Planning for Instructional Contingencies

Surveying Students About Their Ability to Access Digital Learning Environments

August 2020 Update

Since our March 2020 pivot, many colleagues have created and shared surveys cued to different instructional needs. We’ve included some of these surveys below.

Have you designed a welcome survey that your peers might benefit from? We welcome your suggestions and examples! 

  • The UW-Madison Collaborative for Engineering Education and Teaching Effectiveness has created and shared a 2020 Fall Survey Template for the First Day of Class with a series of questions and even an importable template you can adapt.
  • In his online Spanish 311 course, UW-Madison instructor Erwin Lares sends a course welcome survey to learn more about his students’ learning needs. Recognizing that many students are taking his course while living in other states and countries, he invites students to share the time zone they will be working in for the majority of the course and what times of day they prefer to complete coursework. He also asks students to share when they might be able to attend office hours during the week. Asking these questions separately is one way of honoring that students have varying responsibilities and preferences that may affect their availability to attend office hours or contribute to group discussions.[1]


March 2020

Multiple instructors have kindly shared the questions they are using to ask their students about their ability to access online learning environments. Andrea Kaston Tange shared initial questions with educators on Twitter, to which Lauren Cagle, Danya Glabau, and others responded with adapted versions of the survey to suit their own learning environments.
We’ve included versions of this survey language below in case you find it useful to adapt. Where the original survey questions included references to other universities, we’ve added UW-Madison references.

Note: Members of the Collaborative for Advancing Learning and Teaching at UW have adapted aspects of the surveys below to our own institutional context. If you would like to duplicate and adapt a Google Form based on these questions, you can do so by clicking this linkStudent Survey: Considerations for Online Learning and Teaching.

Introducing The Survey – Different Approaches

Approach 1: Andrea Kaston Tange‘s introduction

If at some point, campus has to move to remote or online learning and teaching due to public health efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many things may be affected besides just your classes. There will, of course, be anxieties about travel, about loved ones who are far away, about income from work on campus or off, and about many other things. I will do my best to make space for discussions of those concerns and to help direct you to resources as I am able and as things evolve. For now, this is simply a preliminary survey so that as I am thinking about contingency planning, I have a clear idea of your needs, your access to technology, and your concerns.

Approach 2: Lauren Cagle‘s introduction (adaptation)
Anonymous Survey: Considerations for Online Teaching/Learning


I know what challenges I might face in shifting our lectures, discussions, activities, and peer reviews online, but I don’t know what challenges you face. As I adapt my instructional plans, I want to be sure to account for any challenges, needs, or barriers you have in relation to online learning.

Feel free to answer fully anonymously. There is also a question at the end where you can voluntarily share your name if you would like to be identified, perhaps so we can address specific concerns you have.


Sample Survey Questions

Lauren Cagle shared the following survey questions (an adaptation of Andrea Kaston Tange’s questions).


1. Do you have your own computer (or unlimited access to a computer) that you can use for things like class meetings, readings, and peer review?

Please do NOT assume you can rely on the library or public/uni computer labs, as they may be overburdened with demand and/or closed due to ongoing social isolation measures.

This question asks about private, not university-owned, computers.

    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. I have a computer I can use, but not unlimited access to it
    4. Other [preferably there would be a text box here for students to enter answers, but the Canvas LMS we use doesn’t support that, so Question 6 asks for more details][2]


2. Do you have reliable internet access from your home, dorm, or other location you might reasonably be in case face-to-face classes are cancelled?

I’m mainly concerned with minimal internet access here, e.g., for checking email and downloading/viewing readings. I’ll ask about more intensive access needs like video streaming in the next question.

    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. I don’t know
    4. Other [preferably there would be a text box here for students to enter answers, but the Canvas LMS we use doesn’t support that, so Question 6 asks for more details]


3. Are you willing and able to use Google Hangouts or another free video/audio-conferencing platform that would enable us to meet virtually by all logging into the same call at a set time?

The service would work by me setting up a meeting and then sending you an invitation to your UW email. To join the call at the appointed time, you would just click a web link. Depending on the platform we use, you might have to download software.

Please select all the answers that apply.

      1. Yes, I have reliable internet and a computer with video/audio capacity.
      2. Maybe, I’m not sure if my internet and/or computer can handle it.
      3. No, I don’t have adequate internet access for this kind of use.
      4. No, I don’t have access to a computer with audio/video capacity.
      5. Other [preferably there would be a text box here for students to enter answers, but the Canvas LMS we use doesn’t support that, so Question 6 asks for more details]


4. If you cannot join a real-time video conferencing class session, for any reason on a given day, what seems to you a good and accessible method of approximating class discussion and/or conducting full class peer reviews?

Please check all the things that you would be willing to try.

        1. posting/reading responses to a discussion board
        2. participating in a small-group online real-time chat that could be scheduled w/ a few students
        3. using Google docs to group-write discussion notes or peer review responses w/ a few classmates
        4. watch videos of lecture and respond via individual writing assignments
        5. read peer’s drafts on your own and write reviews individually


5. Given the learning goals of this course, and the ways our classes have typically operated thus far, what suggestions do you have for making remote/online classes work well?

If you anticipate having any barriers to taking our class online that haven’t been covered in this survey, please let me know here.

If you answered “other” to any of the above questions, this is a great place to let me know. I also welcome your insights on accessibility issues should we have to move the course online.

[open text box answer]


6. Is there anything else you would like me to know, as I am thinking about contingency planning, in regards to this course, your situation, or whatever needs you might have to finish classwork successfully?

This includes, of course, class-related things, but may also include other aspects of your situation that will affect your ability to participate/succeed. For example, if you’re an EMT, my guess is your workload is gonna get a lot heavier real quick.

I might not be able to directly address your needs, but I will work to support you and connect you with whatever resources I can.

[open text box answer]


7. ONLY IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO, for any reason, feel free to share your name here so I can match your answers to you.
If you do not write your name here, your responses will be anonymous to me.

[open text box answer]


Further Resources for Instructors


  1. MTLE collaborated with the College of Letters and Science on some of their Guides for Remote Instruction, including one on Supporting Students. We've drawn our description and our links to Erwin's survey from this guide.
  2. Note: Google Forms does support this kind of response--it may be a useful alternative.


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