University teaching under Covid: the old hands and the evaders

How did teaching staff cope with the sudden switch to online teaching during the coronavirus pandemic? Researchers from the University of Basel investigated this in collaboration with Eucor - The European Campus. Their conclusion: generally well, albeit with mixed feelings.

06 October 2022

Suddenly things began to move very quickly: at the end of February 2020, the Federal Council declared a special situation in light of the coronavirus pandemic. By mid-March the whole of Switzerland was in lockdown, including universities. Face-to-face teaching was banned and almost from one day to the next lecturers had to begin teaching online.

A team of researchers from the Institute for Educational Sciences (IBW) at the University of Basel has spent the past two and a half years working with Eucor - The European Campus to investigate how lecturers coped with this abrupt transition to online teaching. The survey is part of an international study that compares the use of educational technology and the requirements for online teaching at universities.

Initial upbeat mood

The research team, coordinated by IBW, analyzed just under 800 responses from lecturers at the universities of Basel, Haute-Alsace, Strasbourg, Duisburg-Essen and Westminster. In Basel, 162 lecturers responded to the survey. It should be noted that participation was voluntary and that the survey took place during the stressful period of the first digital semester.

The analysis shows that the majority of those surveyed could be classed as digital natives, but rarely used digital tools in their teaching before the pandemic. Most of the lecturers coped well with the switch: "There was an upbeat mood," comments Tomas Kaqinari, research associate at IBW and member of the research team. "Many lecturers saw the switch as an opportunity to try out digital tools and innovative teaching methods."

Some, however, felt overwhelmed by the situation and feared that the students’ learning success would suffer. The central challenges were the higher workload and the lack of contact with students and colleagues.

Four types of lecturers

In the context of the switch to online teaching, the research team identified four types of lecturers.

  • According to Kaqinari, about 45% were "presenters": "For this group, the focus was on knowledge transfer." Content was delivered via digital tools such as Zoom or learning platforms such as ADAM.
  • The second biggest group, accounting for 22%, was made up of the "strivers" who, in addition to delivering content, strove to encourage social interaction through discussion forums and chats.
  • Of those surveyed, 20% belonged to the "old hands": "This groups already had experience of online teaching and used a wide range of digital tools during the lockdown," explains Kaqinari. "They saw the switch as an opportunity and are keen to continue to integrate technology in their future teaching."
  • The smallest group, at 13%, consisted of the "evaders". They could be described as the counterparts of the "old hands" in that they found online teaching frustrating and unsatisfactory. They limited their use of digital technology to only what was strictly necessary. "They felt that the university's technical support was not useful, whereas the more experienced described it as beneficial," says Kaqinari.

How well lecturers integrated digital learning methods into their teaching depended heavily on their self-assessment: "The more convinced lecturers were of their ability to deliver successful online teaching, the more online tools they used." This also, of course, ties in with experience. It is no surprise, for example, that the old hands were far more confident in this regard than the evaders.

Now that more than two years have passed since the lockdown, the question is to what extent the experience of the enforced switch to online delivery influences university teaching today. Most lecturers feel that both they and the university are prepared for future crisis situations. Platforms such as Zoom and Teams continue to be used, and rooms at the University of Basel have been set up for hybrid teaching. Kaqinari comments: "Today, online tools are increasingly used as a supplement to conventional teaching."