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The effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on teaching and engagement in UK business schools

Authors:

Abstract

The global outbreak of Covid-19 led to a government ‘lockdown’ in the UK requiring people to stay in their homes, except for necessary visits to shops and for exercise immediate communities, for three months. All universities were forced into a rapid shift to on-line teaching and assessment. We use research from a representative sample of 2,287 business, management and economics academics in the UK to examine how prior on-line experience, learning during the ‘lockdown’, and work engagement, impacted academics’ views of teaching delivery and assessment. The data shows that: 1. experience of on-line activity prior to the lockdown is positively related to perceptions of working virtually, though perceptions differed by seniority; 2. experience of on-line activity during the lockdown does not impact academic’s views of on-line delivery, but increases positive attitudes to on-line marking; 3. online activity is considered as more time consuming than face to face delivery. Those able to maintain mental resilience and energy are considerably more likely to perceive on-line activity positively. Perceived job insecurity affects how academics assess on-line activity.
Discussion Paper Number:
JHD-2020-05
Discussion Paper
The effects of the COVID-19
lockdown on teaching and
engagement in UK business schools
October 2020
James Walker
Henley Business School, University of Reading
Rita Fontinha
Henley Business School, University of Reading
Washika Haak-Saheem
Henley Business School, University of Reading
Chris Brewster
Henley Business School, University of Reading
ii © Walker et al, October 2020
The aim of this discussion paper series is to
disseminate new research of academic
distinction. Papers are preliminary drafts,
circulated to stimulate discussion and critical
comment. Henley Business School is triple
accredited and home to over 100 academic
faculty, who undertake research in a wide range of
fields from ethics and finance to international
business and marketing.
dunning@henley.ac.uk
www.henley.ac.uk/dunning
© Walker et al, October 2020
Henley Discussion Paper Series
© Walker et al, October 2020 1
The effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on teaching and
engagement in UK business schools
Abstract
The global outbreak of COVID-19 mandated a rapid shift to online teaching and assessment. We
use quantitative and qualitative research to examine how prior online experience, learning during
the lockdown, and work engagement impacted upon academics’ views of teaching delivery and
assessment during the lockdown. Representative quantitative data from 2,287 business,
management and economics academics in the UK shows that: 1. experience of online activity prior
to the lockdown is positively related to perceptions of working virtually, though perceptions
differed by seniority; 2. experience of online activity during the lockdown does not impact
academic’s views of online delivery, but increases positive attitudes to online marking; 3. those
able to maintain mental resilience and energy are considerably more likely to perceive online
activity positively. Perceived job insecurity affects how academics assess online activity.
Academics agree that the amount of work involved in preparing for an online environment is
greater than required for face-to-face delivery. Qualitative data shows the impact of the social and
individual context of the respondents on wellbeing, job security, engagement and aspirations
towards online teaching and learning.
Keywords
Higher education, global lockdown, online teaching and assessment, work engagement, job
insecurity
Contacts
j.t.walker@henley.ac.uk
John H Dunning Centre
2 © Walker et al, October 2020
Introduction
One effect of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown was a rapid shift of work from the ‘work office’ to the
‘home office’. The shift has brought into a sharp focus the extent to which work activity can be
conducted virtually. Online work has been widely available for decades, but despite its
purported advantages, it has not been diffused as much as some scholars had suggested (de
Menezes & Kelliher, 2011; Felstead & Henseke, 2017; Kingma, 2018).
The shift to working from home (WFH) has raised substantial questions about how virtual
approaches can enable greater temporal and physical flexibility to economies and societies.
Remote working offers clear benefits for the employer, such as reducing the need for expensive
office space, and the associated climate control, lighting and other costs, as well as some
environmental responsibility benefits due to fewer CO2 emissions related to commuting (Fuhr &
Pociask, 2011) and can lead to increased organisational commitment from staff (Felstead &
Henseke, 2017). There are also advantages of remote working for employees, such as greater
control over time, less or no commuting, more time with the family, job satisfaction and job-
related well-being (Felstead and Henseke, 2017). There are also disadvantages: which for
employers may include extra investment in IT systems and a loss of more traditional forms of
control, and for employees may include loneliness and stress (Crawford, Maccalman, & Jackson,
2011). Until 2020 these had slowed the acceptance of WFH (ONS, 2020); it is to be seen
whether the changes forced by the pandemic lockdown will accelerate the uptake in the future.
The lockdown in the UK that began 23rd March 2020. While advantages of WFH can translate
into large productivity gains (Laker & Routlet, 2019), and while some academics did partially
work from home before, often on research, most teaching and administration was done in loco.
