WUSA's Teaching and Course Quality Survey Results

Teresa Tan
Student Research and Policy Assistant
Fri, 12/18/2020 - 14:30


The Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association (WUSA) recognizes that the transition to remote and online learning is an unprecedented event, and students and instructors alike are facing challenges with this change. As a result, WUSA has been working to identify, understand, and improve the remote and online learning experience for all.   

In October, WUSA surveyed students on their experience following the University of Waterloo’s transition to remote and online learning. This survey was guided by the University of Waterloo’s Strategies for Remote Teaching. The overall goals of this fall survey were to hear more on students’ overarching experience with remote and online learning, whether instructors were following the strategies provided, assessing the effectiveness of the guidelines, and determining how else instructors and WUSA could support the academic success of students.  


WUSA’s Teaching and Course Quality Survey was emailed to all currently enrolled undergraduate students in October 2020. It was sent to a total of 36,880 students, and achieved a response rate of 8.9% and completion rate of 5.8%. Just over 94% of respondents indicated that they were taking at least one course in the fall 2020 term.   

The survey was divided into sections, starting with questions about students’ enrollment (i.e. whether they took classes in the spring term and if they were taking classes in the fall term). Following this, the survey asked students about their workload, instructor engagement, motivation, their preferred learning methods, accessibility, general improvements that can be made, and ended with demographics.   

Through careful analysis of these sections, we have developed several key findings.   

  • 49.2% of students indicated they did not have the opportunity to talk to their instructor about how they could be better supported with remote or online learning in most of their courses.  

  • 45.8% of students indicated they spend more time on remote or online courses, compared to on-campus ones.  


  • Motivation in courses varies, for all, but students most commonly indicated that they are motivated for few of their courses (27.3%).   

  • This correlates with the results of IAP’s spring survey, where they found that 72.6% of students identified a lack of motivation as a major challenge  

  • The top two preferred lecture methods, at 38.9% and 38.5%, are having live lectures which are recorded and available later, and having pre-recorded lectures, respectively.  

  • 61.1% of students felt that instructors were not doing enough to support accessible learning in the transition to remote or online learning.  


The following are recommendations that WUSA suggests instructors implement to address the gaps that students have identified, as well as improvements students themselves identified in the survey:  

  • In addition to regularly collecting feedback from students, instructors should strive to immediately implement improvements rather than saving it for a later term, to ensure the students who provided the feedback feel their concerns are being heard and addressed.  

  • Maintain a similar workload (e.g. number of lectures, readings, assessments) as previous in-person courses. Learning remotely or online does not mean students have more time; some students have indicated they actually have less time due to the pandemic and current living circumstances.   

  • Keep lecture videos under an hour. An overwhelming majority of students (76.5%) indicate that they can only focus continuously for under an hour, with some answering their focus lasts for under half an hour. More specifically, like the University’s Strategies for Remote Teaching, WUSA recommends providing shorter lectures in chunks, while keeping in mind that an hour of in-person classes does not actually amount to a full hour of instruction.   

  • Provide a number of different mediums for lectures. Many students felt their learning styles were not supported because their courses had no audio lecture component, or others had no transcript or captions for videos. In-person courses almost always include both an audio and visual component to lectures, and there is no reason as to why this should be different with remote or online learning.  

  • Offer an option for students to view lectures at a later time, if they are unable to attend live lectures. This is especially important with current circumstances, when everyone’s schedule is unique and many students may be living in different time zones.  


  • Post course materials in advance at a consistent day and time each week. This helps students plan ahead and be able to keep up with their workload, and doing this also makes for better course organization overall.  

  • Provide greater flexibility for assessments, such as having soft and hard deadlines for assignments, dropping the lowest assignment grade, providing alternative grading schemes, and having exams open for a window of time rather than a specific time.   

  • Communicate clear explanations of course content and make it clear what’s expected of students in assessments, including allowance for collaboration. Unclear explanations and expectations can be detrimental to students’ learning, and instructors are encouraged to answer in a public manner (e.g. Learn post, class email, Piazza post) any questions students have, even if they feel the answer should be obvious, as it may not be to everyone.   

For those who are interested, the full report can be found on WUSA’s website. The report is titled Fall 2020 WUSA Teaching and Course Quality Survey Report.