The JYU campuses were closed on 16 March and the University switched over to distance teaching, learning and working. Adoption of the teaching environments, launching of distance teaching as well as reconciliation of work and family life posed challenges to the university community. How did the spring go and what can our community learn from it for the future? These were some of the questions asked in the survey sent in May to everybody who had been teaching or supervising students during the fourth period.

The exceptional time gave a boost to the increase of multi-sited technology-mediated teaching. The agency sub-group in the JYULearn concept design team saw an opportunity to collect experiences and views about the corona spring. This would be useful for the development of the University’s pedagogical expertise from the viewpoint of digitalisation. This all would fall under the JYULearn concept development that the University introduced in spring 2019 as part of the new strategy.  Despite survey fatigue, altogether 297 staff members took the time to share their thoughts and experiences.

The JYULearn concept aims at involving the community in the development of pedagogically and digitally relevant teaching practices. At the same time, taking a future-oriented approach, we also wish to create new kinds of learning opportunities and create structures to support multi-sited or hybrid teaching.

– The development of the JYULearn concept began already before the corona pandemic.

The unexpected situation offered a good opportunity to analyse the university community’s preparedness and competences in the transitional setting and especially the state of digi-pedagogical expertise. The aim was not to evaluate competence but rather to analyse the state of affairs and use that analysis for further development of our environment.

Learning from this spring helps us a lot in shaping the future, says Peppi Taalas, Director of Centre for Multilingual Academic Communication (MOVI). Taalas coordinates the development of the concept.

Experiences from the spring mainly positive

During the spring, students and teachers acquainted themselves with Zoom, Teams, Moodle and HowSpace, for example – some of them for the first time. According to the responses, support was sought most for the use of devices and applications, in particular. Help was also sought from colleagues and the University’s Digital Services, but also from students, family members and friends.

The survey explored especially experiences and the practical side, but was anchored in theory and research. The focus was on organisation’s and individuals’ capacity for change, and on identifying what is needed for the feeling of control. Another aspect in the survey was that of well-being. On the practical side, we investigated what and what kinds of devices and pedagogical approaches were used in teaching, and what kind of support the teachers received and would need.

Based on the responses, the spring was rather burdensome time with respect to reconciliation between family and work, time management, and coping. However, the introduction of new technologies was not experienced as any great burden. Teaching staff seem to have coped relatively well with the spring.

– The experiences from distance teaching and supervision in the corona spring were surprisingly positive. Changes in teaching had been made extensively and very quickly. Those were found as relatively successful. Even to the extent that many respondents were willing to do a significant amount of their teaching and supervision online also in the future, states Senior Researcher Päivikki Jääskelä from the Finnish Institute for Educational Research.

The survey yielded plenty of practical experiences and lessons for the future

– Needless to say, people long for face-to-face interaction and it cannot be replaced with anything. However, it does not contradict with the fact that they have been able to operate through virtual connections. Now we had to consider the meaningfulness and multimodality of teaching and learning. And especially what role technology could play. The pandemic forced us to try out things that we otherwise might not have needed to. The survey also revealed different needs for support, and based on these, measures have already been taken in order to develop future teaching, Jääskelä summarises.

The members of the work group are satisfied and grateful for the fact that people made the effort and answered the survey despite the work-filled spring.

– Now we have evidence-based knowledge of what we can or cannot do through virtual connections. We should gain wisdom from this experience; we now know which solutions seem to work and which do not. At the same time, this gives us a possibility of assessing the level of capacity for change on both the organisation and the individual levels in a situation that came up totally unexpectedly, Taalas says.

The survey data is currently under closer analysis. The open-ended questions yielded an abundance of answers, and in addition, interviews are planned for the autumn. The work group seeks to find out, at least, what gives people a sense of control in their work, and how well-being is linked to this. The study helps define what individuals need for both their well-being and for being able to teach with pedagogical quality. It is also important to consider the organisation’s needs and what kind of permanent structures are needed in the future.

– We wish that the lessons and knowledge from the spring can be optimally used and that as a community, we can provide high quality, pedagogically justified and multimodal teaching for all students of the university. There is no return to the past and it is important to look at things afresh while also ensuring that our students and staff members are active operators and builders of the future in line with our strategic goals, Taalas summarises.

The development of the JYULearn concept is part of the university’s educational development programme and it is linked to several domains of the university’s strategy. The JYULearn concept has an advisory board that consists of multidisciplinary group of people representing several departments, Digital Services as well as Facility Services.

– The basic idea of the JYULearn concept is novel and ambitious, yet realistic. It offers plenty of possibilities for pedagogic development and for creating shared and new thinking on these matters together with our teachers and students, describes Taalas, whose research field pertains to multimodal teaching and change in educational cultures.

The survey was designed by Päivikki Jääskelä, Saara Kaski, Salme Korkala, Pieta Sikström, and Peppi Taalas. Student Markus Kulmala is the statistician for the project. More results will be published during the autumn and winter.

The photo, from left to right: Jääskelä, Taalas and Kaski.

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