COVID-19 containment measures created a context where WFH became mandatory almost
instantaneously with little or no planning. Although many business schools had wide experience
of implementing online or blended learning programmes (Times Higher Education, 2020b), for
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the majority it is still a novel form of delivery. Greenberg and Hibbert (2020) argue that the
initial shock has the potential to result in professional and personal trauma.
While there have been calls for a stronger focus on the role of instructors in online teaching and
learning (Arbaugh, DeArmond & Rau, 2013), a recent meta-analysis by Kumar and colleagues
(2019) found only one study examining the perception of academics towards remote learning.
There are several plausible rationales, both positive and negative, in the literature to explain why
academics may be less disposed towards online teaching and assessment. For example, it has
been argued that online delivery may be problematic, compared to face-to-face delivery, since
there are fewer visual clues, and less immediacy of responses to questions from the student
perspective that may also create difficulties (Nemanich et al., 2009). Furthermore, Yang and
Cornelius (2005) and Redpath (2013) point out that developing online material is time-
consuming. Electronic marking and feedback can be more time-consuming than more
traditional methods (McKinney, 2018). Given the uncertainty and breadth of the COVID-19, this
global health crisis disrupts academics’ work, careers and their identities as never seen before
(Greenberg & Hibbert, 2020). However, we have limited knowledge of academics’ perceptions
and views of online teaching and learning (for an exception see Ahmed, 2010).
Our study aims to address this issue by using social cognitive theory (Bandura, 1989). We argue
that the intersection between remote teaching, social cognitive theory and self- efficacy
advances our understanding on possible antecedents of academics’ perceptions in response to
the COVID-19 lockdown. Self-efficacy beliefs shape individuals’ functioning through cognitive,
motivational, affective, and decisional processes (Benight & Bandura, 2004). In this article, we
argue that people’s past experiences affect whether they think in self-enhancing or self-
debilitating ways; how well they motivate themselves and persevere in the face of difficulties and
radical changes (Bandura, 1997).
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While understanding academics’ perceptions of online teaching and assessment is relevant, of
equal interest is how the shift to WFH and online delivery has impacted on academics’ work
engagement. This is particularly pertinent as engagement may be a critical factor impacting
upon the productivity and well-being of staff in the short-term. The immediate reliance on
virtual delivery and assessment, and its potential relevance in the longer-term as many
institutions look to maintain online delivery permanently going forward, make the issue of
engagement particularly relevant (Beech & Anseel, 2020).
There is a substantial literature on engagement and quality of working life in HE (Barkhuizen,
Rothmann & van de Vijver, 2014; Fontinha, Van Laar & Easton, 2018; Fontinha, Easton & Van Laar,
2019; Meriläinen, Kõiv & Honkanen, 2019), as well as some research about burnout and
exhaustion (often conceptualised as polar opposites of engagement González-Romá,
Schaufeli, Bakker & Lloret, 2020) in the context of teaching (see Lackritz 2004; Ogbonna & Harris
2004; Watts & Robertson 2011). There is also work examining assessment (Myyry et al., 2020).
Most recent literature (Kniffin et al., 2020) suggests that working conditions have deteriorated
for many employees. In light of such strains, COVID-19 has contributed to greater risk of
employees facing exhaustion and burnout, including permanent feelings disengagement. To
date, there is little work on academic engagement, burnout and overall occupational health in
the context of online delivery and assessment (an exception is McCann & Holt, 2009).
This raises questions such as: Given the dramatic nature of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020 does
prior experience of online working determine academics’ coping choices? How is the experience of
online teaching during the crisis related to perceptions of online teaching and assessment? To what
extent has does the ability to remain engaged in work influence how online activities are viewed? and
Do potentially important contextual issues, like job insecurity, impact upon views of online teaching
and assessment?
To answer these questions, we developed and implemented a survey instrument capturing the
perceptions of a large sample of academics employed in UK Business Schools and economics
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departments over the course of the COVID-19 lockdown. While there is extensive ongoing
research on the implications of remote work and teaching, most of these studies target individuals
indiscriminately, often via snowball sampling. Our previously constructed sampling frame allowed
us to target all business, management and economics’ academics in the UK and ultimately retrieve
a large sample, representative of different types of individuals, institutions and disciplines. We
have later been able to collect rich qualitative which as crucial to enlighten our understanding of
some of our key survey findings.
