Credit: File Photo | Mustang News

How flexible are your instructors? To what extent do concerns about finances impact your ability to work or study remotely? One Cal Poly professor wants to know. 

In an attempt to gather more information about the challenges of remote learning, the College of Engineering recently sent out a survey hoping to gather insight about the educational disruption due to COVID-19 and the resilience of students in the department.

Leading the study alongside her colleagues is professor Lizabeth Schlemer. She has worked at Cal Poly for 26 years and researched engineering education for decades. 

“I’m interested in how people and systems adapt,” Schlemer said. “I am also extremely interested in issues of equity. It is obvious that those with fewer material resources are suffering more during this time and I would like to be able to highlight this too.”

The study gathers data from the College of Engineering, Computer Science, and Technology at Cal State Los Angeles and the College of Engineering at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. The survey description states that this study will continue to collect data for up to four months, potentially sending 10 surveys to students. 

Students were asked to rate on a sliding scale from zero to 100, their stress levels, class engagement, access to resources, financial concerns and the flexibility of instructors before and after campus closures. The study has sent three surveys, collecting over 2,000 responses. 

Materials engineering freshman Elisa Horta said she felt it was important to respond to the survey.

“I think that it is really impressive that the department is asking us for our opinions and valuing our feedback,” Horta said. “I hope now that they actually use this data to solve the problems we are faced with and not just sweep it under the rug.”

Manufacturing engineering senior Morgan Cameron echoed Horta. 

“It makes me feel like they genuinely want to see how the students [and] faculty are doing and how their feelings and motivations have changed.”

Engineering students who responded to the survey on both campuses have reported lower institutional effectiveness and engagement, increased stress, expressed difficulty working from home and reported other mental health concerns, Schlemer said, adding that the results from the study will continue to be shared with deans at both colleges. 

While Cameron said she wished the survey asked more about what student’s hoped for in the future from the department, she appreciated the opportunity it gave her to reflect.

“I feel like we have all been so distracted with what’s going on in the world,” Cameron said. “[The survey] made me actually accept how drastically different the quarters have been.”

Schlemer and her colleagues have submitted a proposal to the National Science Foundation under the Rapid Research Response funding program. They hope to continue to further their research and perform in-depth interviews if funded. 

“Those of us who work in higher education have been changed by our own necessity to work remotely and by the loss of connection with the students,” the proposal reads. “We also know that we are privileged to be even wondering about the impact while some among us are struggling with financial devastation, mental health crises, and the COVID-19 virus’s medical impact. Through this proposal we hope to learn more deeply about resilience and inequities, with humility.”

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