Online Teaching in the Time of COVID-19: Academics’ experiences in Norway
The digitalisation of teaching accelerated at record speed in the wake of the physical closure of universities and university colleges in Norway on 12 March 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis. This report is based on a survey of academic teachers in Norway and their experience with the first three weeks of full digital teaching in this period.
The questionnaire was sent out to members of the Facebook group Digital Teaching in Higher Education and we received 172 responses, with significant qualitative content. A mixed methods approach of quantitative and qualitative analysis was used to analyse the results. The report documents what has worked in this period and identifies concrete needs and challenges for the immediate period, building on the survey findings and literature about online teaching.
- The Zoom Revolution. Despite little experience, academic teachers in Norway have embraced quickly online teaching. Only 30% reported having any previous experience with online teaching, yet 80% now use the video-based software Zoom. Other programmes used included Microsoft Teams, YouTube and Powerpoint Recording. Canvas is surprisingly not the most used software programme even though it is the ‘official digital platform’ in most higher education institutions in Norway.
- Significant level of interactive online learning. Many teachers sought to use various interactive forms of learning. While pre-recorded lecturing is used by most, many used live streaming (40%), discussion (57%) and break-out groups (40%). Teachers who used live formats reported the highest expectations concerning better learning outcomes. Discussion and group work in break-out rooms is also a popular form of activity, but concerns are raised about limited follow-up on students’ work.
- Involuntary teaching reform. The abrupt transition to online teaching meant many changed their teaching methods, and 35% reported that their teaching methods changed significantly. Those that commented in this part of the survey were often positive about the innovations, but it varied dramatically. Positive changes included more varied and interactive teaching, organised seminars and smaller group discussions, use of discrete modules and polling software, and more space for written communication and performance of tasks in advance of a lecture.
- Collegial competence building and self-help. Many turned to self-help to manage the transition with 70% using online resources and 80% trying things out themselves. However, obtaining support from others, including colleagues, ranked very highly. This included Facebook groups (over 50%), close colleagues (33%), live tutorials (33%), IT-staff (31%), colleagues with technical competence (26%), an academic digital coordinator (25%) colleagues with pedagogical competence (13%) and a pedagogical centre (13%). The limited use of pedagogical support must be further examined (and is possibly increasing now) but an emerging community of practice is positive.
- Challenges abound. The number of challenges reported was relatively high: 74% reported more than two challenges and only 13% no challenges. A quarter found the overall transition difficult or very difficult and this was highly correlated with the number of needs and challenges.
- Technological challenges and pedagogical insecurity were the main issues identified in setting up online teaching; as well as concerns over data privacy.
- COVID-19 lockdown-related obstacles were frequent: appropriate space at home, care of children and illness, lack of equipment and difficulty in organising practical or lab-based activities.
- Digital overload and pressures over psychological health. Many noted the lack of important direct contact with and feedback from students and colleagues.
- Academics in the natural sciences and junior academics appear to have had an easier transition to teaching online than other categories of respondents.
- Online learning takes time. Many found it difficult to learn new digital technology and software programmes and re-arrange course design on such short notice. Ensuring sufficient time for adjusting to complete or hybrid digital learning was a priority for many.
Recommendations (Short version)
Based on the findings of this survey study and their interpretation, we provide at the end of the report a range of recommendations – reproduced here in their summary form.
- Request necessary changes to your course plans to accommodate challenges generated by COVID-19 lockdown.
- Design your online teaching and the learning activities in this period in an informed manner – adjust goals, content, activities and ensure contact with students.
- Seek help if you do not master the basic functions of the relevant tools or have the necessary technical equipment and software
- Structure your digital teaching in a plain and clear manner, following pedagogical principles for online learning.
- Create a diversified teaching plan, which includes different types of activities and addresses needs of various students.
- Increase the interactivity in teaching and divide it into smaller and specific activities.
- Ask for feedback from the students on how they experience digital teaching and what should be adjusted.
- Facilitate questions and activities also in writing – some students feel much more secure if they can do it in written form.
- Provide clear information to the students about your teaching plan, the activities that are offered and the expectations you have of the students who participate.
- Assess your teaching plan against any changes to the form of assessment.
To faculties and study administration
- Ensure an accessible and reliable digital infrastructure and technical support.
- Make pedagogical expertise available, both at the institution and on other arenas (online).
- Make sure that all academic teachers are pedagogically equipped to provide digital learning, by offering training and tailored pedagogical guidance.
- Time was indicated as a factor playing an important role when preparing and ensuring the quality of online teaching – ensure that academics have sufficient time to prepare their online designs.
- Ensure a detailed and good flow of information about available infrastructure, resources, guidelines, support and training opportunities (both for digital and pedagogical competence).
- Work to ensure that forms of assessment correspond to the digital tuition that is given and take account of the challenges students and academics face during the COVID-19 lockdown.
- Develop (or detail) a strategy for online and blended learning, both for short and longer terms.