Student Experiences Learning with Technology in the Pandemic

Least Effective Use of Technology

Every bad student experience with technology is bad in its own way. Students' worst technology experiences in their courses last fall were all over the place but generally fall into one of three very broad categories: (1) explicit technology issues, (2) attempts to use technology that failed, and (3) poor pedagogical choices and course management practices. The explicit technology issues include such things as:

A second set of negative experiences are the product of instructors' attempts to use technology that falls short of the mark. These include but are not limited to things such as:

  • The use of unofficial platforms and too many external applications or sites
  • A lack of instruction, guidance, and/or support for activities such as breakout rooms, discussion boards, and collaborative assignments
  • The administration, proctoring, and collection of exams and other assessments1 
  • Not planning for the technology limitations to teach certain subjects (e.g., music, dance, wet labs), to accommodate disabilities, or to meet the learning needs of all students

Finally, students' learning experiences were undermined in myriad ways by poor decisions in the delivery and management of courses. On the pedagogical side, students complained of long lectures with massive slides decks, a lack of instructor engagement, little to no technological support, unsatisfactory communication with students and feedback on assigned work, assignments with little scaffolding or connections to learning outcomes, a lack of or underdeveloped class plans and agendas, and generally trying to replicate face-to-face experiences in online learning environments. The problems students had with aspects of course management should serve as an object lesson in things not to put students through, especially in a pandemic:

  • Instituting camera-on policies
  • Telling students that tech issues, including internet access and connectivity, are not acceptable excuses for late work or absences
  • Ghosting students who attempt to contact via email
  • Imposing strict deadlines with severe penalties for late work
  • Failing to maintain the pages in the LMS for the online course
  • Refusing to accommodate and/or belittling students with disabilities
  • Creating Byzantine processes and picayune rules for the completion and submission of assignments
"I hate that this instructor doesn't really understand the problems technology can have happen. I heard a lot of stories of people getting points off for attendance because of campus connectivity issues."
Male student, age 20
"The proctored exams are horrible. I have to log in to [the application], then it scans my computer, and it opens the test, which starts the timer, then it asks me to scan my room/area where I am and it asks for my license or a picture ID. This is NOT right that this is being done while the timer is going for my tests. I did not finish a test because of messing with [the application] and I could not get it to load right the first go around. I was so flustered when I finally got to start my test that my concentration was not there. Not right as a student, and not what I pay for."
Female student, age 44


  1. For more on the use of proctoring applications in higher education, see Royce Kimmons and George Veletsianos, "Proctoring Software in Higher Ed: Prevalence and Patterns," EDUCAUSE Review, February 23, 2021. ↩︎