How Has COVID-19 Changed Teaching and Learning at the Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences?: Reflections of Teachers and Students on Online Learning

How Has COVID-19 Changed Teaching and Learning at the Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences?: Reflections of Teachers and Students on Online Learning

DOI: 10.4018/979-8-3693-0453-2.ch008
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The COVID-19 pandemic brought along a transformation at the Finnish Universities of Applied Sciences as to how teaching and courses are organized. This chapter considers both university teachers and students, presenting their experiences in remote, specifically online, teaching and learning during the pandemic. The results from collected surveys and performed interviews show a strong divide in opinions on and experiences with remote teaching and learning. While others appreciated the benefits of saved travel time and freedom from constraints of time and place, improved skills in using online tools, and a better focus on their studies and work, others felt the pressure of the pandemic, isolation, and an increased workload in teaching or independent studying. The results also indicate a change in the operational culture of the university. The motivation to implement online teaching has grown significantly among teachers. However, the demand for it among students has grown even more.
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The Covid-19 pandemic forced schools and teachers worldwide to apply new methods when students were forced to shift to remote teaching and learning during the spring of 2020. This study looks at the transformation caused by the pandemic at the Universities of Applied Sciences, specifically in Finland, where these institutions have varying traditions in remote and online teaching and how courses are organized. Both university teachers and students are considered in this chapter, which dives into their experiences with remote teaching and learning during the pandemic.

Finland has 22 universities of applied sciences. This study focuses on one of them, Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (Seinäjoki UAS), which had mainly organized its courses as participatory in-class courses before the pandemic. This institution was chosen as the case study because it represents several fields and has a good reputation in Finland. It has received high merit for national graduate feedback and international and national audit evaluations that have been performed in universities. Seinäjoki UAS has around 5 000 students and 382 staff members, including 182 lecturers (SeAMK Introduction, 2022). It carries Bachelor and Master level degree programs in several fields, including the sectors of Food Technology and Agriculture, Business and Culture, Engineering, and Social and Health Care. Seinäjoki UAS organizes degree programs in two ways. There are so-called day programs where studies are mainly scheduled on weekdays between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. In addition to this, so-called multiform programs are directed to students who study while working. Their classes are organized either on weekdays between 5 and 9 p.m. or on Saturdays. These are referred to as evening studies and evening students in this chapter. In addition, Master’s degree students typically study on Saturdays, and some of them already had studied their program online before the pandemic. Both of the latter student groups mostly include older students who have more working-life experience.

Many of the fields of study at the case university include learning in laboratory environments and simulations. This posed a challenge for the teachers when in-class teaching was prohibited by the government-imposed Emergency Act (Finnish Government 2020). For some teachers and students, the period of the pandemic restrictions was their first touch with online learning. Seinäjoki has 64,736 inhabitants (Kuntien avainluvut, 2021). Seinäjoki UAS, as an institution, also represents those universities operating in a more rural area, in a rather small city, which does not necessarily draw students from bigger cities. Regardless of its good reputation, it is therefore facing the challenge of offering more flexible opportunities in its degree programs to maintain its position among those universities which students choose for their studies.

Seinäjoki UAS was first closed by the Government’s order to close all the official institutions in Finland on March 18, 2020 (Valtioneuvosto, 2020). Right after, the classes were moved online, and Microsoft Teams became the main platform for the courses, even though it had just a few weeks before been introduced for official use at the institution. Later, when the situation improved, the restrictions continued. Small group and laboratory simulation classes were held in the classroom, and hybrid teaching was introduced. This meant that the teacher held the class as usual, but it was also streamed online. Some teachers also recorded their classes for students. The students were allowed to choose between coming to the classroom or participating in the class online, as long as the class sizes complied with the restrictions. The restrictions were completely lifted in February 2022 (SeAMK, 2022).

While the case study presented in this chapter focuses on one Finnish university of applied sciences, the survey data is extensive and can be generalized to an extent. With the study, the phenomenon of remote teaching and learning, even if initiated by the pandemic, can be placed in a larger context of digital transformation in pedagogics. With that in mind, it is possible to analyze the experiences with the transformation and to search for new theoretical ideas (Erikson & Koistinen, 2014), as well as to form a holistic view of remote and online teaching and learning and of how the pandemic influenced the approach to these and their transformation in what has been referred to as “the new normal”.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning: A method where all teaching takes place online.

University of Applied Sciences (UAS): A university which offers bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, but not Ph.D.

Evening Studies: A degree program that is organized in a way that students are able to work while they study their degree. Includes more independent work and less classroom teaching.

Application: A computer software that performs a specific function directly for an end user or sometimes for another application.

Remote Work: Work that is done somewhere else than the actual workplace, e.g., home.

Hybrid Teaching: A teaching model where some students are following the class in the classroom and others are taking part to the class online.

Learning Environment: Virtual or physical space where learning takes place.

Remote Learning: Synonym for online learning, but in some cases, remote learning can be used without internet connections or courses. For example, traditional correspondence course is also one type of remote learning.

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