Teaching and Learning in Times of COVID-19

The coronavirus caused a sudden shift to online learning. After two months of online education, what have we learned thus far and what should we keep in mind as we prepare for the next academic year?

As a diverse group of early-career teachers and researchers from a broad range of disciplines across Utrecht University, the members of the Utrecht Young Academy are acutely aware of the significant changes and challenges to university teaching brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. Teaching professionals and support staff at Utrecht University have done a wonderful job of responding to this unprecedented situation.

Nevertheless, during this time of uncertainty there are important points for teachers to keep in mind as we near the end of this academic year and prepare for the next. The Utrecht Young Academy believes that there are five areas in particular that merit immediate and concerted attention: 

1. Online teaching is not a substitute

At the moment we are all discovering, many of us for the first time, the range of digital tools available for distance learning. Even though we should take this as an opportunity to reflect on traditional forms of teaching and how we might change these in the future, it is important to recognize that there can be no substitute for face-to-face interactions and in-person teaching.

2. Listening to students’ needs should be a priority

It is vital that we consider the vast diversity of our students. Many of them will be facing familial, economic and medical situations that will make it difficult for them to focus on their studies. In addition, not everyone will have a computer of their own, they may not have access to a quiet space to study, or may have limited internet access. One of our main priorities should be to listen to the needs and interests of students.

3. Safeguarding the quality of our programmes is crucial

It is clear that the learning activities we have organized now for our students are not always aligned with the intended learning outcome, especially for courses that would have taken place in site-specific environments such as hospitals or labs. If students are not achieving these intended learning outcomes, we need to consider how we can maintain them at program level.

4. Addressing growing inequalities in academia

It is critical that we think about inequalities in academia, both for students and teachers. From the students’ perspective, it is important to keep in mind that some students are financially vulnerable, and from a teacher’s perspective, it is imperative to recognize and discuss the disparate impact of the changes on those with larger teaching responsibilities, temporary contracts, greater home and care responsibilities, and those who have stepped in to help colleagues. We need to tackle a range of issues, such as preserving a healthy work-life balance, evaluating performance and its consequences and how the current workload will impact other responsibilities and tasks, such as research duties and leadership roles.

5. Taking steps now to prepare for the near future

It is imperative that we start thinking about how to organize teaching and learning activities conform to new rules of social distancing. This may mean smaller groups, translating into fewer contact hours between teachers and students, or more blended learning environments.

If you are interested in engaging further on these issues, please contact the Utrecht Young Academy at uya@uu.nl and find us on Twitter