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Students and teachers share their stories on distance learning due to COVID-19

Better than expected, but not without its challenges, especially socially. That’s how a couple of our students and staff tell the story of how we went from campus education to distance learning methods in a matter of days.
Our students and teachers share their stories on how to learn and teach in Sweden during the coronavirus outbreak.
Our students and teachers share their stories on how to learn and teach in Sweden during the coronavirus outbreak.

Wednesday 18 March. The campus is still open to students and staff, but from now on very few, if any, lectures and group assessments are to be held here. Not today, and not during the next few months. The precautions in the wake of the coronavirus have effectively made all higher education institutions to go online from today on. Lund University School of Economics and Management is no exception.

Wednesday 1 April. Two weeks have passed. Along with it, online lectures and digital exams. How has it all worked out? We took the chance to ask a couple of teachers and students.

This is their story of teaching and learning during the spring of corona.

Katharina Möllers, student at the Bachelor’s programme in Economy and Society

Katharina Möllers

It did not really take a great effort for me to change from campus-based learning to a more remote situation since most of the literature for our courses come in the form of articles that are uploaded on our learning platform Canvas and I can work from home quite easily. Moreover, the platform we are using for our lectures (Zoom) was really easy to install and it did not take long to figure out how it works overall.

The online lectures over Zoom have worked really well so far. I would have not expected this change to work out so smoothly from the student’s as well as from the teacher’s side.

In one of our courses, instead of having regular Zoom meetings, we get provided with videos together with a PowerPoint presentation which is also a good way of teaching, although it is easier to get distracted since one can simply pause the video and it is up to oneself when to actually take the time to watch the lecture. I am excited to see how group work will be managed digitally since its usually nice to meet your group in person. However, I am confident that it will be fine since most of us are used to work with digital tools anyhow. 

Usually, I am a big fan of studying at school or at Ideon since it is so easy for me to get distracted at home. These days, however, I prefer to stay at home. I live in an apartment with a very nice kitchen where the sun shines right through the window in the morning, which makes it a perfect place to study while enjoying my coffee and breakfast.

That being said, it is for sure a strange feeling to not be going to the university for lectures anymore. This, I realised even more after our first online lecture with many of my classmates who have returned to their home-countries abroad or their family homes in Sweden. As a person, it has clearly made me appreciate the small things in life, even if it is just a hug in the morning with my friends, a short catch up during the lecture break or the habit of leaving the house early. The significant role of school as a social part of our lives has not been that obvious to me before. 

As a student, the remote style of studying requires you to be much more self-disciplined, especially when there is not even a Zoom meeting to attend. This can at times be quite difficult, but I believe it also teaches us to work more independently. Moreover, I too enjoy being able to structure my day as I like and to decide when I want to fit in my studies.”

Gerardo Arroyo Andonaire, MSc Managing People, Knowledge and Change student, currently writing his master’s thesis

Gerardo Arroyo Andonaire

The good side of this ‘remote learning’ approach is that it allows one to be totally independent to manage your own schedule and rhythm. The downside is that talking through a camera all the time can feel very cold, and you cannot connect profoundly with people when you want to share your arguments.

The Master’s in Managing People, Knowledge and Change encourages us to work in different groups in order to prepare seminars for the different courses. The thesis degree project is not an exception as it is a work in pairs. Debating with your thesis partner and your supervisor trough virtual platforms can be a bit uncomfortable because of the limitations. Nevertheless, with some patience and creativity, everything is possible.

Nowadays, I’m mostly studying and working from home. I only have to go to the campus for books and printing. But to be honest, I miss the student life, because it really is the beautiful characteristic of the Lund learning environment. The cancellation of the graduations at the end of term was also very though news, even though it is totally understandable.

In general, I would say that this sudden change of lifestyle and learning style hasn’t impacted me so much because our generation is used to use different technological tools. However, we miss the human interaction because this is essential for the learning experience process.

This is a confirmation of that the future of the learning should have a blended approach. Nowadays, we have developed helpful tools to support students and teachers to make the learning process run more smoothly. Nevertheless, it is critical to have spaces when people can interact and show their ‘soft’ skills, because at the end we are going to work in different organisations where it is relevant to have the capacity to be empathic towards each other.”

Carla Paladines Martinez, MSc International Marketing and Brand Management student, currently writing her master’s thesis

Carla Paladines Martinez

I did my last exam on 13 March and in that way the transition from campus-based learning to remote hasn’t been that big of an effort to make. Our meetings with our thesis supervisor has to be done online, as well as the interviews we will have to do for our thesis.

Our first meeting with our supervisor worked perfectly, it was like having a regular meeting in person. The picture I’m sending is from an online meeting we (class representatives) had last week with our supervisors from the different tracks from my master. One of the class representatives was the community manager of the Lund University Instagram account last week and she posted a picture from our meeting as a story.

The most difficult part of all this is that all the sudden you feel trapped at the other side of the world, without being able to see your family. It is definitively super important to maintain regular contact with family and friends back home (in Ecuador for my part) and the friends I made in Sweden. I try to focus on the things that you can control, in my case, continue with my thesis, clean the house, do laundry and follow the recommendations. It’s difficult times for everyone, but let’s pray that this situation ends soon for the wellbeing of everyone.”

