Variation in Student Perceptions of Higher Education Course Quality and Difficulty as a Result of Widespread Implementation of Online Education Euring the COVID-19 Pandemic.

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Conference Proceeding

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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 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. This study utilized widely available course evaluations from to examine changes in student perceptions of course quality as well as difficulty as a result of this transition to remote learning. Using a general linear model of 837 course evaluations from 191 different schools an overall decline of 6% in perceived course difficulty and 4% decline in perceived quality was identified. 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 size (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 even more apparent with instructors that had no previous online experience. No other discipline, institution size, 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 size, or prior experience teaching online (with exception of course difficulty)