The Covid-19 pandemic at Arcada – some impressions
The outbreak of the pandemic in the spring of 2020 forced all universities to convert all teaching to an online format at short notice. At Arcada University of Applied Sciences, the situation was seen as a unique opportunity to gather data about how the shift was experienced. Data were collected during two weeks in May-June 2020 through a web-based survey containing both closed and open-ended questions. The survey regarded the lock-down period from mid-March to end-May. The survey was completed by 1,035 respondents which counts for 39% of the students and 71% of staff.
Some highlights from the closed questions:
– The lock-down contributed to loneliness among students, perhaps partly because peer support was lower among students compared to staff.
– Teachers reported that they did not change course workload or course requirements, whereas students experienced a light increase in both.
– 85% of the teachers assessed their pedagogical preparedness as good (4-6 on the scale 1-6).
– 87% of the students and 84% of the teachers assessed their technical preparedness as good.
– The access to pedagogical and technical support that had been extended in an agile manner was highly applauded by the respondents.
– The correlation between preparedness and access to support indicates a problematic circumstance where those with poor skills do not find their way to the support resources.
– The use of openly available material increased, indicating an under-utilized potential.
– The access to IT-tools among both students (=5,19) and staff (=4,80), as well as the internet-connection (4,43 and 4,71 respectively) was good (both scales 1..6).
The open-ended responses were examined regarding content to identify emerging thematic areas. As classroom tuition was excluded, there was a call for new learning activities. Due to the sudden shift, most lectures were simply moved online and in general, this was appreciated. Many students felt that interaction was easier online, and the possibility to vary the format using so-called breakout rooms was appreciated, provided that the group task was clear and relevant. In general, activities that contained a reflective aspect were experienced as meaningful.
The responses contained numerous comments about the pros and cons of webcams. It was often emphasised that the use of webcams contributed to a sense of community. Still, webcams were not always activated, and teachers complained about speaking to a screen full of “black rectangles with initials”. The students’ responses were divided: some of them felt the same as teachers whereas some felt presenting without seeing the audience as less stressful. In some discussions in the higher education sector, the use of webcams has been suggested as an intrusion on one’s integrity. The issue is complicated, since e.g. in exams, the university needs to carry out some kind of supervision. This calls for a clarification of the rules, and currently a national study administrative group is working on a template to be applied at all universities.
It is apparent that online communication will change and even distort the interaction among humans. The delay, the lack of visual cues and non-verbal signals requires more attention and a new way of interpreting the others. Thus, one of the conclusions emerging from the material is that we need to deal with a new kind of communicative competence, which applies for both students and teachers.
A report regarding the results will appear as an Arcada Publication towards the end of 2020.
Arcada 2.10.2020