A year of education and research from home – How is it going?

Over a year ago, it became clear that Covid-19 would not blow over and that we all needed to start working from home. Remote teaching and doing research from home became a thing, still is and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future. We’ve asked lecturers Kübra Karatas (Arts and Culture Studies), Mark Straver (History) and Palesa Mashigo (Media & Communication) about their experiences this past year. What is their experience with remote teaching and researching? What do they miss the most about teaching in person? And what keeps them motivated?

What are your experiences with remote teaching so far? 
Kübra, Palesa and Mark all agree that remote teaching is a challenge. Kübra and Palesa both feel that it’s hard to keep everyone engaged. Particularly those students who are shy and reserved anyway, get easily overseen and have a bigger disadvantage. 

Palesa says that some days are harder than others but if she can get trough the day without a technical glitch, it was a good day. Mark mentions that especially the situation of the master course in spring 2020 was challenging. “Digital education was still in its infancy and the biggest challenge was finding a solution to the worrisome situation of students.”

But there are also positive notes. Kübra feels that the switch from blended to online teaching was smooth and quick. And Mark decided to increase contact hours with his students to discuss personal circumstances and to help adjust the research of students. This made a huge positive impact. And Kübra states that she’s very happy to see how flexible we became; our faculty, the students and the lecturers.

Switching from physical to online education is a big change. How do you think your students have adapted? And how do you think you have adapted?
Adapting is an important aspect of teaching during Covid. Kübra realizes that we have all adapted well to remote teaching. Socially, however, it is still hard. She accepts the situation but is looking forward to physically be in a classroom again. 

Palesa thinks that students adapted very well for the most part, considering the circumstances. She started as a lecturer during the pandemic and feels that she adapted well. 

Mark: “It was easier to teach in the fall than in the spring since we were more familiar with the possibilities and, perhaps most important, students were accustomed to both digital education and the lingering limitations in society.” He is quite amazed with how both lecturers and students managed to adapt in such a short time.

What do you miss most about teaching in person? And is there also something you will change in your teaching methods when we get back to “normal”?
The thing that Kübra, Palesa and Mark are missing the most is connecting with their students; vivid discussions, short conversations in the breaks and making eye contact. Mark noticed that digital education could help to attain these class elements, but the experience is just not the same.

There are also elements of online education that they would like to keep. Kübra: “In the future, I can imagine making use of pre-recorded lecture and tutorial videos. This leaves more time for discussions in class. 

Kübra and Mark are also working on their PhD research. Does Covid affect that research? If so, in what way?
Kübra just started with her PhD research. “I don’t know what it feels like being a PhD student without Covid. But it’s a very solitary project, especially in the beginning. The exchange with peers and the feedback of experienced colleagues is key. And the informal talks that evolve casually during coffee breaks or lunch can be inspiring and motivating. With this mostly missing now, you need a lot of personal initiative and intrinsic motivation.”

Mark sacrificed research time to cope with students’ needs and redesigning courses. “It was more difficult than normal to combine teaching with research within a reasonable work week. Although most of my Covid related research delay can be attributed to the persisting closure of the archives.”

But after a full year of Covid we’re still standing. What motivates you to keep doing what you do? And do you have any inspiration in these times?
Palesa is genuinely motivated by the opportunity to empower students with knowledge and to encourage them to think critically. “There is nothing quite like watching the lightbulb switch on for a student, whether that is offline or online”. 

And Kübra really likes her PhD research topic. “I am very curious about it and this keeps me motivated. Also, I believe that once the health crisis is over, PhD research can be fun, and I am excited about that time.”  

Last but not least, do you have some tips for your colleagues regarding teaching and doing research in times of Covid?
Kübra decided with a friend to come together for work daily. “His place became my office. This gives me a lot of structure and a clear division between work and free time. I feel less isolated and always have someone to exchange with. We even realized that we are more efficient when we work together.”

Mark’s tip for digital teaching is to be as open as possible to new tools and formats that can possibly improve education. “I believe these are innovations we can use to further improve education after Covid.” His second tip is to be honest with yourself and your team about the feasibility of certain teaching tasks. “These changes require our investment, but individuals should not be overloaded with work. What helped me was to also be realistic about the solutions we can offer as teachers. We should not forget that, despite all the recent innovations and solutions, these are still abnormal times for teachers. Students certainly understand the situation we are in and, I hope, so does our faculty.”