanie Berner, has been sharing resources and offering sessions online; affinity clubs and other student organizations have been meeting and creating programs; and students are finding ways to give back to our larger Ojai community during this difficult time. We want to share these offerings with families, so they can both feel informed about campus happenings and partner with us to ensure that students are also aware of the many opportunities and resources that we have in place.
Do you have anything to add about the evolution of our online classes as we get deeper into the term and more familiar with this new arrangement?
Feedback and reflection is key as we all work together to keep the academic life of the Wchool alive and well online. Faculty will continue to seek feedback from students both through their classes and in our advising program. Sabina and I are also always eager for feedback as we continue to grow and evolve our online program.