UKÄ recently published its first sub-report about how the university has been affected by the corona pandemic. One aspect of this sub-reporting is the pedagogical and technical obstacles posed by the pandemic, and here five organizations summarize their views and SFS is one of the organizations. Opinions are relatively consistent on what has been positive and negative, and SFS mainly sees that the various organizations' reports circle a need for increased investments in higher education pedagogy and accessibility. In this blog post, we summarize the interim report and what SFS thinks should be done in the future.
SFS was one of the organizations that responded to UKÄ's survey, which is the basis for the report. The other organizations were the Swedish Association of Universities and University Colleges (SUHF), the Swedish Network for Pedagogical Development in Higher Education (Swednet), the Network for IT in Higher Education (ITHU) and the Coordinator Network for national funds for targeted pedagogical support. The questions we and the other actors answered were as follows:
- What pedagogical challenges and opportunities did the transition to distance education have in 2020?
- What were the technical challenges and opportunities for the transition to distance education in 2020?
- What changes may be permanent and which will cease?
On the first question "What pedagogical challenges and opportunities did the transition to distance education 2020 have?" the five organizations together have stated that the positive experiences have been that
- the rapid transition has boosted the digital self-confidence of both teachers and students.
- awareness of pedagogy has been raised.
- digital teaching methods have been developed and improved.
- The collaboration between colleagues, units and other universities has improved.
SFS notes that the rapid change has meant that both university management and teachers have seen the value of higher education pedagogy in a way that they have not done before and gained new insight into the value of higher education pedagogical and digital pedagogical competence. As Swednet comments in its survey response:
This resulted in a high workload on the higher education pedagogical units that would suddenly solve "all" problems, answer new questions and secure support and competence development of "all" teachers in a short time. At the same time, we experienced at the higher education pedagogical units that, not least in the management, there was an unrealistic belief in our competence to solve complex issues that in many cases concerned areas that were outside our areas of responsibility (and in the same way teachers were expected to solve situations where they did not own the whole question).Swednet
SUHF's writing about higher education pedagogical competence is also interesting to highlight here.
The higher education pedagogical questions and resources for that need to be brought up (again). More coordination and support is needed nationally. The transition to digital teaching is NOT cheaper, it requires MORE resources if we are also to take the opportunity to increase quality. A holistic approach is needed.SUHF
SUHF, like SFS, emphasizes that national coordination is needed in most areas so that not every higher education institution invents its own solutions to sector-wide problems, e.g. around examinations.
Regarding the negative experiences or challenges that the change entailed, the five organizations have stated in total:
- Deficiencies in transferring practical elements (eg laboratory work, artistic elements) to the digital format
- Deficiencies in students' work environment (ie home environment and workload, etc.)
- Impaired interaction between students and between student and teacher
- Major shortcomings in legal certainty in digital examinations
- Lack of equal treatment in that students have different conditions to adopt the digital pedagogy, but also that it is often financially costly for the individual
- Difficulties in adapting teaching for students in need of special educational support
- Stress and high workload among teachers
Another interesting aspect that ITHU highlights is how the focus on getting to the technical pieces has overshadowed the importance of pedagogy.
A challenge in the change has been to make the starting point in the work pedagogical. There has been a tendency for the use of technology to overshadow pedagogical ideas. Teachers largely decided which tool to use before further examining which tool was most appropriate for the situation and purpose.ITHU
SFS, like the other organizations, has seen shortcomings in the students' work environment, which in the pandemic was largely the home environment as the library and campus were sometimes completely closed. Students do not always have optimal home environments regarding size of accommodation, ergonomics, access to equipment required for homework, etc.
With regard to the technical possibilities, the organizations have stated:
- Often lack of accessibility in digital lectures which requires better technical equipment such as camera and microphone.
