Joakim Edsjö.

We may of course encounter setbacks, but at least we now see a future where a greater number of students can gather together. The opening-up plan presented by the Swedish Government and the Public Health Agency of Sweden on 27 May announced several steps for the lifting of restrictions and re-opening of public spaces, provided of course that the situation allows. The first step was taken on 1 June, as more people can gather at public gatherings and public events. The Recommendation on distance learning for universities and other institutions of higher education was also done away with as of 1 June. The latter prompted a University President’s decision that allows for both teaching and examinations on in person on campus this summer and to plan for a return to campus this autumn. The ever-changing conditions are obviously quite stressful for everyone, but we must be happy that the possibility of students in gathering person become a reality soon. In addition to the benefits for the teaching itself, many students would undoubtedly benefit from having a stronger student social environment now that the possibility opens up. At the same time, we need to keep in mind that the coronavirus pandemic is not over and we must continue to plan in order to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

This specific issue of the emotional well-being of students has been the focus of a recent study conducted at Lund University (Mehic & Olofsson, SvD, 2021-05-23). This study has examined 600 engineering students where one group has been partly taught in person on campus and one group has been taught entirely online. Their results can be summarised as such: the students who have been taught completely online “feel worse. However on average the grades for the group partly online and the group completely online have been the same, but the gap in grades between different student populations has widened in the online group. Female students from affluent homes in particular have achieved higher grades, while male students from low-income families have experienced lowered grades. Mehic and Olofsson interpret that it is probably because those who perform worse with online teaching do not have the same social network at the University and then suffer more from online education. These results are also in line with what emerged from CeOL’s questionnaire survey to students in June 2020. It may be worth bearing that in mind that certain student groups may need more support as we return more to on campus teaching.

We have also begun work on our action plan within the area. One point: The area should identify and benefit from the positive effects experienced by our educational programme during the coronavirus pandemic, we had as a workshop during the last GB meeting. The focus was on looking to the future, and what several people highlighted is that we will probably see persistent changes in our educational programmes and teaching methods, e.g. in the form of more pre-recorded lectures, more reflection about and consideration given to when we gather students together and why, as well as more digital elements both in discussion elements, to some extent also laboratory elements and examinations. Hybrid teaching (when parts of the student group are physically on campus and other parts are online) was highlighted by several as being a challenge. There may be courses where one still chooses to conduct the teaching in this format, for example it would be able to open things up for more collaborations within CIVIS for instance. It is most likely that some digital/online elements will also survive with the defences of dissertations. It may also be that we should, at least for a period of time, offer hybrid teaching as an option for students who cannot or prefer not to come to campus. It has also been brought up that there are challenges with digital examinations, especially if conducted remotely. It is certainly the case that a lot of the examinations will move back to taking place on campus in the future. However it may be worth mentioning that the Student Support Services/Lärandestöd sub-portfolio conducted a preliminary study concerning digital examinations during the spring. The sub-portfolio advocates that the University place a call off order for the Inspera service, which was procured by Sunet. No decision has been made yet, but I do hope that in the long term we will have a more competent digital examination solution in place at the University, both for take home exams and in person on campus examinations. There is much to be gained from digital examinations even for in person on campus examinations, not the least in terms of administration and more efficient processing with grading, even if there are particular challenges with digitalisation within the disciplines mathematics and natural sciences.

With the hope and expectation of an excellent summer, and that soon this summer/autumn we will be able to meet with students in person again.

Joakim Edsjö