COVID-19 Epidemic as E-Learning Boost? Chronological Development and Effects at an Austrian University against the Background of the Concept of “E-Learning Readiness”
2. Research Question, Approach and Sources
3. Existing Theory and Knowledge on Implementing E-Learning in Higher Education and an E-Learning Readiness Framework
4. Status Quo of E-Learning at the End of February 2020 in Austria and at Graz University of Technology
4.1. E-Learning in Austrian Higher Education
4.2. E-Learning at TU Graz Following the Model for E-Learning Readiness Assessment by Alshaher (2013)
- “(1) The use of digital learning elements and formats is always possible as a didactic means of enriching classroom teaching.
- (2) Virtual teaching as a didactic tool within the framework of lectures or the lecture section of a university can be freely implemented by the lecturer up to a threshold value of 20% of the semester hours to be held.
- (3) In all other cases, the proportion of virtual teaching must be approved by the Study Commission Working Group and the Curricula Commission for Bachelor’s, Master’s and Diploma Studies or the Curricula Commission for Doctoral Studies and University Courses and anchored in the curriculum accordingly.” (from the summary, own translation).
4.3. E-Learning Activities in Figures in Winter Semester 2019/2020
5. Developments within the First Phase of COVID-19 Crisis
5.1. Chronological Overview of Measures of the First Days of the Shift from Presence to Online Teaching
5.2. Development of Activities in Learning Management System in Figures
5.3. Development Concerning Videos and Live Streaming in Figures
5.4. Development Concerning Video Conferences in Figures
5.5. Review of Developments of Figures for Significance
5.6. Realisation of Online Teaching—An Impression
5.7. Subjective Evaluation of the Effectiveness of the Activities in the Educational Technology Department
6. Reflection on the First Three Weeks: Enablers, Barriers and Bottlenecks
- Looking back, we have had good prerequisites. Systems were available and functional; they were adapted; materials were provided and a support team was established. The internal communication and work had been already realised online (slack, a cloud system, and more).
- From our perspective, it was good that the semester had just started: The lecturers wanted to do their job; they all were prepared and had already started to give their lectures.
- From our perspective, our university’s culture of engineers was able to solve (technical) problems and to keep things going, with a sense of responsibility and perseverance was very decisive. In particular, during the first period many lecturers tried new technologies and established whether those could assist their way of (online) teaching.
- Clear decisions and flexible communication channels between Rector, Vice Rector for Academic Affairs, the department of Higher Education and Programme Development and the IT services were a big driver.
- In connection with this, it was very helpful that—although we had expected this—there was no discussion regarding the proposed solutions and that they trusted our proposal. This saved time and resources.
- Never before has there been such an intensive exchange with other e-learning managers and colleagues who shared their experience, for example, publishing performance tests on the Internet or sharing hands-on tips.
- It was also helpful that the activities of the various departments were bundled, communicated in joint mailings, and were professionally edited and translated.
- Despite, or perhaps because, of different conditions and backgrounds, the personal exchange with other e-learning support centres at Austrian universities was also helpful.
- With regard to the team, all were prepared and equipped for work from home—only one employee was provided with a laptop at short notice. Since the schools were closed, employees could apply for extra leave days, which were hardly used in the department.
- Different departments within the Vice Rectorate for Academic Affairs formed task forces and collaborated quickly to support and relieve the Educational Technology support-team members.
- In general, the team was too small for this rush and situation.
- The infections within our team and the workload were important barriers. Looking back, we developed a strong connectedness as a team.
- Hardware equipment at some teachers’ and students’ home offices, especially poor Internet connections, have caused problems.
- It was difficult to update the systems under time pressure because there was no sufficient test phase. We had such difficulties updating TUbe.
- Within a short time, people and units had to work together, despite some not knowing each other beforehand. The different communication practices were challenging.
- A real challenge was the changing conditions; for example, due to the worldwide increased use of video conferencing systems, their performance was also influenced, and it was not clear from the outset that we would actually have an entire digital semester. Many things were initially intended as a provisional solution.
