The questionnaire that recently went out to teachers and students at Stockholm University about spring’s online teaching is now closed. A total of 3937 students and 637 teachers answered the questionnaire. The Center for the Advancement of University Teaching (CeUL) will process the survey in August and then send reports to all departments where more than ten teachers and ten students responded to the questionnaire.

Big challenges for the students

An initial examination of the student survey shows that the online teaching format posed major challenges for students. This is evident since 50 percent of students expressed that it is easier to follow their study plans when teaching is on campus than when it is carried out online.

Although 92 percent of students felt comfortable using the digital technology needed for their studies, there were several factors that made their participation more difficult. The most important factor has to do with the lack of social contact with students and teachers, which 63 per cent of the students in the survey experienced. Other aggravating circumstances were distraction factors in the immediate physical environment (45 percent), inadequate opportunities for good ergonomics (28 percent), and health or study-related stress (26 percent).

Decline in motivation

The survey shows that students experienced a decline in motivation for their studies during the spring term. At the start of the course, 89 percent of the students had a high motivation to attend the course, which dropped to 76 percent during the course and then to 68 percent at the end of the course. The motivation can be related to several different factors that appear to be challenging.

Need for more engaging learning activities

One such factor is the learning activities that the students within the course were involved in. The most common learning activities that the students experienced were scheduled online teaching (82 percent) in combination with reading course literature (84 percent) and self-study (77 percent). When students assess the value of these activities for their learning and engagement, there are clear differences: 70 percent believe that scheduled online teaching is valuable, 70 percent value reading course literature, and 56 percent found self-study to be valuable for their learning.

Of the students, 42 percent indicated that they worked in a group around tasks planned by the teacher and 28 percent of the students worked in a group outside the course. In total, 75 percent of students stated that they felt equally intellectually engaged in online education compared to campus education.

─ We do not know yet because we need to conduct deeper analyses, but perhaps the proportion of students who experienced that the learning activities did not lead to learning, and who did not feel intellectually engaged in the learning activities, can be explained by the lack of contact between the students and the teacher. Previous higher education research have shown that the processing of course content together with peers is something that facilitates students' learning. It is therefore important to help students create situations where they can work in groups even outside the formal teaching context, says Klara Bolander Laksov, Professor of Higher Education and Director of the Center for University Teacher Education. Klara Bolander Laksov is responsible for the survey.

New forms of assessment place greater demands on communication and preparation

Many courses also had to change their methods of assessment because teaching was moved online. This led to many students experiencing new, unfamiliar forms of examination which they were not prepared for. 29 percent of the students indicated that they had little or no previous experience of the form of examination they participated in. Nevertheless, the majority of the students (85 percent) felt that the examination worked reasonably well and that they knew what was expected of them, how it was to be conducted, and felt that it gave them a chance to show what they learned during the course and it was fair. However, 13-15 per cent of the students answered negatively to those questions, and 27 per cent of the students did not think that their teachers had a good idea of how well they understood the course content during the course.

Some students are more comfortable with online learning

An important question that many people have asked is how online teaching affects students to the extent to which they feel comfortable with learning online. The survey shows that about one-third (36 percent) of students felt as comfortable in the online learning format through the Zoom e-meeting service as compared to campus based learning. However, one third of students felt less comfortable (32 percent), while slightly less than one third felt more comfortable and experienced a better overall experience with the online format (28 percent). This pattern also applied to work and interaction with teachers and courses via the learning platform, which for most people was Athena.

─ It will be exciting to analyze these figures in relation to age, study experience and other background factors that certainly play a role, but also in terms of the learning activities used. Maybe different groups appreciate different kinds of course design online just like when teaching takes place on campus, says Bolander Laksov.

Increased workload and completely new experience for many teachers

The teacher survey shows that for the vast majority of teachers, the shift from on campus to online teaching, created an increase in workload. With very limited time, teachers had to change their courses, both in terms of format and in examination. A majority of the teachers (69 per cent) say they have spent more time on teaching than they usually do. In addition, a large proportion of teachers replied that they had never taught online before (53 percent).

The learning platform is mainly used for formal activities

Most of the teachers who answered the questionnaire used the LMS Athena (85 percent), and then mainly for formal communication (95 percent) between teachers and students as instructions and explanations regarding assignments. In addition, teachers used Athena to share links and materials (89 percent), and for students to submit assignments (84 percent). 70 percent of teachers also used the learning platform for feedback to students, 36 percent to various discussion boards and 20 percent to informal communication between teachers and students and between students.

─ Given that many students in the student survey pointed out that they lacked the study-social contact, it is perhaps not surprising that only 20 percent of teachers say they use the learning platform for informal communication between students and students and teachers, says Bolander Laksov.

The exam changed drastically

As examinations could not take place on campus, a great many courses needed to be examined differently, in most cases through take home exams. 50 percent of the teachers indicated that assessments were slightly or very different from the one planned for campus-based teaching. Although 21 per cent of the teachers had originally planned to give a take home exam, 53 per cent instead completed the examination as a take home exams, and from 24 per cent of the teachers planning for thesis or project work, 41 per cent completed the examination in this way. Many teachers also used combinations of different examination forms such as compulsory assignments (56 percent), participation requirements (46 percent) and oral exams (21 percent). Exams that were to be conducted in examination room went down naturally from 15 per cent as planned, to 8 per cent whom completed the equivalent at home, via Zoom. Relatively few people used "quizzes" (11 percent) so that students would continuously know how they were progressing in terms of knowledge.

─ Through increasing the use of "quizzes" or other feedback activities where teachers can follow how well the students have understood the content, perhaps more students will find that the teachers have an idea of whether they have understood the course content or not and can then support their learning even better, says Bolander Laksov .

The student-teacher interaction is decreased when online

Opportunities for interaction between student and teacher was mainly carried out at the beginning and end of lectures and seminars (92 percent), through virtual drop-in times (49 percent), via message boards and discussion boards (67 percent), through feedback on tasks (81 percent) ) and to some extent through individual meetings (38 percent). However, the teachers who responded to the survey felt that the students took less advantage of opportunities for student-teacher interaction when teaching online (49 percent) than when on campus (61 percent). The teachers also consider that the students participated less actively in discussions during the course in the online format (29 percent) than they do in the physical meeting on campus (71 percent).

─ Since the student-teacher interaction has been found to be a key part of contributing to students' motivation and learning in higher education pedagogical research, we asked questions about it in the survey. It is important to be sure to offer, but also encourage students to use, opportunities for interaction to straighten out misunderstandings and questions students may have. Personally, I think it is one of the factors that both teachers and students miss when teaching is done remotely. I think simultaneous meetings in Zoom should be used for these kinds of interaction to a higher degree, not only one-way communication, ”says Bolander Laksov.

In the future, teachers will use more digital elements in teaching

By the end of the semester, 80 percent of teachers say they feel completely or partially comfortable with teaching online. Still, 58 percent of teachers state that they would more or less prefer not to have to teach the course they taught during spring online in the future. However, a large majority of teachers (77 percent) believe that they will use digital tools in their teaching in future teaching. Many, on the other hand, point to the lack of time needed to develop teaching (51 percent), deficiencies in their own digital skills (21 percent) and shortcomings in available resources such as various digital software but also hardware such as computer, microphone and video equipment (15 percent).

─ A positive consequence of the transition to online teaching is that as many as 67 percent of teachers state that they have discussed teaching-related issues with their colleagues than they have done before, says Bolander Laksov. Bolander Laksov emphasizes that it is gratifying as higher education pedagogical research clearly points to the fact that collegiate discussions about teaching are a quality-enhancing factor of education.