TeachECONference2022 Asynchronous Track ‘Lessons from Covid’ – A Review

UCL Economics Student Maha Khalid reflects on the TeachECONference2022 Asynchronous Track ‘Lesson from Covid’ which looks at experiences and learnings from this challenging period.

The “Lessons from Covid” asynchronous track from TeachECONference 2022 provides a reflection of various experiences faced throughout the pandemic, as well as a chance to improve teaching and learning, using this difficult period as an opportunity for positive change and innovation.

Economics Education in the Covid-19 Pandemic: What Was Done and What Should Be Done

Dividing the post-pandemic era into two periods, Dr Adam Cox, University of Portsmouth, explores the hypothesis of whether approaches to education immediately after the outbreak and one year later (and beyond) differed. Dr Cox uses interviews from educators to test this prediction.

“Wave 1” (immediately post-Covid) comprised of predominantly mandated modes of teaching, and so educators had less room (and time) to invent more innovative techniques. Whilst “Wave 2” (long-term-post-pandemic) did include some law-enforced restrictions on methods of teaching, there was greater innovation. This was especially present in areas which educators had been reluctant to get involved in prior to the pandemic. Dr Cox also investigated the impact of the online shift on both students and staff. There were disparities in the reaction to moving online, as some students enjoyed learning from home, whereas others yearned for the return of face-to-face teaching. Dr Cox importantly identifies that online teaching was especially challenging for those in different time zones or with difficult home environments. For staff, teaching during the pandemic invoked a sense of community, however many educators reported extraordinarily high levels of fatigue from working overtime to ensure students had as normal a learning experience as possible.

This investigation provided an extremely interesting insight into Covid-affected education, from the educators’ perspectives. My first experience of university education was in September 2020, which comes under Wave 1, whereas my second year of studies was during Wave 2. I definitely experienced these “innovative” teaching techniques during my second year, which improved my learning experiences. It will be fascinating to see how this research shapes higher education in the future and what the impact on both students and staff will be. I am particularly interested to see whether this pandemic will inspire long-term changes in teaching methods, and how this will impact the survival of “traditional” teaching.

COVID as a Springboard: Taking COVID Curriculum Innovation into a Post-Covid Era

Professor Jana Sadeh, University of Southampton, introduces this session by discussing the traditional nature of “chalk and talk” educating in the Economics field, which literature suggests to be quite inefficient. However, Professor Sadeh acknowledges constraints faced, such as departmental norms and students’ expectations, which has prolonged the existence of lecture-based teaching.

Professor Sadeh considers four of students’ principal post-pandemic issues; control over learning, access to support, adjusting their “default” learning methods (from face-to-face to online) and assessment habits (particularly referencing reluctancy surrounding in-person exams), in the context of an MSc module which has undergone a post-pandemic transformation. This module employs asynchronous videos as the primary source of teaching, alongside summative quizzes to check students’ understanding, whilst live lectures are used for group presentations.

This updated structure was very successful, in terms of both grades and feedback. Students benefitted from this new format of live lectures as their teamwork skills improved, yet also because it gave them an opportunity to build peer networks back up, which had been lost during the pandemic. Furthermore, the use of quizzes incentivised students to keep up timely participation in the module and discouraged any “binge-watching” of videos immediately before an assessment. Consequently, students could gain control over their learning through being able to access asynchronous material in their own time, whilst also being supported during this process through the medium of regular quizzes.

Incentives and “binge-watching” (University of Southampton)

I personally find myself in similar situations whereby I consistently watch videos for modules with quizzes yet have a tendency to procrastinate consuming asynchronous material for modules without any form of testing, so can definitely appreciate the importance of incentives. At the end of the video, Professor Sadeh emphasises the importance of trying out new teaching techniques with the understanding that these may not always be successful, which particularly stood out to me. As a student, I think that admittedly it can be frustrating when a module’s structure perhaps does not work for you. However, this video (alongside the others in this track) has allowed me to greater appreciate the different ways in which innovation in teaching and learning can come about (as well as the amazing lengths at which educators go to in order to discover what works!).

Experiences from Flipping a Bachelor Level Banking Course

This video looks at the changes to an undergraduate banking course at the University of Vassa due to pandemic restrictions, and the responses from students to said changes. Professor Panu Kalmi introduces the session by providing a background to the module and how it has been taught in the past. The structure of the course after Covid-19 involved asynchronous material, set readings and online live lectures. Assessment was carried out through exercises during the course of the module, group assignments, large group work, participation in live sessions and individual learning diaries.

Professor Kalmi discusses both the positive and negative feedback from students, as well as the experience as an educator, in order to evaluate the success of the module. Generally, students enjoyed social aspects of the course as this facilitated the sharing of ideas, as well as greater peer networking in quite isolated times. Additionally, both the active retrieval of information for assessments and presentations, and variation of exercises throughout the course, proved to be popular amongst students. On the other hand, students who do not particularly enjoy group work gave more critical feedback. A particular concern was whether students were learning from completing groupwork or whether lectures would be more beneficial. Following the common theme of this track, the experience was more arduous for the educator, however Professor Kalmi acknowledges the long-term benefits of the asynchronous material created.

As Professor Kalmi mentions at the end of the session, it will be interesting to see how the module fits into the new “hybrid” teaching approach and whether it undergoes any further developments in the future. I struggled with groupwork when learning online, as it could be difficult to communicate with peers clearly, so I am curious to discover whether student feedback regarding groupwork will become more positive under more “normal” conditions.

Dissertation Extensions and Academic Performance

The motivation for the research of Dr Emanuela Lotti and Professor Panagiotis Giannarakis, from University of Southampton, was an observation of a large jump in extension requests from Economics students completing dissertations, after the outbreak of the pandemic. In this session, the Professors discuss their investigation as to whether there is any relationship between academic performance and extensions.

Percentage of Dissertation Extension Requests 2019-2022 (University of Southampton)

They introduce their research by explaining their motivations for choosing the dissertation project as their module of interest. Dr Lotti explains the greater likelihood of procrastination for longer and more “effortful” tasks, such as a dissertation, as well as noting the higher levels of procrastination observed for final year undergraduate students.

In their empirical investigation, they considered extension requests as well as submission days, whilst controlling for other factors, such as previous academic performance. Using “submissions before the deadline” as a reference group, they discovered significant negative impacts on dissertation marks of requesting extensions. Furthermore, they also noted a potential negative impact on performance in other modules for those students who requested a dissertation extension.

Empirical results

As a serial procrastinator, these results were extremely thought-provoking (and quite frightening!). At the end of the session, Professor Giannarakis mentions the necessity for interventions to help improve students’ “task-management”, so it would be very useful to learn about some examples of educator-recommended techniques to help solve this issue of procrastination. Furthermore, I would love to see how these results carry across to a variety of other modules at different stages of the undergraduate course.

Overall, this asynchronous track has provided me with great insight into the impact of Covid on teaching and learning Economics around the world. Considering these sessions concurrently, I think TeachECONference has provided a great opportunity for educators to share what has worked and what could be improved upon. Perhaps the issue of procrastination in some modules could be solved with more varied course structures, ensuring to incentivise students to keep up-to-date with the course content? Or maybe “traditional” teaching should be completely replaced with a hybrid approach? As Professor Sadeh discussed, it is a growth mindset which allows teaching and learning to be as innovative as possible, and I think this has been one of my main takeaways from this track.

Finally, watching these videos and seeing how educators have adapted to such a challenging period has made me appreciate the amazing dedication of my own lecturers and professors, for which I am extremely grateful!

Find and watch all the videos here

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