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University Lecturers' Distance Learning Experiences Gained during the COVID-19 Pandemic Period

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A 2019/2020. academic year II. semester brought a special situation and a variety of solutions in education in any part of the world. The emerging epidemic situation, learning and teaching from home due to the health emergency, and the process of education also diverted the process. The transition to online, distance learning has also presented new challenges for educators, parents, teachers, university educators and students, but also a new path of development. In the course of our research, we examined the experiences and difficulties gained during the semester among the faculty members of the Széchenyi István University, Apáczai Csere János Faculty, using an online questionnaire and a focus group discussion with students, lecturers and university leaders. According to the preliminary results, the semester in the form of distance learning, despite the difficulties, had many positive results, which resulted in the development of teachers' creativity, pedagogical competencies and methodological culture in the use of various tools and programs. Keywords: COVID 19, distance learning, online education, mobile applications, moodle, MaxWhere 3D VR
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University Lecturers’ Distance Learning
Experiences Gained during the COVID-19
Pandemic Period
Viktória Gősi
Kövecses
Apáczai Csere János
Faculty, Széchenyi István
University,
Liszt F. u. 42. H-9022
Győr, Hungary
E-mail:
gosi.viktoria@sze.hu
Bálint Lampert
Apáczai Csere János
Faculty, Széchenyi István
University,
Liszt F. u. 42. H-9022
Győr, Hungary
E-mail:
lampert.balint@sze.hu
Attila Pongrácz
Apáczai Csere János
Faculty, Széchenyi István
University,
Liszt F. u. 42. H-9022
Győr, Hungary
E-mail:
pongracz.attila@sze.hu
Ildikó Lőrincz
Apáczai Csere János
Faculty, Széchenyi István
University,
Liszt F. u. 42. H-9022
Győr, Hungary
E-mail:
lorincz.ildiko@sze.hu
Abstract Semester 2 of the academic year 2019/2020 has
brought along a special situation and a variety of new
solutions in education throughout the world. The emerging
pandemic situation changed the system considerably by
impeding both lecturers and students from working and
meeting personally. Transition to online, distance
education has also presented new challenges to educators,
parents, teachers, university lecturers and students, as well
as a new path of development. During our research, the
experiences and difficulties gained by the members of
Apáczai Csere János Faculty at Széchenyi István
University in the past semester were examined with the
help of an online questionnaire. Preliminary results show
that the semester of distance learning, despite its
difficulties, brought several positive results that enhanced
teachers' creativity, pedagogical competencies as well as
methodological culture of how the different tools and
programs were used.
Keywords COVID-19, distance learning, online education,
mobile applications, Moodle, MaxWhere 3D VR
Introduction
In the past few decades, info-communication technologies,
mobile applications as well as learning support digital
instruments have been filtering into both the Hungarian
education and everyday life with a varied intensity.
We believe, this process was extremely accelerated by the
events of the last semester. The pandemic situation caused
by COVID-19 as well as teaching from home have
necessarily opened new dimensions within the methodology
of distance and online teaching. Naturally, 21st-century skills
or capabilities (such as co-operation, knowledge-building,
ICT application, real problem solving, innovation as well as
self-regulatory learning) should not be disregarded their
development and improvement are educational priorities.
[1,2,4,5] As part of this process, it is important to apply the
latest technological solutions to get to know the related
methodical procedures as well as to incorporate them into the
educational practice. [3,16,17]
At our university, distance teaching during the COVID-19
pandemic period was realized through Moodle Learning
Management System which, on the one hand, has been a
platform of distance education for several decades and, on
the other hand, being a form of blended learning, also
provides a platform for various courses realized personally.
During their university studies, students can find the courses
they have taken on the platform and can see the content
uploaded by their lecturers upon entry. The Moodle interface
has several advantages, and it has a lot of additional
programs. We have the opportunity to upload different
documents and files, create discussion forums, evaluate and
review written assignments uploaded by students, send
Moodle instant messages, run an online calendar, create
Online News and Announcements as well as online quizzes,
and examine. It can be easily operated by both the lecturers
and the students.
Thus, the application of online platforms has had significant
precedents at the university, building on which the directives
enhancing distance education were elaborated in March 2020.
Within its frameworks, individual solutions could be chosen
for each educational and/or scientific area.