Xiao Yang, MSc Innovation and Global Sustainable Development student, currently writing her first-year master’s thesis

Xiao Yang

At the moment I’m writing my first-year thesis [MSc Innovation and Sustainable Global Development is a two year’s master programme], so I just need to meet my supervisor online every two weeks and discuss it. Besides, my Swedish course in SFI has also switched to distance now, and we can book time with our mentor if needed, or study at home according to the study plan.

I heard from some of my friends who have regular distance courses that it took some time for everyone to get used to the online model, but that it works better now. Maybe it will be an opportunity for the university and everyone to integrate into the digital era. I myself spend more time at home now, but I still go to libraries and study there.

I have less leisure time with my friends now, but it's also a good opportunity for me to spend more time focusing on my studies and things I always have "no time" to finish, like puzzles, books, and painting! Besides, it makes me realize that there is no standard solution or answer for everything, and we should think about more possibilities. Fortunately, I see many people offer help to everyone who may need assistance, and that is really sweet!”

Karin Bergman, Assistant Study Director and Senior Lecturer in Economics

Karin Bergman

I am one of two teachers in Macroeconomic theory and economic policy, a sub-course in the introductory course in economics. The decision to go online came after the course had had its first two lectures.

We have now had computer labs through Zoom, where the students have worked on their computers in ‘break out rooms’ and the teaching assistant has moved around in the rooms answering questions. This worked really well. So far, we haven’t experienced anything that hasn’t worked out, but I think that with time we will see that some of the things that we have done, didn’t work well for the students.

I think we have done quite a good job in going online this fast, but I really miss meeting the students in the lecture hall every day. In that setting, it is much easier to follow their progress and to understand what they find difficult.

The biggest effort that we had to do was to move the course from our old learning platform Live@Lund to Canvas and to record lectures. The move from Live@Lund to Canvas wasn’t only hard because of a new learning platform, but because it was hard to find a good structure for online teaching and because it had to go really fast (since the course was on-going). At the same time, we had to record lectures and this takes some time.”

Ulrika Wennersten, Senior Lecturer in Business Law

Ulrika Wennersten

A big challenge was rethinking, adjusting and adapting to teaching online, all in a very short time. However, the biggest challenge for me personally was that I teach in a lot of different faculties at Lund University, and all faculties are not using the same learning platforms and programs for online teaching.

I think the transition overall has worked surprisingly easy. It was a lot of programs to learn and not all are designed for online teaching. My learning curve has been steep in the last week. However, I have to emphasize that without the support from our director of studies, programme administrators, teaching colleagues, head of department, and communication’s officer Anna Löthman all this would never have been possible!

I am working from my office some days and from home on other days. It is sometimes a bit crowded at home with one son home from upper secondary school (gymnasium) and two sons home from the university. Those days it is perfect to be able to send my lectures from the office. In sum, it works out quite well.

Today, I talk to a computer with small squares with names, and cannot 'read' the auditorium. Today, I hope for comments in the chat, and cannot see that a student wants to ask something. Today, I cannot have small talks with a student I meet in the building and ask how the next course is going. I hope for a soon tomorrow where I can meet our students again. A university is nothing without the students present. I miss them in every sense! I even miss trying to get from EC2 to EC1 through a crowded EC3 [buildings at LUSEM].

When all this is over, we and the students must have a discussion and evaluation of what works for teaching online (flipped classroom) and what is better pedagogically to teach face-to-face. Now when we have made the transition, we should stick with the good experiences.” 

Markus Lahtinen, Lecturer in Informatics

Markus Lahtinen

For the time being, I am starting an undergraduate course on group dynamics as well as starting up the online-supervision of the bachelor’s students in informatics.

I try to think a bit before acting, trying to think about what works remote and what doesn’t work remote – from the student point of view. I do think it is tempting to consider online as an overlay to the physical campus activities, meaning the campus-activities are forced into a digital format by brute force. However, replacing a typical 2x45 minutes lecture with a 2x45 minute's online lecture isn’t really going to work. The biggest challenge is quickly finding meaningful activities for the participants; activities that harness the potential of working remotely.

I gave a remote lecture last week as part of an event that was supposed to be held in Stockholm, but instead went digital. It was a three-hour-long session, and the result was decent – but far away from optimal. Having a microphone and earbuds in your ear gives an echo in the head after three hours of talking. Also, it hard to see the response of the participants.

For real-time video lecture, I would recommend to keep it down to max one hour and make sure you have a break after 30 minutes. I would recommend 30+10+30 minutes for a lecture, meaning 30 minutes talk, 10 minutes break followed by a final 30-minute session. Also, digital forces you to speak slower – you will not be able to cover as much ground as in face-to-face lecture halls.

Consider Marshall McLuhan’s adage ‘The medium is the message’ – think about what is unique about remote and digital compared to a traditional campus. That will unlock some insights. Then design the teaching activities with a relentless focus on making them meaningful for the students.

Finally – consider that the more choices we have in communicating, the harder it becomes to communicate. What’s the implication? While it is advisable to let faculty find their own method of teaching, management is still advised to set a standard toolbox. Something along the lines, ‘At this workplace, we use the following three communication tools …’. From there on, it is up to staff and faculty to innovate based on that set of tools.”

Read more: LUSEM’s information about the current situation


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