Global insights of studying online in a pandemic
In May, together with three other universities, we participated in an event “You’re on Mute”, our second global webinar centred around the future of education in a Covid-recovery world. This was organised following the success of the first webinar which took place in November 2020.
By sharing our findings with our wider partnership network, we hope that you can take value from our learnings for the benefit of your own communities.
Global webinar one: Taking higher education online during the Covid pandemic
In the first global webinar, students and staff from the University of Glasgow; the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research, Pune, India; and the University of Sydney, Australia focused on the experience of taking higher education online during the Covid pandemic.
Academics from across the globe shared their experiences of shifting the university curriculum from a face-to-face model to an online model. The students spoke about the reality of studying at home. Students from India cited the [un]levelling of the playing field for students from different socio-economic backgrounds with poor internet access and loss of peer support as examples. Students from Glasgow quoted Charles Dickens: “It was the worst of times, it was the best of times”. And students from Sydney enjoyed the ability to learn alongside their peers while online.
Global webinar two: the student voice
In the second global webinar, the student voice session was designed to be a reflective account by students from the University of Glasgow; Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan; and the University of Sydney. In student-staff discussions, students shared their experiences of learning and studying in an online environment during the global pandemic.
We heard in the breakout sessions about the positive and negative aspects of personal experiences and areas of practice which could be improved.
What did we learn?
The May webinar focused on providing insight in three key areas based on student experience:
- What have we learned?
- What do we leave behind?
- What next?
What have we learned?
- Preparation in advance is critical.
- New processes need to be adaptable and flexible.
- Academics are not content providers but facilitators to guide the content.
- Informal learning is harder as face-to-face conversations are not happening between staff and students.
- We have survived but we need to learn more as we expand our horizons.
- We can create online communities which allow us to teach/learn/work together.
What do we leave behind?
- The way we used to work.
- The idea that working from home is not productive.
- Our sense of panic at the beginning of lockdown.
- The traditional student teacher relationship, a new dynamic is emerging between academics and students.
- A passive approach to teaching.
- Online silences and blank screens when participants in the class choose to keep their web cameras turned off.
- A new dynamic is emerging between academics and students which recognises that all students make valuable contributions to the learning experience.
- There's room for improvement in promoting informal learning and informal interactions in a digital environment.
- Student collaboration needs to be carefully supported as it can cause challenges for some.
- Employers are reshaping expectations as students are learning the skills to interact with multiple others in multiple modes – this will increase in the future.
- How we design content, materials and teaching approaches is critically important and should recognise that students have different ways of learning and come with different experiences and different types of knowledge.
- Futureproofing and promoting inclusivity in learning and teaching means engaging in blended learning – offering both online and face-to-face teaching to the same student cohort.
When planning for the future it is worth considering what all our students bring to the learning environments. Equity and opportunity for all our students is at the heart of our pedagogical approach and we should work with our students and teachers to create an online learning environment which has a truly student-centred approach.