During the past few semesters, a project of curriculum
development has also been realized thanks to the research
11th IEEE International Conference on Cognitive Infocommunications – CogInfoCom 2020 • September 23-25, 2020 • Online on MaxWhere 3D Web
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group of SZE VR Centre, in which a great number of curricula
were produced in the 3D VR space. In our view, this process
has considerably contributed to the effective performance of
this semester of distance education brought along by the
emergency. MaxWhere system (www.maxwhere.com) is a
presentation tool that displays specific content (e.g. images,
videos, active websites, static texts like pdf or ppt) in 3D
virtual spaces. MaxWhere spaces allow users to instantly
review content placed in 3D space by placing it in a
structure, a kind of logical system, thus facilitating and
accelerating the processing of information. Users freely
create specific routes based on which they explore the space
and view the knowledge placed in the 3D viewer (i.e. in the
space formed according to the positions and views of the
cameras). The route they have explored is called a story.
Once a story has happened, the user can move with animated
jumps in the predefined space or spaces (between spaces).
[20]
The advantage of MaxWhere system is that it can integrate
any element of the Internet in each 2D window (web table =
web library) with an active online connection, thus any
element of any website can be included in the presentation.
[20]
The efficiency of MaxWhere 3D virtual spaces has been
recently proved by various pieces of research. Based upon
these results, experts conducting research on this topic
concluded that as an educational platform MaxWhere offered
numerous possibilities to its users to perform tasks requiring
rather complicated digital workflows within the traditional
2D-environment. [8,10,11,12,13] Based on the tests, results
show that users were at least 50% faster in performing the
necessary workflows within MaxWhere 3D environment than
they were in case of any other content-sharing programs.
[8,10,11,12,13]
As far as digital workflow sharing and interpretation are
concerned, experiments also show that 3D environments can
provide users with a much higher level of understanding.
[6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14]
Cyberspaces may support or complement learning processes
based upon co-operation and may also provide an excellent
background support for educational or other project works.
[15,18,19]
I. METHODOLOGICAL BASIS OF THE RESEARCH
In the course of the research, our online questionnaire was
sent out to colleagues working at the same faculty. The 38
open- and close-ended questions touched upon teaching
competences, individual assessment as well as experiences
gained during the semester of distance teaching, such as
supplies of equipment, comprehensive summary
impressions, difficulties, as well as the practice, tools and
methods applied during distance education.
In the first part of the questionnaire, our questions referred to
more subjective impressions about the distance learning
semester (e.g. How would you describe your own distance
learning work in three words? Describe the students’ work
in three words. What caused the greatest difficulty in
distance learning?). In this part we examined the feelings of
the colleagues and their experiences related to their students’
learning activities. In the second part of the questionnaire we
formulated more objective questions which referred to the
pedagogical methodological practice the colleagues applied
(e.g. What options did you use to communicate with
students? You can mark several answers. What procedure,
method, application would you bring back to the traditional
form of classroom education out of the procedures used in
online work? What applications did you use in your semester
work? You can mark several answers.)
The last six questions of the questionnaire focused on the self-
reflective investigation of the competence of the lecturers
(e.g. To what extent do you think you developed in the
following area the students’ developmental assessment
during the distance learning semester? (1: not developed,
5: totally developed). The colleagues had to indicate the
values they consider relevant on certain aspects digital
competence, problem-solving thinking, creative thinking,
supporting the individual learning pathways of students, etc.
on a 5-point Likert-scale.
Our hypotheses were as follows:
H1: Distance learning period was experienced by university
lecturers in a positive way, that is, as a kind of development.
H2: Challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic period mobilized
lecturers’ preliminary ICT knowledge and resulted in both
creative solutions and diverse teaching methods.
H3: Lecturers consider that it is mostly their digital
competence that improved considerably during the semester of
distance learning.
Our questionnaire was filled out by 49 people out of the 70
full-time and 40 part-time lecturers. 69.4 % of the lecturers
answering the questions had earlier participated in a Moodle
training.
II. SUMMARY OF RESEARCH RESULTS
As far as the equipment of distance learning is concerned,
colleagues’ answers reveal a positive image: some 83.7% of
our colleagues questioned considered that they were in
possession of appropriate equipment and tools to perform
smooth education. Those providing negative answers (16.3%)
pointed out the lack of good-quality laptops and raised quality-
related questions of internet accessibility.
