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March 31, 2020
by Aashir Nasim, Ph.D.
Vice President, Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success
Director and Professor, Institute for Inclusion, Inquiry and Innovation
The March 31, 2020 Climate Advisory (#CA-2020-02) is based on Climatext data collected on March 26, 2020 from a representative sample of VCU students. VCU students responded to the prompt "On Monday, VCU faculty began teaching courses via remote instruction (e.g., online). How is the transition going for you?" A total of 267 students, or 44.4% of the total sampling population, responded within 24-hours. Both actual and adjusted (re-coded) sentiment scores are presented in the summary of the findings. These findings should be used to inform strategic communication efforts and tailored support services for students determined to be placed at-risk.
Overall. VCU students expressed mixed to somewhat positive sentiment (+0.109; +0.092 adjusted) about the university’s transition to remote instruction. This overall finding validates the efforts of VCU senior administrators, faculty and staff to transition the university from in-person to remote instruction in less than two weeks. That said, there were also individual differences in sentiment scores between student demographic groups that may portend disparate educational outcomes and successes at the end this semester. This climate advisory highlights students disaggregated by their class status, housing or residence, legacy status and income-level.
- Class status. VCU freshmen students reported less positive sentiment (-0.041) than sophomores (+0.042; +0.031 adjusted), juniors (+0.073; +0.049 adjusted), seniors (+0.076; +0.062 adjusted) and graduate and professional students (+0.267; +0.244 adjusted). While student sentiment scores were not significantly different in terms of class status, freshmen students were the only cohort to express global concern (i.e., negative sentiment) about the university’s transition to remote instruction (see table to the right).
- Residence. Students residing in on-campus housing (-0.007; 0.016 adjusted) reported less favorable sentiment than off-campus residents (+0.155; +0.169 adjusted). Specifically, students who were displaced from on-campus housing during the past two weeks were significantly less likely than their off-campus coevals to perceive the transition to remote instruction as positive (p < .05). The university’s transition to remote instruction – and its parallel decisions related to removing students from residence halls – impacted on-campus residents in a manner not necessarily experienced by those students already living off-campus. It is likely the transition to an alternate residence in a matter of days for some students may have increased their anxiety and concern about how to manage their courses as well as their new living arrangements. For example, a 21-year senior residing in Grace & Broad Residence Center texted "It’s a bit of a struggle going online from home. My parents expect different responsibilities from me now that I’m home and it interferes with my time available for class work."
- Legacy status. First generation students (-0.017; -0.006 adjusted) were significantly less positive (p < .05) about the transition to remote instruction than legacy students (+0.126; +0.145 adjusted). Several first-generation students commented about missing the in-person interaction not afforded by remote instruction, and the effect this is having on their ability to stay engaged and motivated. A first-generation student shared "It has been quite the change. Personally, I find it much harder to focus and stay motivated to get my work done. It is very hard to do work back at my family’s home due to the multiple distractions." Another commented "…staring at my screen all day gives me headaches, less energy and not much motivation to work. Definitely miss the in-person connection, especially as a senior." The sentiment was corroborated by another first-generation senior who lamented "I’m struggling to find the motivation as a senior being as though I won’t be able to have my own commencement. I am also really stressed with the workload increase since moving to online classes."
The concerns expressed by first-generation students about remote instruction seemed to be most salient among those in specific majors and / or degree programs. A first-generation junior, SCI major texted "The transition is stressful to balance with working. It’s harder to keep up with assignments and zoom is so weird to use. I am not a fan of all online classes as it is hard to teach myself the material." This sentiment is shared by other first-generation students, for example those in the AFO program, as reported by this sophomore, "It’s been a little stressful and confusing. I have struggled with technical difficulties. As for art classes they are certainly less enjoyable and less creative due to the lack of environment." A first-generation, Pell-grant eligible freshman in the BFO program expressed, "The transition has definitely not been easy. I’m still struggling trying to get everything under control. Most of my belongings are still on campus. It’s also very difficult to work in the environment I’m in with my entire household here as well." Despite this, some first-generation students appear to have made a relatively smooth transition to remote instruction. For example, first-generation students majoring in BUS, ENG, and HPX report similar or more positive sentiment as their legacy peers. Data related to first-generation students’ transition to remote instruction by major and degree program will continue to be monitored (see above graph).
- Income level. Pell-grant eligible students (0.013; 0.014 adjusted) were significantly less favorable (p < .05) in their sentiment about the university’s transition to remote instruction than their coevals (+0.149; +0.124 adjusted). A first-generation, Pell-grant eligible sophomore who was a resident in Johnson Hall texted "The transition is a little bit hard, I’m so used to going to the library or somewhere quiet to study but I can’t do that here due to the quarantine." In fact, among first-generation and limited-wealth students, on-campus housing displacement seems to have had a disproportionate impact for this group. As detailed in the high-low range bar graph, first-generation students who also are Pell-grant eligible perceived their transition to be much more strenuous, if they had lived on-campus (8.6% of the total sample) as opposed to off-campus. Another student with this cluster profile stated, "In my opinion, the transition was too swift. I feel as though teachers are not really giving students time to process and adjust to the transition because they lost time and material through the extension of spring break and this whole ordeal." Another student reported, "the transition has not been the best as I went to VCU to be able to do my best in a better location and resorting to doing it online at home is awful."
About Climatext. VCU’s Office of Institutional Equity, Effectiveness and Success (IES) administers Climatext as part of the university’s proactive monitoring and response plan to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Climatext assesses student sentiment resulting from their information exposure and experiences related to COVID-19. Sentiment scores range from negative-to neutral (-1.00 to 0.00) and from neutral-to-positive (0.00 to +1.00). Climatext produces a real-time data summary for the general student population as well as student subpopulations. Data are collected and coded using proprietary software conceptualized and developed by Sam Yerkes, Jim Yucha, and Aashir Nasim. Results are used to inform the university’s strategic communications efforts and support services that address student needs.