What lessons have higher education institutions learned from the pandemic?

| HOP, Josefine van Enk

During the lockdowns, higher education institutions had to quickly switch over to online teaching. Time now to take stock: what worked well and what didn’t?

To allow education to continue as much as possible during the pandemic, educational institutions were given space to deviate from laws and regulations. For institutions, that space was laid out in ‘service documents’. In a study for OCW, the researchers at Berenschot took a close look at what new lessons can be learned from the exercise.

Online classes

The study shows that higher education institutions don’t want to completely dispense with online teaching post-pandemic. Since the Covid-19 restrictions ended, digital teaching has been ‘largely dispensed with’, but will not disappear completely.

There are, however, big differences in the degree to which institutions want to use it, the researchers found, because during the pandemic it also became clear ‘how important the social component of teaching is’.

Accessibility

But in fact it made teaching more accessible for some students. Students with disabilities or chronic illness actually had more opportunities to participate in classes remotely.

According to a majority of the institutions, distance education had no effect on students’ study progress. ‘In general, students did not earn fewer credits, although the long-term effects are not yet visible’, the researchers write in their report.

Less enjoyment

It is remarkable that the course results did not – for the time being – suffer due to the pandemic, because distance education did not get off to a smooth start everywhere. The quality of education, according to the institutions, was ‘not immediately at the right level’. Lecturers mainly ran into technical problems. Some lecturers also ‘more often remained attached to traditional methods of teaching and derived less enjoyment from digital teaching’. Others seized on this as a chance to sharpen their digital skills.

The researchers were told that students ‘in general seemed to absorb less of the teaching material’. There was less interaction and the lecturers didn’t always know whether students were able to follow lectures and seminars, especially if their cameras were turned off. Workload also increased for lecturers because they had to keep switching between online and offline teaching.

Creative solutions

The pandemic presented an opportunity to renew the discussion around teaching. There was less talk about ‘set standards and hours’ and more focus on students’ skills and competences. At the same time, ‘institutions and experts’ saw that some programmes had trouble breaking old patterns and ‘directly utilising the space offered’.

Minister of Education Dijkgraaf hopes that institutions will keep thinking as creatively as during the crisis, he writes in a response to the study. He is challenging them ‘to make maximum use of the existing space in laws and regulations’, and encouraging them to share their knowledge of online teaching with each other.