- Dependence on external services, e.g., plagiarism service, which were temporarily not functional, especially during the crisis, led to complaints and waiting time for gradings in lectures and seminars.
- A surprising challenge was the work with the press. There were many requests for interviews and partly incorrect articles, which were not helpful in this situation.
- Our small support team was exhausted after a few days. The department immediately received an offer to hire staff, but this had to be turned down because of the challenge of familiarising someone new with the processes and issues in the shortest possible time. Looking back, we were lucky that colleagues got infected later or not at all.
- Before the crisis we solved many requests of individuals by e-mail or telephone. Now, however, written instructions for action were necessary, which were simply not (yet) available.
- Hardware could have been a bottleneck, but it was provided to us by the IT Service department without any problems (and with budget on our side).
- We have little redundancy in the team. Strictly speaking, we were very lucky that the team leaders and people with special knowledge remained operational.
- The video team was too small and work was exhausting, as the number of incoming videos increased by an unprecedented amount and the process required manual work initially. This also applied to first-level support.
- The bandwidth of the university’s network line could also be a bottleneck.
- Be prepared as early as possible: it is essential to have a strategy for handling a mass of switching lecturers.
- Trust and clear communication are needed: a large number of discussions about the used or recommended technologies or the availability of services if there are no clear (and supported) decisions is unproductive and leads to lost time.
- Identify where are the next bottlenecks: this is important to prepare handouts or clear advices. New services may become necessary.
- Choose effective measures: a good reasoning for us was always to reach as many students as possible with a measure. Thus, mass lectures, and how to handle them in such a crisis, were a first factor to consider.
- Care about your team: your team and its possibilities are in general the bottleneck of this change. Use this potential to get the needed support, focus on what is really needed for the university as well as for your own team.
7. Discussion on Readiness for E-Learning Assessment and Criteria
- How do the general conditions change the quality of teaching, the study-ability of the subjects and also the learning outcomes of the students?
- To what extent do the experiences of teachers and students change future behaviour with regard to e-learning?
8. Next Steps: Quality Improvement and E-Assessment
Conflicts of Interest
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|Strategy||Vision and mission|
|Goals / objectives|
|Top management support|
|Training & education|
|IT staff’s skills|
|Shared Value||Shared Beliefs|
|Month||TUbe Publications Per Month||TUbe Clicks Per Month|
|Month||Student Activities (TC)||Lecturers Activity (TC)||TUbe Publications||TUbe Views|
|Mean value from winter semester 19/20||706,613||61,953||96||27,020|
|Hypothetical extreme increase||1,513,839||141,655||281||49,895|
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Ebner, M.; Schön, S.; Braun, C.; Ebner, M.; Grigoriadis, Y.; Haas, M.; Leitner, P.; Taraghi, B. COVID-19 Epidemic as E-Learning Boost? Chronological Development and Effects at an Austrian University against the Background of the Concept of “E-Learning Readiness”. Future Internet 2020, 12, 94. https://doi.org/10.3390/fi12060094
Ebner M, Schön S, Braun C, Ebner M, Grigoriadis Y, Haas M, Leitner P, Taraghi B. COVID-19 Epidemic as E-Learning Boost? Chronological Development and Effects at an Austrian University against the Background of the Concept of “E-Learning Readiness”. Future Internet. 2020; 12(6):94. https://doi.org/10.3390/fi12060094Chicago/Turabian Style
Ebner, Martin, Sandra Schön, Clarissa Braun, Markus Ebner, Ypatios Grigoriadis, Maria Haas, Philipp Leitner, and Behnam Taraghi. 2020. "COVID-19 Epidemic as E-Learning Boost? Chronological Development and Effects at an Austrian University against the Background of the Concept of “E-Learning Readiness”" Future Internet 12, no. 6: 94. https://doi.org/10.3390/fi12060094