Uppsala University conducted two surveys – one geared towards the teaching staff and one geared towards the students – to find out how they perceived the rapid changeover to digital distance learning and, not least, to be able to improve the quality of teaching.

The survey of teaching staff was sent to 3,447 individuals (including doctoral students) and had 963 responses, which is a response rate of 28 percent. Of the students, 8,291 responded, which is a response rate of 28 percent. Work to analyse the open answers is ongoing, and an in-depth study is planned for the autumn.

The results of the surveys have been distributed in the organisation, and will be used as a basis of development work.

Satisfied with the digital tools – but increased negative stress

The results show that just over 60 percent of the responding teachers feel that they were able to conduct their digital distance learning activities in a satisfactory manner to a high or very high degree. A further 32 percent responded to some degree, while five percent responded to a low or very low degree.

As many as 73 percent of the teachers also feel that the digital tools they used worked satisfactorily to a high or very high degree.

When it comes to conducting examination elements online, one-fourth chose the response Don’t know/Not relevant, likely because they were not involved in examinations during the changeover. However, approximately one-third of the responding teachers indicated that the examination elements worked satisfactorily to a high or very high degree, while 17 percent indicated that they did not work particularly well.

More than half of the respondents, 56 percent, also feel to a high or a very high degree that they received sufficient information in connection with the changeover.

A majority of the teachers experienced an increased workload, 42 percent, with an additional 37 percent indicating it was to a much higher degree. Just over half of the respondents also experienced increased negative stress, while 37 percent indicated that the changeover did not affect their stress level and just a few, 8 percent, even experienced a decrease in negative stress. When asked whether the changeover to digital distance learning affected the teachers’ experience of loneliness in their work situation, just over half indicated that this was the case, while the rest indicated not at all and a few indicated that they experience a decrease in loneliness after the changeover.

Students more stressed

When it comes to the survey of the students, a large proportion of them indicate that they experience a significant increase in negative stress in association with the changeover. Just over one-third indicate that the changeover has not affected their experience of negative stress, and one-fifth perceive a decrease in negative stress. A large proportion of the students (68 percent) also indicate that they experience increased loneliness in their study situation.

“Given how quickly campus instruction changed in March, it is gratifying to learn that over half of the students nonetheless indicated that the digital distance learning worked satisfactorily to a high degree or very high degree. Only 16 percent of the students chose one of the two most negative alternatives,” comments Åsa Kettis, Head of the Division for Quality Enhancement.

“However, the increased negative stress and loneliness is concerning.”

The survey also included space for free text answers, and work to analyse these responses has begun.

“The variation is great. Some students greatly appreciated certain digital elements, while others felt the very same elements worked very poorly,” says Åsa Kettis, noting that such positive and negative reactions cut straight through all of the University’s programmes and are not specific to any particular subject or disciplinary domain.

Elements that worked well

Some recurring themes have been seen:

  • Recorded lectures – much appreciated.
    Many find it beneficial to go back and repeat things, and would like to see it become the norm for on-campus courses. The disadvantages relate to technical quality, with e.g. poor sound in the recording, but most complaints relate to it being more difficult to ask the teacher questions in connection with the lecture. However, some teachers anticipated this and scheduled open question and answer sessions in Zoom – an element that consistently receives high marks from the students.
  • Lectures, seminars and supervision in real time (via Zoom) have worked well.
    Students working independently and writing their thesis seem particularly satisfied: the set-up has worked exceptionally well. The Zoom seminars that divided students into smaller groups, called breakout rooms, seem to have worked particularly well. However, a large number of students find online seminar discussions to be problematic: less lively, spontaneous and engaging than on campus. However, there are also students with the opposite opinion, who feel they are able to express their views better in online discussions. Lectures via Zoom, in real time, are appreciated – but there are problems related to some teachers’ lack of technical skills, trouble concentrating in the home environment, Zoom fatigue, and unstable connection.

Negative viewpoints from students

Some critical viewpoints related to information and communication in the course. Complaints about unclear course structures, too many information channels, lack of coordination between teachers, and inconsistencies regarding where course material is made available, are not uncommon.

The other area relates to practical elements (clinical exercises, laboratory work, excursions, etc.) that were completely cancelled or replaced with online variants. There is clear concern about knowledge losses and how to regain this knowledge.

Other things that bothered the students in the spring:

  • Contact with other students and with the teachers deteriorated (2/3 of the on-campus students experienced increased loneliness in their study situation).
  • Group work has been made more difficult.
  • Examinations have been poorly adapted, and the workload of the courses and the difficulty level of the examinations have increased disproportionately (while others think that the quality has actually decreased).
  • Reduced study motivation.

Positive viewpoints from students

On the plus side, it is particularly clear that many students like the flexibility, being able to decide over their time to a greater extent and, in combination with the reduced travel time, having greater space for self-studies – something many have longed for.

“Overall, the students still seem satisfied with most of what occurred during this spring’s changeover. But it is impossible to ignore that it has been a very tough change for both students and teachers,” comments Åsa Kettis.

Development leading into the autumn

Based on the results of the survey, some things may be worth addressing before the start of the autumn semester courses.

  1. Give clear and detailed information to the students regarding how practical elements should be performed and, where relevant, caught up on. Overall, better structured information and communication are needed.
  2. Check the total workload, which, inter alia, should result in greater use of asynchronous working methods with greater flexibility for both teachers and students.
  3. Develop the examination forms.
  4. Give teachers increased teaching and technical support to work with recorded media.
  5. Develop working methods that e.g. include time for “small talk” in connection with online learning in order to strengthen the bond between the teacher and students and between the students.

More tips for autumn instruction can be found here.

Support for the University's teachers will be adapted based on the survey results. The Vice-Chancellor has also advertised extra development funds for further development of digital instruction.