The COVID-19 pandemic forced us all to transition to remote online teaching and learning. Our research project involved conducting surveys and interviews throughout 2020 with educators and students from the Accounting and Business Information Systems disciplines to better understand this transition. Looking back what has been the experience of educators and students and where to next?
What were academics thinking?
Educators revealed how swiftly they moved to online teaching with limited training. Many deliberated how to best balance synchronous and asynchronous teaching (and what do these terms even mean?). They redesigned face-to-face (F2F) activities to fit live ‘zoom’ classes with a focus on promoting student engagement and to “allow students to talk to each other” in breakout rooms. Many had to reconsider how to best use class time as trying to “replicate the F2F classroom on zoom did not work”.
Educators were “even more determined to provide students with the best learning experience”, and found it very time consuming. Many are concerned the increased workload and stress levels are hidden from view and not factored into their workloads. This view is consistent with a July 2021 report highlighting the unprecedented ‘occupational stress’ currently facing academics.
What were academics feeling?
Educators lacked connection with students despite some insisting on ‘cameras on’ to create the visual connection present in a F2F class. Educators and students found it unnatural talking into a computer, they could not read body language and “lost the ability to circulate in the classroom and the opportunity to chat one on one with students”. This was amplified in large online classes.
Students’ engagement without a reward for participation and their diminishing motivation remain ongoing challenges. The lack of engagement made it exhausting to teach rather than energising. While not solely attributed to online delivery, as students’ fatigue and lack of motivation to invest time made it difficult to engage with their peers as they were just not prepared for class.
While a few educators experienced joy in teaching from home in loungewear (i.e. fancy pyjamas), surrounded by pets and family, many found it challenging to navigate numerous web-based platforms.
How did Students respond?
Students loved their educators’ efforts in redesigning content and materials with 90% engaging with short videos and 83% with self-study materials.
However, what type of engagement occurred and was this engagement any different to pre-COVID-19 days?
Being online, while some students enjoyed “more time to balance family, work and university commitments”, others felt lonely, becoming isolated from their peers. Additionally, group work challenged students as “working in breakout rooms is so much less effective as it takes much longer to achieve similar results”. Students also acknowledged that motivation was an issue as lack of routine or the need to be on campus promoted procrastination with “a tendency to get bored listening to pre-recorded lectures”. Outside the classroom, 50% of students found it difficult to interact with their peers and inside the classroom only 37% were more comfortable participating. This suggests educators must consider not only the content delivered but also how they make students more comfortable participating and maintaining engagement as motivation wanes.
So, what now?
Our findings align with TEQSA’s November 2020 ‘Student Perceptions of Online Learning Quality Project’ which noted a reduction in students’ interaction with academics and peers and a lack of engagement and motivation. TEQSA’s project also raised concerns around universities capitalising on the move to online learning to cut costs and reduce staffing, in addition to international students questioning the value for money with online delivery.
This is an opportunity to “think about what and how we are teaching”. Stokes (2021) suggests the focus now needs to be on design-based approaches, pedagogy, social challenges and equity issues, as emergent literature calls for deeper awareness of quality, connections, and student-centred approaches to learning.
Based on our findings, now is the time for pedagogy to drive change, innovation and the way we do things (Hodges and Fowler, 2020). To make this happen we recommend these guiding principles:
Pedagogy to drive change and build new mindsets – inter and multidisciplinary teaching and learning experiential frameworks
Social learning – rethink the future of participation and engagement
Alignment of resourcing models – stress and workload management
Updated workload models – transparency and equity
Support and training mechanisms – most educators are great in a F2F delivery mode – how to become the best in online or hybrid?
Holistic assurance of teaching and learning mechanisms- evaluation/feedback mechanisms beyond USS
Janine Coupe, Angela Hecimovic and Corina Raduescu are Lecturers at the University of Sydney Business School, working on an Accounting Foundation engaged research grant “Perspectives from Business School Educators and Students on Building and Living in the Online Environment”.