Student Learning Loss

Teacher online as seen when looking at a computer screen.

With Covid19 came a huge faculty transition, with those who had never taught on-line forced to make a sudden and unexpected shift to distance teaching.  The transition focused on shifting course content online quickly, with speed of transition as the main goal.

Because of that, and because of the multiple layers of stress (including stress outside the classroom – Do I have enough toilet paper?) students find themselves feeling as if they did not get the best education.  The words I hear most often from everyone (Faculty, Staff, and Students), when looking back at the last year and a half are “unmotivated” and “distracted.”  It is estimated that 500,000 students did not enroll in college this Fall in the U.S., partly because students are tired of the disruptions in the education they are getting.  We see that drop in numbers here in Alaska as well.

As we transition back into in-person courses, we need to remember that all students have been affected by the last couple of years.

Masked students who are socially distanced in a lecture hall
  • Freshman – High school is a different experience than college, but when you factor in how their High School careers ended, this is going to be a bigger transition. We need to help these students understand the expectations of engaging and learning in a University environment.
  • Sophomores – These students are stepping on campus for the first time! Do they also need a “new student” orientation?  Sure, they have a year of College under their belt, but there is still a lot that is new!
  • Juniors – These students had one semester before everything went sideways on them. This has been a surreal experience.  They probably have a mixed relationship with the University, so we need to reorient and reconnect with them. 
  • Seniors – Like the Juniors, these students got a good year and a half of a real college experience. These students have stuck it out and have shown resilience through the pandemic, but how do we make them life-long learners?  We need them to know that their experience is not normal, that education is worth the effort, and that the hurdles they have overcome make them a very special class of student.


We are back on campus, but does that mean we are back to normal?  We need to listen very closely to students, and make them partners in our process of identifying issues and developing solutions.

Here are some approaches you can take as an instructor to help students:

Still shot from movie War Games with Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy sitting in front of a computer
  • Formative Assessments – The concentration should be on Formative Assessments and less on Summative Assessment. If your student assessment consists of a mid-term and a Final exam, you will need to look at ways you can evaluate and give frequent feedback to students.
  • Take a “developmental” approach with your assessments, and not a “gotcha” approach. Using the method of trying to catch students getting something incorrect will not motivate them to their best work.
  • Collaborate and get to know your students! “The presence and quality of our relationships may have more impact on learning and development than any other factor.” (The Science of Learning and Development Alliance, May 2020)
  • Make learning relevant to the students. For example, a reference to the movie War Games may seem appropriate, but your students probably have never heard of the movie.  (A 19 year old student was born in 2002, so to catch pop culture references since they turned 13 would start in 2015!!!!!  Wow, do I feel old!!)  Again, know your students.  A course full of non-traditional 30+ year olds will be different than a class of 18 and 19 year olds.
  • Focus on the needs of the students. With the last couple years in mind, you made need to help students find learning resources, like the UAS Learning Center in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka.
  • Also, use the EAB system to help students who might be falling behind. Watch for students who are not logging in to your course, as well as those not getting work in (or are having trouble with the work they do turn in).  Students may not seek help on their own, so give them a hand to find the resources to help them.

One More Thing

The impact of Covid19 on students has been intense, and this is especially true of students of color and lower income students.  That does not mean you need to lower your standards for these students…actually the opposite.  Use the steps I outlined above, and make sure that expectations are clear.  Again (and I can’t emphasis this enough) build a relationship with your students.

Sign that says, "Building relationships with students is by far the most important thing a teacher can do.  Without a solid foundation and relationships built on trust and respect, no quality learning will happen."

I hope you find this post helpful.  Have a great weekend and I’ll see you next Friday!