Theoretical background and hypotheses development
Experience and perceptions of online teaching and marking
Faced with lockdown many universities, like a range of other institutions, remained ‘open for
business’ - but shifted, overnight, to WFH. For the vast majority of academics this meant going
from teaching face-to-face in the classroom to suddenly finding themselves grappling with
unfamiliar technology and teaching platforms. This may have been easier in business schools, as
many of them were more familiar with blended learning (Times Higher Education, 2020b), but
even there the move to full online delivery in a very limited time posed challenges.
Like WFH generally, online teaching and assessment has both advocates and critics. Adopters see
virtual delivery as ‘the future’ for HE, arguing that it enhances higher levels of thinking and
problem-solving skills (Politis, & Politis, 2016). Alavi & Galluope (2003) believe it enables
enhanced learning and communication. However, Sohn & Romal (2015) conducted a meta-
analysis of existing studies to compare student performance between online and traditional
classroom environment among undergraduate economics courses in the USA and showed that
students initially performed better in face-to-face settings.
Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986), examines how a person’s past experiences impact the
way they acquire and maintain behaviour. In particular, this theory advances the idea that
individuals’ expectations, beliefs, emotional bents and cognitive competencies are developed and
modified by social influences that convey information and activate emotional reactions through
modelling, instruction and social persuasion. This ultimately affects their perceived self-efficacy
(Bandura & Adams, 1977; Bandura, 1986). Individuals’ beliefs in their coping efficacy influence
their approach toward potential threats and how they are perceived and cognitively processed
(Benight & Bandura, 2004). As such, we anticipate that academics who have in the past
experienced online or blended learning and engaged in associated social interactions (with
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students, administrators and peers) will be able to develop coping strategies that alleviate the
strain associated with remote teaching and learning.
As contact with these forms of learning progressively increases throughout the lockdown,
academics’ views are likely to improve. We hypothesise therefore that:
Hypothesis 1a. Experience of online activity prior to the lockdown will have a positive
impact on academics’ attitudes towards online work.
Hypothesis 1b. Experience of online activity during the lockdown will have a positive
impact on academics’ attitudes towards online work.
The role of work engagement
Previous research on remote working demonstrates that it is associated with higher
organisational commitment, job satisfaction and job-related well-being, but these benefits come
at the cost of work intensification and a greater inability to switch-off (Crawford, Maccalman, &
Jackson, 2011; Felstead & Henseke, 2017). With the COVID-19 lockdown, remote work in
academia became mandatory and this is a major difference from previous contexts of remote
work. Furthermore, this change may have been accompanied by increased caring responsibilities
at home and by health concerns for some. Hence, we also focus on individualsability to engage
in work and the extent of work engagement as determinants for individualsviews on online
teaching and marking.
Work engagement can be defined as “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is
characterized by vigour, dedication, and absorption” (Schaufeli, Salanova, González-Romá, &
Bakker, 2002, p. 74). Vigour captures the amount of energy and mental resilience that is
maintained whilst working. Dedication reflects the degree of enthusiasm, pride and significance
that individuals feel about their work. Finally, absorption is characterised by the extent that an
individual is able to remain ensconced in their work. Work engagement is a crucial factor in
sustaining the well-being and productivity of workers as it has been linked to performance,
creativity and health (Bakker, 2008).
Engagement has also been associated with the way individuals perceive job demands. When
demands are appraised as hindrances they tend to be negatively related to engagement, but when
they are perceived as challenges this relationship is positive (Crawford, Le Pine & Rich, 2010).
However, there is evidence of reversed causation in which engagement positively influences the
way employees perceive job characteristics (de Lange, de Witte & Notelaers, 2018). Similarly, we
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expect that higher levels of engagement among academics are likely to influence their
perceptions about the new demands associated with online teaching and marking. We
hypothesise that:
Hypothesis 2a. Individuals who are more ‘dedicated’ to their work during the
lockdown are more likely to perceive online activity positively.
Hypothesis 2b. Individuals who are able maintain the levels of ‘mental resilience and
energy’ are more likely to perceive online activity positively.
Hypothesis 2c. Individuals who are more able to remain ‘ensconced in their work’ are
more likely to perceive online activity positively.
Methods
Data and sample
To test the hypotheses a mixed-methods approach was employed, using both quantitative and
qualitative methodologies. This study is multidisciplinary and based on a large-scale survey of
academic business, management and economicsscholars. The choice of sample reflects the fact
that business schools, where economics remains the largest sub-discipline in the UK context, have
traditionally engaged extensively with post-experience students, and have been at the forefront
of developing online delivery methods for decades (Times Higher Education, 2020b).
