A sample of Fulton-Montgomery Community College courses offered during the fall of 2020 shows the school saw a major spike in the withdrawal/failure rates for some courses during the remote-only learning phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
The FMCC Board of Trustees conducted their monthly meeting Thursday via Zoom. The board reviewed the college’s “Annual Assessment Update January 2022,” a report which looked at academic performance at the college during the 2020-21 school year.
FMCC Associate Provost for Academic and Student Success and Assistant Professor of Chemistry Laurie Lazinski presented the data to the trustees.
Lazinski said a sample of classes used for the assessment report showed a big increase in the withdrawal/failure rate for students who took Introductory Chemistry. She said the rate for students taking that course in the fall of 2020 was 51%, roughly double what it was in the previous fall, before the pandemic, when only 26% withdrew or failed.
The difference in the withdrawal/failure rate for a class called “Database Design and Programming” saw a large jump in the fall of 2020. Data showed a rate of 8% during the fall 2017 semester, then three fall semesters later it was roughly four times that at 36%.
Lazinski said remote learning in the fall of 2020 was a big part of the increased withdrawal/failure rates for some FMCC courses.
“Factors that played a role in student learning during [the remote only period of] COVID-19 included technology issues and just dealing with virtual learning,” she said. “Not having to be in class at a certain moment led to students having time management problems, and not watching their class lectures on video. Also, work schedules, family issues and even getting COVID themselves all impacted their ability to complete courses.”
Remote learning didn’t negatively impact all aspects of student performance for every class. U.S. History courses were all taught fully remote for the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021, and data collected for the report showed there was an increase in the number of students meeting or exceeding the “General Education Learning Outcomes” metrics used by the college during those semesters than previous years.
Lazinski said, during a normal school year, U.S. History students at FMCC would have had three hours of in-person lectures per week, but during remote-only learning the requirement dropped to one hour per week of non-mandatory synchronous class instruction via Microsoft Teams’ video conferencing program. The weekly one-hour Teams class was recorded and available for students to watch if they missed the class, as were other pre-recorded lectures. Lazinski said, although class participation was down, learning outcomes for the classes still went up, perhaps in part because students were allowed to use their notes and the Internet while taking the virtual tests for the course.
“This is believed to be because students — No. 1 — had more flexibility in testing, all of the assessments were virtual, they had their notes, and instead of going to class for an hour, taking that multiple choice test and leaving, they were given multiple days to take the one-hour [test] when it was convenient to them,” she said. “They also had flexibility in when they watched [the course’s] pre-recorded lectures.”
However, the assessment report showed showed students did better with the virtual portion of hybrid classes during the fall 2020 semester, which featured a combination of remote and in-person learning. One such course was, “Anatomy and Physiology,” which included remote instruction and testing, but also included in-person practical lab work every other week or every third week during the semester.
“Students were only getting in-person lab time of one-half to one-third of the normal time they would be in the classroom,” she said. “Students also didn’t have their resources with them when they were in-class taking those exams, so there was a marked decrease in those assessment grades.”
Lazinski told the trustees that the college is hopeful that since in-person learning was restored this past fall, and will continue this spring, that student performance will rebound to “pre-COVID-19” levels for the college’s next assessment report.