Many people are concerned about the quality of education in universities during a pandemic. Different surveys were conducted to find out how the pandemic has changed education. The main conclusion is the undesirability and impossibility of a complete transition to distance learning because this leads to a significant decrease in the quality of education.
The vast majority of the teachers surveyed agree with this and believe that it is impossible to transfer all disciplines online. At the same time, half of all students who participated in the surveys are ready to continue studying in a mixed format. This frees up time and makes it possible to combine study with work and other activities. And many universities believe that this format will soon become a daily reality.
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Pandemic highlighted the problems
And those educational institutions that, even before the pandemic, introduced online platforms and tested distance learning were the winners. It was not the pandemic that affected the quality of education; like an x-ray, it highlighted the problems in higher education: the strong became stronger, and the weak became weaker.
The same opinion is shared by the majority of the representatives of secondary and higher educational institutions. Thus, the headmaster of one of the most successful private boarding schools in the UK, Brighton College, Steve Marshall-Taylor, compared the pandemic with a magnifying glass, which revealed all the pros and cons of modern education. It became clear what methods no longer worked and what needed to be changed. Interactive learning, combining traditional classroom activities with new forms of online knowledge transfer and all the possibilities of modern technologies, is the best that can be offered now.
The pandemic has pushed to development of new teaching methods. Universities have used different methods in teaching before, and now the hybrid model will allow them to diversify and enrich individual courses and programs. Some universities have gone even further, believing that education in its former form will never be. Thus, the leadership of the Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) is confident that the future belongs to inclusive, interactive, and personalized learning, combining all existing formats into one.
What opportunities did distance learning open?
The closure of the school, the lack of communication, and the usual extracurricular activities have become a real test for students. And even now, when universities have almost completely returned to regular studies, some of the anxiety and nervousness caused by Covid has remained. But at the same time, the schools saw many advantages in the more widespread use of technology.
For example, online parent-teacher meetings are a big plus for those who are far away and cannot attend them. And video lessons can be very useful in cases where the child needs to repeat the material or, for some reason, cannot attend school. Now they have access not to fragmentary knowledge from various sources but to full-fledged training.
Pre-recorded university lectures also elicited a rather positive reaction from students. Many appreciate the fact that they can be viewed at a convenient time and in a convenient mode – dwelling on difficult moments, taking notes, and reviewing as many times as you like. Students like that lecture notes can be used to prepare for exams instead of studying mountains of educational material and literature.
The main advantage of online learning is the flexibility of classes. Basically, students created the schedule themselves and studied at their own pace and order. Students also noted easier access via the Internet to teachers, who can be “disturbed” not only during official admission hours. And they spoke in favor of maintaining these and other useful innovations after returning to full-time studies on campus.
The acquisition of new skills by both teachers and students can also be considered a positive lesson of the pandemic. Teachers had to accept the challenge and not only master technological innovations but also look for other approaches and pedagogical methods. As the executive director of the Queen Ethelburga’s Collegiate British private school, Daniel Machin said, “the most difficult thing was to adapt online learning for students with different abilities and interests and choose individual motivation techniques.”
Pupils quickly acquire skills that are useful for adulthood. Covid taught schoolchildren more self-discipline and self-organization, the ability to overcome and achieve, to believe in themselves, and become stronger.
What does distance learning prevent?
It is obvious that the leaders of education, the strongest and most prestigious schools, and universities, which have had the resources to survive the past two years without significant losses, can mainly talk about the advantages of the pandemic. The overall picture is not so optimistic.
Research conducted in different countries in 2021 showed that the vast majority of students are dissatisfied with the quality of virtual education. Half of the British students surveyed by the National Statistical Office of the United Kingdom said that their academic results deteriorated during the pandemic. 70% of German students experienced problems with focusing attention and perception of educational material.
Students of those specialties, the development of which requires practice, direct transfer of knowledge from a mentor, live communication, experiments in the laboratory, etc., were especially affected. This applies to creative, medical, technical, research, linguistic and other areas.
And what absolutely everyone lacked was socialization, emotional communication, and contact with teachers and peers. People are social creatures; they learn better and assimilate information in normal communication and not in front of a computer. This is an artificial environment. How can you infect the audience with love for your subject if you are giving a lecture virtually? There is no incentive to be oratory in front of a black screen.
Experts agree on one thing: online learning does not contribute to achieving one of the main goals of education – to learn to think critically, discuss, and question facts and opinions.