5.2. On-Campus and Online Teaching
During the fall of 2020, all Swedish universities went back to some on-campus teaching, although the majority of teaching and examination was still performed online. To justify these openings, a huge COVID-19 testing was conducted at Umeå University, the largest university in northern Sweden. All (4062) employees and all (34,407) students with a valid Swedish social security number and electronic identification app (bankID) were invited to test for COVID-19 in the first week of instruction, and a follow up test one week later. A total of 9907 participants were tested, of which 6703 were tested on both occasions. Among those who were tested, about 2/3 were students and the rest were employees. Almost all participants had been in Sweden for the past two weeks, and about 40% outside of the region (n.b., Sweden is divided into 21 regions). Only six participants were found positive [23
]. It was concluded that, at this time, there were very few who had the disease, and it was also concluded that opening up a university campus with social distancing restrictions tends not to be immediately dangerous. These are probably interesting results for the international community, as many campuses around the world hesitated to open up campus for students, and, instead, only used online instruction; for example, California State Universities, California Community Colleges, and a number of other colleges and universities.
In Sweden, the decision of how much instruction is given at campus and online during the pandemic differs between universities. Furthermore, the restriction rules differ between schools and universities. This is similar to the US, where these kinds of decisions for schools and colleges are made at the regional level, or by individual institutions, when it comes to higher education [1
]. As the rules differ between schools and universities, it may cause problems or be otherwise challenging for some students.
5.3. Challenges for Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students and Teachers
All teaching and examinations were moved from campus to online due to recommendations from the national health authority on March 17, and most universities made the transition directly, so it was in effect on March 18. Different universities decided upon their own rules and guidelines, and this was the case when some universities decided to open their campuses again in the fall of 2020. Most teaching was moved to the Zoom platform, but examinations could either be live on Zoom or on a web-based platform, such as Canvas. There were several challenges in moving from campus to online teaching and testing for undergraduate students, graduate students and teachers, and these challenges are labelled A–F and later summarized in Table 3
Challenge A concerns home work environment and living situation. If a student or teacher lives by themselves and has a good working place and no one around, they may get a lot of work done. Undergraduate students more often live by themselves than graduate students and teachers, and, thus, this might be less challenging for them. However, graduate students and younger teachers are often young adults, and it is not uncommon that they are parents with small children. Thus, although it is recommended from a health perspective to work from home, it may be very challenging for those who do not have access to a quiet workplace. This challenge also includes the physical home work place setup, such as screens, an office chair, and good lighting. This challenge is difficult for universities to handle. A possibility in the future would be to have small rooms that can be booked at university facilities for those students who do not have a good home work environment.
Challenge B concerns social environment. Undergraduate students usually belong to a class and, unless they are a freshman, they know their classmates and, thus, can keep in contact online. Group assignments can also help enforce the social environment. Graduate students in Sweden typically only follow a few classes with few students, and are used to working alone or in small research groups. To move everything online might, thus, be more socially isolating, especially as department colleagues work from home. This is particularly challenging when one needs to start building a work network and conferences are cancelled (e.g., FREMO in Norway), postponed (e.g., Compstat in Italy), or moved from in-person meetings to virtual meetings (e.g., AERA in the US). On the other hand, it might be cheaper to attend virtual conferences, thus, the project leader may allow the graduate student to attend more conferences than if they were to attend on site. As there are no student fees for higher education in Sweden, students have more choices of online courses from other universities. In the future, one should consider keeping some of the theoretical courses online in order to attract more students, and to give students more available courses, especially at graduate level.
Challenge C concerns the receiving and giving of teaching online versus in-person. An undergraduate student may feel a greater disconnect from their teachers, and the devices they have access to may influence their learning or how the material is perceived. Teachers may have a harder time to assess whether students understand their teaching in cases where students do not have their cameras on, because this leads to less teacher–student interaction. In the future, one should think of when cameras should be on or off and when smaller group assignments should be used to enhance social interactions. One could also consider alternative teaching forms, such as noted by [24
], which could possibly be used with online teaching.
Challenge D concerns exams, especially in large undergraduate courses. Before COVID-19, most undergraduate exams and some graduate exams were taken in large lecture halls at certain dates and times. To use online exams is challenging, as students face a disadvantage relative to students who take exams in a traditional, proctored environment; this is because of the absence of a proctor who can provide clarifications on exam questions, the possibility of greater distractions in the home environment, and possible problems with internet connections and the students’ computers [25
]. For teachers, it may also be difficult to provide exams that are difficult to cheat on, or where answers are difficult to find with search engines. In the future, one should think of different ways of providing exams to students at different levels.
Challenge E concerns cheating, especially in undergraduate courses, as online testing facilitates cheating [26
]. Different strategies can be used to prevent cheating, such as forcing the students to keep web cameras and audio on. A problem with keeping audio and video on is that unwanted noises and interruptions in privacy may be a larger problem for some students, if all students are online at the same time. Even if microphones and audio are on, there is a challenge of controlling the home environment. This includes which material the student may have access to, but, also, access to a quiet room with no interruptions of other individuals (Challenge A). Unless some kind of remote proctoring is used, it is difficult to ensure that students do not send cell phone photos of answers to their peers. Using human proctors is a possibility, but is challenging in large courses, as one may lack available staff.
Each university in Sweden typically has a discipline authority which handles potential cheating cases. The number of cheating matters in one university between 2015 to 2020 has been relatively constant (2015: 71, 2016: 100, 2017: 88, 2018: 60, 2019: 94: 2019 1/1–8/9: 53, 2020: 1/1–8/9: 52) as only about 0.2–0.3 percent of all students end up with a cheating matter in the discipline authority. Up until 2019, most of the matters were students with cell phones making sounds in jackets or bags during on-campus exams, which resulted in a warning. During 2020, all these kinds of matters were almost nonexistent, as no on-campus exams were given from mid-March. Instead, the matters concerned plagiarism, cheating, copying, or sharing solutions [27
]. In the future, we need to work more proactively to reduce cheating and make students realize the problems with cheating.
Challenge F is to what extent it is possible to finish planned projects or compulsory course components. Some undergraduate students were affected in terms of practical parts of their education. Many graduate students and teachers with research projects have projects that require in-person meetings. In the COVID-19 situation, they have experienced delays with their projects, and some have been required to change or even cancel their projects. Although changing a research project may mean that the project takes a longer time, at this point, there are no general study time extensions for graduate students due to COVID-19 [28
]; although, it is likely that several individual adaptions will be required within a close future.