75.5% of lecturers felt that those responsible for distance
learning had provided them with appropriate help and support,
whereas some 22.4% of respondents believed they did not
need any help as they were able to solve everything by
themselves, whereas some 2.1% considered help provided as
insufficient.
In the first part of our questionnaire lecturers were asked to
give three-word-descriptions of i.) their own performance of
distance learning and ii.) that of their students.
When reflecting on their own work, lecturers picked 23
negative concepts out of nearly 150. The rest of the
characteristics listed were either positive or neutral. Increased
V. Gősi-Kövecses et al. • Distance learning experiences of university lecturers during the evaluation of the COVID 19 period
000326
working hours, lack of personal contacts, as well as adjectives
like exhaustive, tiresome, and monotonous showed up several
times among the negative concepts. The rest of the phrases
were linked with positive associations. Words like creativity,
development, exciting, novel, challenge, learning, innovative,
efficiency, useful, effective, inspiring were repeated various
times, but diligence, patience, gaining experience, precise,
smooth, successful, empathy, student-friendly also formed part
of the answers provided.
Lecturers had to use 3 concepts to describe their students
behavior, and answers show that lecturers considered that
online education had had much rather a positive impact on
students’ activities than a negative one.
Of all the concepts, 22 were of specifically negative character.
In this case colleagues highlighted uncertainty, inability to
learn independently, increased burdens, feeling lost, slow
reactions, confusion, as well as extremes in students’
motivation and activities. The expressions most frequently
listed by lecturers were co-operation, activity, creativity,
responsibility, interest, diligence, adaptation, perseverance,
conscientiousness, flexibility, and students’ efforts.
As far as lecturers’ own attitude and performance as well as
those of their students are concerned, the summary of the
answers given reveal lecturers’ essentially positive opinion.
In our questionnaire we sought answers to the question what
caused the greatest difficulty in distance learning.
Problems such as lack of personal contacts that is the basis of
pedagogy and education, increased workload, as well as
necessarily quick and flexible switchover from one system to
another were the expressions most often mentioned. Some
lecturers also pointed out the inadequate quality of internet
data roaming or transmission, deficiency of both their own
technical background and that of the students’ equipment.
Furthermore, some of the answers revealed that it had been
difficult to organize optimal load, that is to optimize the
quality and quantity of the tasks prepared for the students.
Others found that task descriptions and explanations during
distance learning required much more circumspect of thinking,
more precise guidance, and assistance.
Several colleagues of ours mentioned psychological aspects
like uncertainty caused by the pandemic situation, difficulties
of timing and scheduling, that is the alignment or
harmonization of teaching from home with family life and with
their own children’s learning.
Both lecturers’ and students’ insufficient ICT knowledge
and/or superficial knowledge of the operation of the Moodle
platform were also mentioned as difficulties. Though some
two-thirds of the respondents had already participated in
various Moodle courses in the last few years, one-third of
respondents met the system for the first time during the past
semester.
By means of the questionnaires we wanted to get information
on our colleagues’ distance teaching practice as well as on the
methods and equipment applied.
79.6% of lecturers gave positive answers to the question
whether they had recorded their lectures and/or practical
trainings or sessions and shared them with their audiences.
Most of the students indicated they were greatly interested in
this type of lectures. It was mainly our students with auditive
learning style who found this educational tool particularly
useful. Other professional materials such as audio materials,
voice recordings a collection of folklore and/or children
songs, explications, articles, etc. were prepared and shared
with students by 89.8% of the lecturers.
The ways lecturers most frequently used to keep in touch are
illustrated by Figure 1. Apart from e-mails, Google Meet and
Messenger are the most often used, however, several other
options appeared among the answers provided.
Fig. 1. Contacting forms used by lecturers
As Figure 2 indicates, various mobile applications were also
used during the courses, which was highly appreciated by the
students.
When providing courses for lecturers at our faculty, it is also
a very important task of ours to give teachers-to-be
diversified examples through our methods and tools on how
primary school teaching and learning processes can be
supported in a creative way, by using various possibilities.
Fig. 2. Applications used by lecturers
Furthermore, we wished to examine how 3D VR program was
applied. 59.2% of the lecturers questioned had previously
participated in trainings related to the usage of VR spaces, and
57.1% of them have recently elaborated teaching materials in
3D VR spaces.
In the semester of distance learning, this platform was used
by 14.3% of the respondents many of them highlighting
11th IEEE International Conference on Cognitive Infocommunications – CogInfoCom 2020 • September 23-25, 2020 • Online on MaxWhere 3D Web
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that students lacked appropriate hardware background to
operate the program or did not even know it.
