It has been over a year since World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. The educational institutions from all over the world had to implement a digital learning approach to instruction.
Haaga-Helia University of Applied Sciences (HH), just like any other higher education institution had to provide distance-learning opportunities to enable students to complete the academic year. This dramatic and unexpected distance-learning approach, which replaced the traditional, in-person classroom instruction presented numerous challenges at all levels.
The transition to distance learning was neither smooth for educators nor the students. This new “normal” has impacted thousands of students and all educators at HH and millions across the world. It took time, patience and perseverance from both the ends to get to where we are today.
Last semester, HH adopted a hybrid model as the situation started to normalize. Teachers were encouraged to hold some in-person classes on campus alongside the distance sessions.
Now, looking back at the last few very challenging semesters, I would like to share my perspective of the benefits as well as challenges of distance learning both for me and my students.
Even though COVID-19 has been a challenging time for us all, many benefits have been experienced by educators and students alike regarding their teaching and learning experiences during this time.
Flexibility: This new situation gave all of us an opportunity to deliver or receive teaching anywhere. We do not have to commute to campus or be present physically inside the classroom. Students and educators have saved time and money needed to commute to campus. Working students have been able to successfully study and work at the same time. It has been a joy to save the time needed for commuting and spend that with family and friends.
Digital platform expertise: At the onset of the pandemic last year, most of the educators and students hardly had any experience working with the online learning tools that are now used so effortlessly. Teams, Zoom, Flinga and many other online tools are now used by us all with ease. We as educators have learnt new skills during this unprecedented year and so have our students.
Time-management: Students have also reported to have been able to manage time well and have had more time to complete the assignments. Many students have been able to dedicate their time to finish writing up their theses, which has been challenging previously. They have been able to manage course schedules at their own pace. Overall, educators have also been able to manage their time well and focus on different tasks at hand and many have experienced improved productivity.
Educational paradigm shift: A shift from traditional to online learning showed us that any type of course can be offered online, without any hesitation. We as educators would not have believed that this could become a reality but during the last year, we have successfully managed to offer wide-ranging online programmes. This educational paradigm shift is so impactful that it seems hard that teaching and learning could completely go back to what it was.
As the world is grappled by the COVID-19 pandemic, students and educators face unparalleled challenges each day while confronting the new reality.
Diminishing concentration and lack of motivation: Many students face a hard time to stay focused and complete their assignments. They have found it hard to perform class activities and preferred tasks that required minimal interaction with peers. It has been hard for the educators to ensure that students are actually paying attention. Teachers with children have also found it hard to concentrate, especially while dealing with homeschooling last year.
Increased workload: Most students have indicated that their academic workload increased as teachers added more assignments. Many students have found it hard to keep up with the workload. However, after becoming cognizant of the situation, educators have tried not to over-burden the students with new forms of assignments.
Mental health: Students have experienced increased levels of stress, anxiety, fear and worry. Movement restrictions, lack of physical contact with others, unemployment, increased academic workload etc. have impacted the mental health of the students. Even educators have faced stress due to working away from the campus and the colleagues, and by being restricted to their own homes. It has become extremely important to look after our mental and physical health.
Reduced human interaction: This year has undoubtedly been challenging in terms of our social life. We haven’t been able to socialize with others, which has taken a toll on all of us. With the hybrid model we tried to bridge that gap. While some students have liked to come to the campus and meet their peers, others preferred not to join the contact sessions.
Fortunately, as we all are getting vaccinated, normalcy seems to be around the corner. The pandemic has affected higher education in a unique way. On the brighter side, we have become resilient and we are way more prepared to deliver online training and teaching to students from all over the world. We have reinvented our teaching and learning methods and seem to be way more equipped with the tools needed to deliver quality online education.