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The onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic affected higher education in a myriad of ways. One of the most notable effects however was the rapid and sudden transition of nearly all courses at most institutions to an online environment. And while there are a growing number of courses offered online already, this transition to nearly 100% remote education presented numerous challenges for instructors and students of face-to-face and hybrid style courses. Since student perceptions are closely tied to recruitment and retention, it is important to know if there are differences in student perceptions present in the way different courses are taught. This study extends the work of other authors that have investigated student perceptions by looking specifically at how the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed student views of course difficulty and quality both overall and across discipline or institution categories. Course evaluations from 837 courses from 191 different schools archived on were used in a general linear model where a statistically significant overall decline of 6% in perceived course difficulty and 4% decline in perceived quality was detected. In addition to calculating this mean decrease, courses were also categorized on the basis of academic discipline (Business, Engineering and Mathematics, Humanities, Natural Sciences, Social Sciences), institution type (2-Year, 4-Year), and whether instructors had previous experience teaching online courses (No, Yes) to determine any variation in differences that may have appeared as a result of more nuanced details in course type or delivery. Most notably, declines in course difficulty were slightly more apparent with instructors that had no previous online teaching experience. No other discipline, institution type, or teaching experience interactions were detected with either difficulty or quality variation. These data suggest that there were very real changes in perceived quality and difficulty but that these changes were largely universal irrespective of discipline, institution type, or prior experience teaching online (with exception of course difficulty).


© The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature B.V. 2022