The quantitative study
Our research approach combines information from three independent sources: (1) university
websites, (2) data on university and business school/ economics departments, and (3) a large-
scale survey. The initial stage of the data collection involved capturing data from UK universities’
websites that included gender and academic rank. Our database contains two overlapping sets of
scholars. First in contain all those working in business schools in the UK, including economists. It
also includes economists working outside business schools in stand-alone economics
departments, or in other areas of universities (such as in departments of education, agriculture,
development studies etc.).
The development of the survey took an iterative approach, with the initial survey being piloted on
two occasions with eight scholars each time. The online questionnaire was launched on 15th April
2020, less than a month after the lock-down in the UK and the immediate switch to WFH and
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online teaching. Recipients were sent an email explaining the purpose of the study, inviting them
to participate and including a link to the survey. The survey was sent out in two batches in order
to examine if there were any changes over the course of the data collection period. The first wave
of the survey was concluded on 8th May 2020. The second wave run from 4th May and was
completed by 26th May 2020.
As part of the project, we linked the survey data with public information from websites. To do this,
we followed a multi-stage protocol to ensure the de-identification of the data, as was explained
to respondents on the project website. First, we replaced the personal names and institutional
affiliation information in the survey data with a randomly assigned token number:
pseudonymisation. Second, we created another set of random tokens for the individual names
and institutional affiliations to be used to capture information about individuals. Third, we linked
the two sets of tokens via separate files. All files were individually password protected and held on
secure servers. This approach ensured that the survey data and other personal information were
never combined on a single file, and therefore the data used for analysis contains no personal
identifying information.
We received a response from 2,660 participants. Given that the total population for the survey
was 13,048, the response rate was over 20%. Of that response, 2,287 provide usable responses
(17%). From this sample, we omitted those who were on research intensive contracts. We also
omitted those who were on teaching and research contracts, but who indicated that they were
not teaching over the academic year (due to their being on extended maternity leave or on
sabbatical).
To check the representativeness of our response pool, we undertook tests of the response
population, looking for sources of bias in our final sample. First, we compared the academic
hierarchy titles of those completing the survey against the academic hierarchy titles of those who
were included in the overall sample. Second, we checked whether our sample matched the
distribution of type of institution, distinguishing between ‘elite’ Russell group institutions and
others. In both cases the sample was consistent with the original population
Measures
Dependent variables
A central concern of the study is to examine how individual academics view online activities
relating to teaching and assessment. Our discussions with faculty, both experienced and
inexperienced in online delivery, highlighted distinct perspectives that influence academics’ views
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and experiences of online delivery. Specifically, some academics worried whether online delivery
could ‘make it difficult to know whether the students understand what is being taught’ due to the
lack of visual clues and immediacy of responses to questions, as work from the student perspective
suggests (Nemanich et al., 2009). Second, developing online material is often cited as involving
more time due to the requirement for academics to design an effective online learning
environment. Initial preparation times may be greater for some academics depending on the
nature of the cohorts they are teaching. Having diverse cohorts may require academics to tailor
their materials. Where courses are taught on multiple occasions using similar materials or
recordings, then the sunk cost of preparation online may be more easily spread. A potential flip
side of the time devoted to preparing online material is that it may require a more structured
discussion of the topic: it ‘enables me to plan my delivery more carefully and provide a better
teaching experience’ (Benson et al., 2011). It is also possible that without the advantages
associated with face-to-face teaching, such as being able to react to student’s visual clues and
responses,over planningof online teaching leads to a more restricted experience. Therefore, we
asked whether participants consider online developmentmore time-consuming to prepare
(Yang & Cornelius, 2005; Redpath, 2013).
We take an analogous approach to assessment where we examine three distinct arguments. The
first relates to whether faculty consider that marking online is more time-consuming than
marking hard copy and feeds into an established debate in the literature (Redpath, 2013; Lackritz,
2004). Second, we examined whether online marking on screens is more tiring (McKinney, 2018,
pp. 236). Finally, we investigated whether online assessment ‘enables (faculty) to provide better
and more considered feedback’, as the literature suggests (Evans, 2013; Nicol, 2010).
In Table 1 the top panel shows participants’ perceptions of online teaching while the lower one
details perception of marking. 78% of respondents agree that teaching online ‘makes it difficult to
know whether the students understand what is being taught’. Table 1 suggests that there is an
increased toll of online marking, with more individuals agreeing that it was ‘more tiring’ than those
who disagree; and a similar proportion of participants agreeing that marking online is more ‘time
consuming’ as those disagreeing. A third of respondents think that online marking enhances the
quality of their feedback. We note that the correlations between the explanatory variables are not
distinctly high with all variables, but that between the first two teaching dependent variables
(0.72), and between the three engagement variables (0.60-0.81), being below 0.4.