- Lack of technical prior knowledge among teachers and students
- Lack of supply (and expensive) with technical equipment
- Bad internet connection
- Problems with Zoom
As stated by the Coordinator Network for National Funds for Targeted Pedagogical Support with regard to the accessibility aspect of digital pedagogy
In order to maintain accessibility in digital lectures, good technical equipment such as a camera and microphone are required, as well as an increase in the skills of teaching staff in, for example, microphone technology and to create a good sound environment, so as not to build unnecessary obstacles into teaching. (…) Campus-based teaching and digital lectures that take place in real time are generally interpreted in sign language. In the period of distance education, pre-recorded lectures have constituted an unexpectedly large part of the teaching. These have been subtitled or subtitled at most higher education institutions to be made available, while instead interpretation of the films has been offered at some higher education institutions (…) The consequence for many sign language students has been that a large part of the teaching has been offered text-based written Swedish (and English). those lectures when pre-recorded become available only through text. The fact that only small parts of the teaching are given in the students' first language - sign language - can also create obstacles to the development of a living language in sign language in the subject areas in which the students conduct their studies.The coordinator network for national funds for targeted pedagogical support
ITHU stated that when the universities opened in the autumn of 2020 and when many students and teachers returned to campus, hybrid teaching was tried with both students in the hall and at a distance via Zoom. However, very few halls on campus were equipped for good hybrid teaching because it requires several cameras, microphones and screens so that everyone can see and hear each other. Furthermore, ITHU writes (see quote)
There is a great risk that the distance students feel like spectators and have difficulty speaking. Active collaborative learning in a hybrid environment places new demands on pedagogical skills, organizational learning and technical solutions. Experience exchange, new recommendations and probably also rebuilding of many classrooms are needed here.ITHU
Which of these changes do you think will be permanent and which will cease?
Here to stay:
- Digital and pre-recorded lectures and meetings
- Less traveling
- Increased collaboration within and between higher education institutions
Here to end:
- Practical steps via Zoom
- Some types of exam via Zoom
- Total lack of campus-based teaching
The majority of the five organizations believe in a hybrid approach between campus-based teaching and digital teaching. It will probably be more natural to have both meetings and certain teaching moments at a distance, which will reduce travel, several believe.
Many believe and above all hope for increased national coordination in several issues concerning pedagogy, law, organization, etc.
Swednet notes that the situation has led to the building up of higher education pedagogical research as many projects to research the current situation have been initiated. SFS sees this as very positive.
SFS's final reflections on the compilation of the corona pandemic's impact on pedagogy
SFS notes a great deal of consensus and many wise views among the five organizations that answered UKÄ's questions about how the university was affected by the pandemic. All in all, it is possible to see several positive effects but also a number of negative effects.
SFS sees above all that the pandemic has reduced the need for a major investment in higher education pedagogy and a special boost in terms of pedagogical support measures for students in need of special pedagogical support. When the pandemic is over and new teaching arrangements will be introduced at many higher education institutions and educations, the pedagogy needs to maintain a high quality and not least be adapted to students with functional variations.
The experiences of the pandemic strengthen SFS in the belief that we focus on the right things in that we have higher education pedagogy and accessibility as focus issues for this year and give us great motivation to continue working with these issues.
SFS wants to see, among other things:
- That all teachers can take part in a digital higher education pedagogical boost with time in their services for pedagogical development and that the higher education pedagogical development units and networks receive strengthened resources to meet this demand
- That the higher education sector via SUHF develops a national strategy for higher education pedagogical development and that the University and Higher Education Council is given a promotion assignment for higher education pedagogical issues.
- That the Swedish Research Council be strengthened in its role to promote higher education pedagogical skills by establishing a graduate school and ensuring that there is a professor of higher education pedagogy in the educational science committee.
- That higher education pedagogical development is more clearly included in the national quality assurance system.
- That research students get better opportunities for high-quality higher education pedagogical education.
- That the University and College Council be commissioned to investigate the pedagogical support measures and their quality in order to produce a national definition of what is meant by pedagogical support measures and a standardized minimum level for pedagogical support.
It is not possible to wait any longer, but it is time to act now to ensure that all students receive the education they deserve. Not least for the individuals themselves, but also for Sweden's future supply of skills and role as a nation of knowledge.