Professor flexibility, recorded lectures, some positive university legacies of the pandemic

The Covid-19 closure of university and college campuses and move to online learning in March 2020 was a massive global educational experiment. Many students were severely disadvantaged and strained during the experiment, others coped and some thrived. Educators are divided on its impacts.

With international colleagues who are geography experts, I studied lessons learned during the pandemic. Taken together, the lessons may form the foundation for what post-pandemic post-secondary education could look like in coming decades. Improved educational practices could be one of the few positive outcomes from the pandemic.

“There has never been a more flexible time to be a student,” posits Terence Day, the writer of the story and an adjunct professor of Geography at Simon Fraser University.

The large-scale result is more choice for students in how they are taught with better access for more students. But realistically, the lessons will be applied in different ways by professors, academic departments and institutions to create a patchwork of unique approaches.

New forms of online learning

Specialists in online education distanced themselves from emergency online teaching at the start of the pandemic.

However, improvisation by untrained online educators produced a surprise. Our research documented how some students who had previously taken and hated online courses with slick presentations and high production values found they enjoyed a course with professors who could relate well to students online.

In these cases, topical bad jokes and a peek at the professor’s home office more than compensated for grainy video and poor sound. Some online courses that proved successful continue to be offered by some faculty, even though colleges and universities are now fully open. Students can enjoy the convenience of an online course, and connect with their professor.

Students also quickly learned that online courses don’t need to be taken from home.

My anecdotal impression from colleagues in the United States and Canada, including some B.C. colleagues at meetings hosted by the British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer—a body that oversees credit transfers between post-secondary institutions—is that online sections are filling up faster than face-to-face sections of the same course in some universities and colleges.

More online components

The online experience also informed face-to-face courses with more thought by faculty on how to engage students during a lecture.

During online learning, course leaders achieved this engagement through online discussion boards and other collaborative tools. That experience carried over for some faculty, and online learning management systems like Moodle and Canvas are now widely used in some face-to-face courses.

Reducing student stress

Student mental health became an issue during the pandemic, but there were also rising numbers of students with mental health issues prior to the pandemic. Conversations in the media also made it easier for students to talk about their challenges.

The causes of mental health issues are diverse, but student workload has been increasing in recent years and increased during the pandemic.

The transition from face-to-face classes to an online environment encouraged the addition of new assignments to courses, often in addition to the old ones. Some faculty are beginning to rethink not just how they teach, but also their curriculum.

Patchwork of responses

While administrators at universities and colleges are still struggling with post-pandemic responses, many decisions have already been made by individual professors.

Some take attendance at lectures, require assignments to be submitted on paper and refuse to record their lectures or provide copies of their slides. Others are more accommodating. There has never been a more flexible time to be a student. The Conversation


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