<Table 1. Perceptions of online teaching and assessment ABOUT HERE>
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Key independent variables
Teaching and marking prior to or during the lockdown:
Experience of online delivery. If participants responded yes to the question ‘Do you typically
teach online or remotely?’ the variable was coded 1 and 0 otherwise.
Experience of online marking. If participants responded yes to the question ‘Do you typically
mark online or remotely?’ the variable was coded 1 and 0 otherwise.
Teaching online due to lockdown. If participants responded yes to the question ‘Have you been
involved in online delivery because of the COVID-19 lockdown?’ the variable was coded 1, and 0
otherwise.
Marking online due to lockdown. If participants responded yes to the question ‘Have you been
involved in online marking because of the COVID-19 lockdown?’ the variable was coded 1 and 0
otherwise.
Engagement. We use the nine-item Utrecht work engagement scale (Schaufeli et al., 2006),
structured in a seven-point Likert scale. Engagement is captured by three concepts in that scale
dedication, vigour and absorption.
Job insecurity. We capture perceptions of job insecurity through two variables measured on five-
point Likert scales. The first variable captures responses to two questions asking the extent to
which participants agreed with the following statements: ‘I feel insecure about the future of my
job.’ and the second ‘I feel that if I lose this job, I would easily find a better job’.
Academic rank. Based on information gathered from websites, we created a dummy variable to
capture academic rank, distinguishing between the three most common ranks of Professors/
Chairs, Associate Professor/ Reader/ Senior Lecture/ Principal Lecturer, Lecturer/ Assistant
Professor as well as Research Fellow, Senior Research Fellow, Teaching Fellow, Senior Teaching
Fellow and Othertitles. make up the remaining 13%. We aggregated the research intensive
Research Fellow and Senior Research Fellow roles, and teaching intensive Teaching Fellow and
Senior Teaching Fellow roles for the analysis.
Additional variables:
Other individual level variables. Based on information gathered from websites, we created a
dummy variable to capture gender, equal to 1 for male and 0 for female academics. Appendix Table
1, which summarises the additional variables used in this study, shows that 53% of the sample are
men. We derived five further variables that capture different activities that compete for the time
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available for academics to devote to teaching and assessment. We capture childcare
commitments through two variables. First, we created a binary variable equal to 1 if the individual
had children under 5 and 0 if they did not. Second, we included a variable, change in proportion of
time devoted to child care, that is calculated as the difference between the amount of time devoted
to childcare before and during the lockdown: ‘hours you spend on childcare during the COVID-19
lockdown each week’ divided by ‘hours you typically spent on childcare per week (prior to the
COVID-19 lockdown)’ multiplied by 100. To capture the amount of time devoted to research we
use information on the proportion of time allocated to research over the lockdown period as a
percentage of total activity. Finally, we capture the extent of involvement in administrative activities:
‘How would you characterise your administrative workload since measures were taken in
response to the COVID-19 Lockdown’ on a 5-point scale (‘decreased significantly’, ‘decreased’, ‘did
not increase nor decrease’, ‘increased’, ‘increased significantly’).
Segmentation and institutional characteristics. There is considerable organisational variety
between universities in the UK. We distinguished between ‘old’/pre-1992 universities that tend
to have a strong orientation towards research (e.g. Oxford and Cambridge), and ‘new’/post 1992
ones, that are more teaching or industry orientated (e.g. Sheffield Hallam and Gloucester). What
has been clear, even prior to the lockdown (Guardian, 2020), is that UK Universities’ exposure to
the international student market is likely to be adversely affected and impact finances
significantly. The extent to which different institutions were able to potentially absorb the effect
of reduced numbers is conditioned by their financial status and the extent they are exposed to
the post-graduate market. To capture these effects, we include a variable capturing the number of
post-graduate students; the surplus/ deficit of (each) institution and its total income levels (all in
2018/19 terms. Source: Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)).1 We also capture the recently
developed institutional system for grading teaching quality ranking in the Teaching Excellence
Framework (TEF) that ranked on three level grading structure of gold, silver and bronze and
included most English and some Scottish institutions (source: Office for Students).2
We included field dummies to consider any field-specific heterogeneity. This information was
based on a question asking respondents to indicate their primary area of expertise using the
subject classifications in the Academic Journal Guide 2018 which is widely used in the UK (Walker
et al., 2019) and includes 22 disciplinary areas. We also control for two further factors to capture
change over the sample period. We also provide separate dummies to capture whether
1 HESA data was taken from https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis.
2 TEF data are found at https://www.hesa.ac.uk/data-and-analysis.
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economists in the sample are working in business schools, in economics departments, or in other
parts of their institutions. First, we control for which wave of the survey individuals were located
in. Second, we control for the week that each individual completed the survey this allows the
verification of potential different patterns of response as activities such as marking may have been
more intensive at later stages of the survey being online.
