At the end of the spring semester, the Centre for the Advancement of University Teaching (CeUL) conducted a survey study in which students and teachers at Stockholm University answered questions about their experiences of online teaching in the course of the semester. A total of 3,937 students and 637 teachers responded to the survey.

Major challenges for students

This past summer, CeUL presented the initial findings of the study. They indicated that online teaching has presented major challenges for students. 50 percent of students found it easier to keep up with their study planning when teaching is campus-based than when it is conducted online.

Although 92 percent of students felt comfortable using the digital technology necessary for their studies, several factors made participation more difficult. The most important factor was the lack of social contact with fellow students and teachers. Other aggravating circumstances included distracting factors in the physical environment, poor possibilities to ensure good ergonomics, and health- or study-related stress.

The survey shows that online teaching led to a decline in academic motivation among students. At the start of the course, 89 percent of students were highly motivated to take the course. By the end of the course, this number had dropped to 68 percent.

New forms of examination impose greater demands

During the spring, the examination methods were altered for a number of courses. Many students thus encountered new, unfamiliar forms of examination for which they were unprepared. Nevertheless, the majority of students (85 percent) felt that the examination worked reasonably well and that they knew what was expected of them, how the exam would be carried out, that it gave them a chance to demonstrate what they had learned in the course, and that it was fair.

Increased workload for most teachers

The teacher survey indicates that for the vast majority of teachers, the transition of physical teaching to online teaching meant an increased workload. Within a very short period of time, teachers had to alter their courses in terms of both format and examination. A majority of teachers (69 precent) say they have spent more time on teaching than they usually do. Moreover, over half of the teachers replied that they had never taught online before.

Examination changed drastically

Since examination could not take place on campus, different examination methods – in most cases home exams – were necessary for a great many courses. 50 percent of teachers indicated that the exam in their course was somewhat or very different from that which had been planned for campus-based teaching. The number of teachers who conducted examination in the form of a home exam swelled from the original 21 percent who planned to do so to 53 percent. Many teachers also used combinations of various examination forms, such as compulsory course elements, participation requirements and oral tests.

Digital elements are expected to persist

At the end of the semester, 80 percent of teachers felt that they were completely or partially comfortable teaching online. Yet 58 percent of teachers say that in the future, they would generally prefer that it not be necessary to conduct the course they taught in the spring in the form of online teaching. However, a large majority of teachers believe that they will use digital tools in their future teaching. Nonetheless, many point to the lack of necessary time to develop teaching, deficiencies in their own digital skills, and shortcomings in available resources – both various digital software and equipment such as computers and microphones.

Older students had a more positive experience of online learning than younger ones

CeUL has now analysed the results further. It turns out that students’ age is linked to their experience of the spring semester’s online teaching. The students have been divided into two groups: those aged 25 or less (younger students) and those aged 26 or more (older students). More of the younger men (58 percent), as well as 52 percent of younger women, had a worse experience of online learning than older men and older women.

Younger students also described their studies as more disorganised compared to older students. According to the survey, younger men appear to be the least organised, while older women are the most organised. Overall, the analysis indicates that the majority of older female students found it relatively easy to study remotely, while the other categories did not find it to be quite so easy.

This may be related to the fact that the majority of younger students experienced distracting factors in their physical learning environment, while a minority of older students faced this challenge. In addition, more younger students than older students experienced study-related stress.

Younger students worry more about their studies

More of younger students than older students felt that they did not receive enough feedback in connection with their online learning. It also appears that younger students lost much more interest in their studies over time compared to older students. Younger students were also more likely than older students to worry about their studies in their spare time (58 percent versus 37 percent, respectively).

Klara Bolander Laksov, professor of teaching and learning in higher education and Director of CeUL, is responsible for the survey. When summarising the main findings of the study, she emphasises that older students, especially women, felt that the transition to online teaching had worked well. At the same time, younger students, especially men, experienced difficulties associated with the transition.

“It’s also interesting to note the differences that emerge in terms of what kinds of learning activities are appreciated by older and younger student groups. The results indicate that the departments should be particularly mindful about how they can take the age and gender of the groups of students in their courses into account, so that they can help the students.”

The results of the survey were sent to all departments at the beginning of September. According to Klara Bolander Laksov, several departments have begun to analyse their results more closely and discussed them at teacher meetings on strategies for developing ongoing teaching.

Workshops focusing on online teaching

This past summer, CeUL worked to establish the “CeUL Square” online platform, where experts in online teaching regularly upload new information, answer questions and share examples. A large part of this autumn’s workshop range also focuses on online teaching and course design for teaching conducted remotely and via Athena. This autumn all CeUL courses are being conducted online, and the majority of the spring semester’s courses will also be web-based.
“By participating in CeUL’s range of activities, teachers gain insight into ways to create online teaching. We’re also continuing to organise introductory or continuation courses on specific themes, such as methods that can be used when you need to activate students in a web-based course,” says Klara Bolander Laksov.

Text: Per Larsson