1 July 2020

Online teaching is more than a good Wi-Fi connection and a webcam

Blended learning

Students and teachers at the University of Copenhagen can expect the upcoming semester to be a bit different from what they are used to. All faculties at UCPH are in the midst of planning exactly how they will organise a campus that lives up to all COVID-19 restrictions yet still provides a successful teaching and learning environment for students.

Naturally, fall semester planning is on everybody’s mind. How will the semester run? How many students can we have in a classroom? Will international students be able to travel to Denmark? Each faculty is working full time to plan the best possible semester in the circumstances and they might even come up with new and smart ways of teaching in the process.

Difficult as it may seem to handle these challenges, it has also sparked new and innovative stepping-stones for how we learn and how we teach. A common mantra of sorts is coming from all faculties; as much onsite teaching as possible. But students and staff should probably get used to more blended learning and that the amount onsite teaching can vary from faculty to faculty.

Should we meet in person or online?

Even though blended learning has been a hot topic in higher education for some years now, it has not been that prevalent in Denmark. Helle Mathiasen, Professor at the Department of Science Education, is an expert on learning and digital media used for teaching. She says that we should consider this as an experiment.

Photo: Colourbox

Many lecturers have never worked online before and this could have consequences for students’ learning outcome. After the corona crisis, she hopes that, being a research institution, the university will be aware of the importance of developing teaching skills within the digital learning environment. This way we will be able to assess the possibilities and limitations of digital technologies.

The more we use the digital tools, the better we become. Mie Femø Nielsen, a professor at the Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics and, according to her, the corona crisis has raised a new impending question when preparing a course curriculum or a meeting:

“Should we meet in person or online?”

She emphasizes how important it is that the university collects and uses the data of the experiences of teachers, students and administrative staff. It has not been possible to develop any best practices yet, but soon we will be able to develop a set of best practices that can generate innovation and rethinking of how we learn and how we teach.

Exploring the opportunities

All six UCPH faculties are keen to give new students a good start to their studies despite the COVID-19 restrictions. At the Faculty of Theology, Dean Carsten Selch Jensen mentions his focus on the international students:

“It’s a problem if the international students can’t travel to Denmark. At some of our departments, the international students make up half of the student population. We need to figure out how to handle a situation where some of the students on the courses might not even be in the country. We need to be able to handle both Danish and international students”.

Across UCPH, many courses will have elements of online teaching included. Associate dean at the Faculty of Humanities, Jens Erik Mogensen and Director of studies at the Faculty of Science, Karen Rønnow see the new reality of an online university as an opportunity to use what we have learned about blended learning to explore new and innovative methods in teaching, lab work etc. Associate Dean Andreas de Neergaard at the Faculty of Social Science promises that students can expect to return to campus in some form or other. To help a balanced return to the campus, the faculty has launched a new digital strategy ‘Near Future Learning’ that will enhance the quality of the necessary online teaching.

Associate dean Hans Henrik Saxild at the Faculty of Health and Medical Science expects that days will be stretched more than usual and that their will be teaching from early morning until the late evening. This will allow the faculty to divide courses into smaller classes. He also expects new elements to be added to the curricula such as live streaming and pre-produced videos.

Associate Dean Kristian Cedervall Lauta at the Faculty of Law is not worried about the difficulties of making long-term plans. He wants us to be able to live with the uncertainty and follow the nature of the crisis.

By Simone Hauskov & Aske Stick