In this special two-part blog post, we examine what Ball State students say about flexibility and how teachers can offer students flexibility so they can fit their education into their busy lives.

Our students need flexibility in their education.

As the cost of higher education has risen, the days of students managing 40-hour weeks between work and school are gone. The COVID-19 pandemic shined light on a problem that has been growing alongside the cost of education: students are overloaded and struggling to balance work and school.

Many faculty responded to the pandemic by adding more flexible structures into their courses. Even as these structures shift into a new era, students are telling us loud and clear that flexibility is critical to their success.

Part 1: What Ball State Students Say About Flexibility

In the first part of this special two-part blog post, we’ll examine data from the Fall 2022 Student Satisfaction Survey, a survey that is distributed to all Ball State students every semester (n = 3,423).

Our online students tend to be working adults (77% work full-time and another 12% work at least 20 hours) who are usually taking 6 credit hours or more (81%). It’s no surprise, then, that online students at Ball State report work responsibilities as their biggest challenge (73% report at least some difficulty). 

Our main-campus students are employed for significantly fewer hours (6% work full time and another 15% work at least 20 hours), but they offset that by taking more courses (64% take 15 or more credit hours). 

Online students at Ball State rate flexibility with assignments as their biggest dissatisfaction, with 34% being neutral or actively dissatisfied. For main-campus students, flexibility is the third biggest dissatisfaction (31%), after course materials being useful in meeting objectives and the use of a variety of non-lecture teaching methods.

Ball State student holds sign reading "Chirp Chirp!"

Taken together, the high level of difficulty with work responsibilities and the low level of satisfaction with assignment flexibility suggest that Ball State students need additional flexibility in their courses in order to be successful. 

In addition to the quantitative data, students also have an opportunity on the survey to share open-ended comments about their education. Here are some of the ways students have commented about flexibility.

Some students have had positive experiences with faculty offering flexibility. For example, one student said:

I took six classes and found that all of my professors were wonderful. I have been struggling to balance work and school this semester and they were very understanding.

On the other hand, some students have not experienced the flexibility they needed, such as the student who said:

I find it difficult to work full-time and be online full-time with only one week to complete all assignments. I had to adjust my work schedule to part-time so I could have time to complete all assignments. I am taking a semester off so I can work more.

For this student, the lack of flexibility led to them not being able to take as many classes as they would like.

One of the more common complaints regarding flexibility that students express is the ability to work ahead in courses. For example, one student said:

Sometimes work is posted too late. I have to plan my work on Sunday so when a professor adds a new unexpected assignment during the week that is due that week it is hard to be successful.

Students are also frustrated by what they see as rigid timelines for completing work in courses. As one student said:

Assignments were not posted until the week of (and several times not until Wednesday) and assignments were due on Sunday. This makes it so that people with full time jobs almost HAVE to do the work on the weekend, which is not something that is feasible always.

It’s clear from what these students are expressing that flexibility plays a crucial role in the success of students, both online and in-person. In the next part of this two-part blog post, we’ll explore some teaching practices that can offer your students the flexibility they need to succeed.

What do you think of the data presented here? What strategies do you use to offer your students flexibility? Let us know in the comments below.

Continue on to read Part 2 of this 2-part blog post.

References

National Center for Education Statistics. (2022). Price of Attending an Undergraduate Institution. Condition of Education. U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences. Retrieved July 20, 2022, from https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/cua.

  • Eva Grouling Snider

    Eva joined the Division of Online and Strategic Learning in 2021. Previously, she taught professional writing courses in the English Department, including graphic design and web development. She launched Jacket Copy Creative (now known as Compass Creative), an immersive learning course in which students helped market the English Department (and now the entire College of Sciences and Humanities). She also served as a director of advertising at a social media advertising agency in Muncie. Her interests include UDL, digital accessibility, and design. She’s often busy “hacking” Canvas to do cool things.

    eva.snider@bsu.edu Grouling Snider (she/her) Eva