Online Teaching, International Students & Specialist Programmes

The physical closure of universities and university colleges in Norway due to the COVID-19 lockdown, prompted the digitalisation of teaching at record speed. While Master of Laws students’ have earlier reported both positive adaption and specific challenges, students in the specialist programmes have received less attention.

Illustrasjon, tomme forelesningssaler

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

International and Norwegian students are enrolled a broad array of specialist programmes on criminology, sociology of law, human rights, maritime law, public international law, eGovt and ICT law. They account for 37% of the faculty’s 4000 students. International students have been a particular focus of concern in  media reports due to the challenges they face with migration, participation in teaching, and economic support.

This report, written by Gidske Dekker-Olsen and Malcolm Langford at CELL, examines general research on their experiences and analyses feedback from 54 international and Norwegian students in specialist programmes.

See full report here 

Main findings 

The main findings from the questionnaire can be presented as follows:

1) Online teaching. A majority reported that they had received online teaching that included recordings, real-time teaching, group work and/or individual guidance. The teaching was however not perceived as equal and only half received live teaching. International students raised questions regarding the prioritization of the Master of Laws programme for Norwegian students, and the lack of focus on the quality of teaching in the international programmes.

2) Interactivity. A bare majority experienced between two and seven interactive forms of digital teaching while the rest received only one or none. Students report that they want more interactive digital teaching, in particular the opportunity to ask questions to both the lecturers and fellow students, work together in groups, discuss with the lecturer and students, and have real-time discussions. Many commented that social interaction can benefit the understanding of the course material and improve engaged activity.

3) Learning outcomes. Students in specialist programmes reported worse learning outcomes than Master of Laws students. Only 40 per cent reported that online teaching during the lockdown was the same or better than ordinary teaching. The students are deeply divided about whether education needs have changed in relation to the new forms of assessment.

4) Access to literature. A vast majority of the students report using the University of Oslo’s online library, course material on Canvas, and general internet. A minority have accessed databases through personal subscription or obtained materials via their lecturers and other students. Many reported that access was insufficient.

5) Flow of information. A majority feel they have received enough information, but critique the disorderly manner and the multitude of channels used to convey essential information. Some point out that most of the information by the Oslo Law Faculty is directed at Norwegian Master of Laws students and question the quality of information given to other students at the faculty.

6) Challenges. A higher proportion of students in specialist programmes reported a lack of technical equipment (20%). This included lack of a personal laptop/computer, headphones and microphones. Many students in the specialist programmes experienced systematic challenges with online teaching due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, including care for children, illness, and adequate working conditions at home and lack of adequate internet. Other specific challenges included freedom of movement restrictions (36%), migration back to home country (14%), maintaining residence in Norway (9%) and maintaining sufficient income (30%).

7) Participation. Students in the specialist programmes express frustration over their lack of participation in decision-making. Their student representatives are not formally included in formal decision processes at the Oslo Law Faculty, and most of the discussions were conducted in Norwegian.

8) Discrimination. Our survey did not address the issue of discrimination based on nationality and ethnicity. However, other reports have indicated particular risk for international students during COVID-19. In a new survey, a quarter of students with minority background at the three law faculties in Norway report experiencing discrimination.

Recommendations (abbreviated version)

Based on existing research and student experiences, the report contains several recommendations which are aimed at responsible institutions, teachers, and students. The following is a summary:

To faculties, study administration and authorities

  1. Make sure that all students are offered adequate online education, and work to ensure that it is sufficiently varied and interactive.
  2. Ensure that the voices of international students and other students in specialist programmes are heard in formal decision-making processes.
  3. Ensure a detailed and good flow of information but in a limited number of channels.
  4. Ensure – as far as possible – that students can participate in digital learning with the necessary equipment, and that teaching and assessment take into account students who lack a designated workplace.
  5. Provide guidance to teachers and students in the use of online study and teaching tools so they can make the most of their functionality.
  6. Make sure teachers have enough time to prepare good digital tutoring that can involve lessening the strain on other fronts, access to educational resources and teaching assistants, or extra hours in the hourly accounts during the start-up phase. Provide teachers with the latitude to plan forms of assessment that correspond to the digital tutoring that is given.
  7. Ensure that international students are provided guidance on their plan of studies in Norway. It is of great importance to provide these students with the tools and support to complete their education, including focus on their mental, physical and economic wellbeing.

To academic teachers:

  1. Offer real-time teaching, as this can reduce social isolation.
  2. Structure your digital teaching in a plain and clear manner. Provide clear information which is easy to review.
  3. Vary the teaching plan between recordings and interactive parts. The use of flipped classroom is such a form to experiment with.
  4. Increase interactivity in teaching and divide sessions into smaller and specific activities.
  5. Ask for feedback from the students on how they experience online teaching and what should be adjusted. This should be done as close to the teaching activity as possible so that the students’ concerns can be faced head on.  
  6. Facilitate written questions. Not all students are able or comfortable speaking in front of a larger group of students or speaking in digital arenas.
  7. Provide clear information about your teaching plan, the activities that are offered and the expectations you have of the students who participate.
  8. Assess your teaching plan against any changes to the form of assessment. Make use of student surveys in your own teaching and keep an open dialogue.
  9. Seek help if you do not master the basic functions of the relevant tools.
  10. Aim to create a platform and culture for discussion and interaction with the students.

To international students:

  1. Structure your daily schedule as far as possible. Aim to treat your studies as a job. Create a clear divide between studies and free time.
  2. Participate as actively as you can in class. A dialogue with your lecturer about the course material eases the learning activity itself. It also creates important dialogue between students and teachers, and therefore room for your feedback.
  3. Use the digital platforms and initiate digital collaboration with fellow students. Contact your faculty/lecturer if you need help to create a platform for collaboration.
  4. Visit the institution's homepage (e.g. UiO and the Faculty of Law) to find information and tutorials about technological services and support.
  5. If you need to, please contact the faculty for technical assistance. 
  6. Give feedback to teachers if something is not working.
  7. Contact the faculty if in need of assistance related to your study plan. Keep dialogue with both your home and exchange university.


Publisert 28. des. 2020 10:19 - Sist endret 23. sep. 2021 10:22