"I miss meeting my students in the classroom" is a sentiment that many of us have voiced since the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset and switch to remote teaching.
Seven months after our rushed transition in late March, teachers and students have adjusted – albeit imperfectly – to this new normal. Digital spaces have replaced the face-to-face meetings where, "B.C." (“Before Corona"), much of our students' learning used to take place. Teachers give live lectures and seminars via Zoom, pre-record talks and host digital Q&A sessions, and do remote supervision. Students rely on tools like Google Docs, Office 365, or Dropbox to collaborate.
Vaccines are being developed, but a return to the old normal, physically meeting our students in the classroom, seems a long way off. We believe (sort of) that one day students and teachers will again meet in Annedalsseminariet. At a recent 'seminar on educational quality,' the Social Sciences Faculty at the University of Gothenburg asked us to consider which of the new tools, techniques, and learning activities that teachers and students have used during remote teaching might be worth keeping, even after we have returned to campuses and classrooms.
Most of us have achieved (some degree of) adequacy in recording audio and video content. Many of us have created asynchronously-available pre-recorded lectures that we combine with real-time discussion/Q&A sessions via Zoom. Whether we recognize these activities as a "flipped classroom" or not, they offer distinct pedagogical advantages.
1. Students can listen to recorded lectures on their own terms, according to their schedule, and revisit elements/parts that they did not understand. They can also re-review a lecture when preparing an assignment or a final exam. Students appreciate the "flexibility" of pre-recorded lectures, and feel secure knowing that they can simply listen again if they are worried their notes are inadequate.
2. The real-time discussions are interactive. Students produce their own questions, which requires that they have listened to and reflected on the recorded lecture and the course literature. Teachers also produce discussion questions, which like lectures, guide the students toward concepts and issues, and demand active consideration and discussion with peers. Finally, the interactive quality of digital face-to-face time means that teachers learn more about "where students are" and what they need, and can address learning directly.
3. The digital platform offers communication channels for all kinds of students, those who are comfortable speaking in front of a large group and those who are not. The latter can write their questions and comments in the "chat" and thereby contribute to their own and others' active learning.
This setup has advantages in a few different scenarios. For example, in courses that entail practical or technical elements, such as data analysis software, a pre-recorded lecture would allow students to listen and review the basic functionalities of the software several times. The in-person meeting could then focus on specific challenges that came up, or consist of a "test" application/analysis in small groups, who could then report back on how it went. Similarly, pre-recorded lectures on classic texts, like Edward Said's Orientalism or Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality, might create more space for interactive learning activities that deepen our students' understanding of said texts. Such recorded materials could be used multiple times, which – in the long run – would save time for the teacher and free up resources for other learning activities.
Another area where pandemic-induced necessities might result in positive long-term change is supervision of group assignments and degree projects. B.C., remote supervision was more of an emergency solution when supervisor or supervisee was unable to attend a physical meeting. After Corona (or "A.C."), perceptions of remote supervision have changed markedly. Via Zoom (or Microsoft Teams), teachers and students can discuss writing and research projects with minimal transaction costs. The supervisor can give feedback and feed forward while, for example, traveling to conferences or collecting data. Supervisees, who might have accepted an internship position or moved back to their hometowns whilst completing their degree projects, have similar advantages.
More importantly, Zoom supervision allows supervisor and student to look at the student's writing together through the "share screen" function. Simultaneously looking at the text facilitates close attention to and critical discussion of it. This increases intellectual proximity, despite greater physical distance.
The pandemic has been a challenge, but it has also allowed us (however little we chose it) to take a new look at what we do and how we do it. Let us be the first to say it: some of the new ways of doing things that Corona forced upon us actually lead to better teaching and learning. Let's keep those going, even A.C.
This post emerged from discussions during the 'seminar on educational quality' organized by the Faculty of the Social Sciences at the University of Gothenburg on October 22, 2020. We are grateful to seminar organizers, Sylva Frisk and Agnes Nurbo, who encouraged us to lift our gaze from our current situation and focus on what lies ahead. We also thank Christel Backman, Ann-Marie Ekengren, Mikela Lundahl Hero, Lisbeth Segerlund, Erik Andersson, Beatrice Hedly, and Peter Johansson for an inspiring exchange of ideas.
Arne F. Wackenhut has a Ph.D. in Peace and Development Research and works as an Adjunct Lecturer at the School of Global Studies, where he is coordinator (utbildningsledare) for the B.A. Program in Global Studies. Twitter: @AWackenhut
Maris Boyd Gillette is a Professor of Social Anthropology and coordinator (utbildningsledare) for the BSc. Program in Social Anthropology.