Since 18 March all teaching at Stockholm University has been moved online across 53 academic departments and centres and the transition from a seminar room with a projector to a computer screen and a set of headphones has been swift. Marlene Ågerstrand, Assistant Professor at the Department of Environmental Science, is one of the early adopters of the new teaching system.
Hundreds of thousands of university students across Europe are now attending virtual lectures as many countries have implemented strict social distancing measures to fight the current coronavirus pandemic. Stockholm University is now four weeks into online teaching, with Zoom being the preferred video conferencing tool with which virtual lectures and presentations are being held.
Fifteen students attend Marlene Ågerstrand’s course “Risk Assessment and Regulation of Chemicals,” which is included in the Masters program in Environmental Science: Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (ES-ETC). Although, teachers were given little time to adjust to the new guidelines, Ågerstrand thinks that it has been working very well so far.
“At first, the transition felt very sudden and we all thought we didn’t have sufficient time to adapt the content of the course for online teaching. But we made it work and it’s been going quite well. I’m also very impressed by how well the digital tools we’ve been using are performing given the high number of users,” she says.
Her course is seminar-based with an individual project and an exam at the end. Even though the students have reacted positively to the change, the major challenge has been ensuring engagement and participation of students in the discussions during sessions.
“To ensure that energy among students stays high, I encourage them to send comments and questions during the sessions. Then I invite everyone to join a discussion around the topics we have covered. Normal seminars have been transformed into written assignments to help me assess their performance,” says Marlene Ågerstrand. Every virtual lecture is recorded and uploaded onto Athena, Stockholm University’s platform for courses and pedagogical work. This way, all students, even those who care for children or sick partners/relatives at home, can gain access to them.
Online course examination is another challenge for lecturers to tackle but, according to Ågerstrand, the physical absence of students from University premises could be compensated by appropriate changes in the examination format.
“The examination for my course will have three components. Written home assignments, an individual project, and a home test where students will be required to use critical thinking to answer questions rather than reciting facts learned in class,” says Ågerstrand.
Reaction from students
Fantine Chabernaud, a student from France who’s currently attending Ågerstrand’s course, admits that she’s pleased with how the course has been going so far.
“I was very impressed by how fast the teachers adapted the content of the course for online teaching. It feels as if we’re in an actual classroom, though with less interaction between the students, which was as expected,” she adds.
For Chabernaud, recording the lectures and making them available online to access at will after class has been very useful. “This way, I make sure that my notes are correct and that I can find answers to potential questions I may have,” she says.
Plans for autumn
“This teaching format may well continue into the autumn. But since the situation changes every day, we will adapt as we see fit,” says Ågerstrand. She continues: “A big advantage of this format is that we can now admit more students and if travel restrictions remain in place, students can participate in the course from their home countries. ”