In several cases, materials placed in Moodle platform were
used directly, and participants did not move on to the 3D
program connected to Moodle. Though this program can be
learnt within the frameworks of a freely chosen subject at
our faculty, students would prefer to use MaxWhere
independently if they performed more 3D activities during
their personal courses, too.
Answers given to the question what students/lecturers learnt,
what they were enriched by during distance learning can be
divided into several groups. Some of them focused on
personal characteristics such as empathy, creativity,
flexibility, patience, trust, confidence, insight into human
nature and self-reflexivity. Another large group of answers
concerns a thorough knowledge of the Moodle system, the
study of various applications, their incorporation into distance
learning practices as well as the employment of new methods,
procedures, knowledge, and test(s) of diversified
communication platforms.
The growing importance of personal presence was also
outlined in various answers: “I learnt that direct human
interaction is an integral part of both teaching and learning
processes that is needed by everyone and without which this
process would be much less effective or enjoyable.”
“It has become clear that the motivating power of personal
presence cannot be replaced by anything.”
The importance of lecturers’ co-operation was stressed in
several answers: “I also learnt that those participating in the
education can count on each other.”
The answers given to the question what procedure and/or
method would the lecturers bring back to the traditional
form of classroom education out of the procedures used in
online work can also be divided into various groups. Most of
the answers were related to listing different applications
known or learnt during the semester. According to another
group of answers, equipment or tools of correspondence
courses should be enriched by incorporating online exercises
(e.g. “PowerPoint slides with digital voice explanations, live
access of lectures to the students being unable to participate
personally in the classes.”)
Many of those meeting Moodle for the first time in their work
stated that they would upload the course materials of the
coming semesters to the system.
Finally, we also wanted to know how colleagues had
perceived their own development, what competence areas
they thought had been best supported by the semester of
distance learning.
Fig.3. Summary of the answers given to the question “to what extent do you
think you developed in these areas?”
Lecturers’ answers concerning six competence areas are
summarized in Figure 3. Lecturers believed that it was their
problem solving (50%) and creative thinking (46%) that had
developed the most during the semester of distance learning.
It was followed by the support of students’ individual
learning pathways and last by the improvement of their
digital competences.
The so-called “I developed a lot” category was chosen
mostly in connection with problem-solving and creative
thinking as well as digital competences, whereas
intermediate development was marked when evaluating
professional knowledge and students’ development.
CONCLUSIONS
During the research we sought answers for the question how
university lecturers had perceived or experienced challenges
brought along with distance learning, what practice(s) they
had applied in their work, what difficulties they had had to
fight and what they had learnt from the experiences gained
during the semester.
Based upon their answers it can be concluded that our first
hypothesis is proved to be true, despite the difficulties
detected, the period of distance learning was perceived in a
positive way as a kind of development or improvement
lecturers adapted to the situation caused by the pandemic in a
flexible and creative way. This was clearly evident from the
concepts which emerged as quick reflections on their own and
their students’ activities. Our second hypothesis was also
confirmed, according to which the challenges of COVID-19
mobilized the lecturers’ ICT knowledge and resulted in
creative, varied solutions and methods. It can be seen from
their answers that they used various programs and mobile
applications creatively and courageously. As an institution
dealing also with teacher training, it is also our important task
to set an example for our students how they can implement
online education effectively.
It can also be seen that during the COVID-19 period distance
learning practice was realized through diversified methods and
creative solutions, thanks to the lecturers’ flexible adaptation.
Our assumption according to which lecturers believed their
digital competences had improved the best was not confirmed,
since, in their opinion, the areas that had progressed the most
V. Gősi-Kövecses et al. • Distance learning experiences of university lecturers during the evaluation of the COVID 19 period
000328
were problem-solving and creative thinking as well as
supporting students’ individual learning pathways which was
followed by the improvement of digital competences.
It is also encouraging to see that lecturers were ready to
incorporate some exceptionally good practices into next
semesters’ work, and this way complementing personal
development and education built upon personal presence.
Feedbacks give guidance on where to direct lecturers’
trainings and equipment development in the coming
semesters.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The study was supported by: EFOP-3.4.3-16-2016-00016
Higher education institutional development, a common
improvement of the quality and accessibility of the
programmes at Széchenyi University.
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