The qualitative study
Our qualitative study was designed to elicit more details about the assumptions underlying
Hypothesis 1a and 1b and sought to explore further the assumptions underpinning H2a- 2c. At
the end of the survey, respondents were asked whether they were willing to participate in a follow-
up study. Around 1,200 participants signalled initial interest to participate. Our inductive
approach was based on theoretical sampling, which involved the selection of potential
respondents based on their ability to illuminate and extend the relationships we hypostasized
quantitatively and to develop deeper understanding on the factors shaping academics’ views and
experiences (Eisenhardt & Graebner, 2007). An email invitation for an interview was sent to 150
potential participants. The final sample included 49 individuals. The semi-structured interviews
lasted between just over 30 and more than 60 minutes. 21 of the participants were male, 28
reported living with a spouse or partner, and 16 had young children. All interviewees were working
and held a variety of academic positions (teaching/ research fellows, lecturers, associate and full
professors). Interviews were conducted via Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype and phone calls. The
majority of interviews were, with permission, either video and/ or audio recorded. In case the
respondents did not agree on recording intensive notes were taken. In such cases a trained
research assistant supported the process of taking notes. Based on observations during the
interviews extensive notes on non-verbal cues were taken.
The primary purpose of the interviews was to collect more in-depth data on academics’ personal
and social context, their views and experiences around online teaching and learning and their
perspectives on WFH and their jobs. Further, we were interested to explore the intersection
between family and working within the personal space. As suggest by Braun and Clarke (2006) a
thematic analysis approach was employed to interpret the interview data, as it allows for both a
realistic and constructivist approach. Thematic analysis supported the search and organisations
of themes identified as being important in descriptions of topics of interest; through reviewing
the data in multiple rounds (Fereday & Muir-Cochrane, 2006).
We used QSR NVivo version 12 to interrogate the data and identify the emergence and
persistence of themes. Consistent with the principles of inductive data analysis (Miles &
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Huberman, 1994), the coding of the data and the development and revision of categories took
place through an iterative process with the researchers agreeing upon the prevalence and
interpretation of central themes and, over time, aggregate dimensions that link to theoretical
constructs. During the process of coding the data in iterative cycles and moving back and forth
between the whole interview and the detail relating to views and experiences of online teaching
and assessment, job engagement and security, memos were written about emerging themes
across the interviews as well as in relation to the fine detail within each interview.
Results
Descriptive analysis
Table 2 provides summary statistics and shows that only a minority of participants, 18%, had prior
experience of typically teaching online, while in contrast 77% had prior experience of online
marking. The majority however were teaching and marking online during the pandemic. Table 2
also shows that of the three components vigour was substantially lower than dedication and
absorption. It also indicated that a significant proportion of the sample is concerned about their
jobs. While the negative impacts of low levels of perceived job security can be buffered by high
employability levels (Silla et al., 2009), that is not the case given the context of the lockdown as
reflected in 43.9% feeling insecure. Few felt trading up to another position is possible (8.6%).
< Table 2. Summary statistics for key independent variables ABOUT HERE>
As an initial look at the relationship between teaching and marking and experience and learning,
Table 3 summarises the mean impact across the key independent variables cross-tabulated
against positive and negative views. Given the variable is a 5-point scale a mean figure of 3.0
implies that there is no strong tendency (‘sometimes’) while a figure greater than three implies
‘agreement’ and below 3.0 a propensity towards ‘disagreement’. Thus, Table 3 suggests that
seasoned online teachers (Column 2) are likely to be more positive/ less negative, than colleagues
for whom such activities are novel in both teaching and marking. The majority of experienced
teachers that consider that preparation time for teaching online was higher than for face-to-face
delivery (mean of 3.8 in Column 2), but they also considered that teaching online is likely to
reduce student understanding in the online environment (3.6). However, compared to those with
either do not normally teach online, or those who were obtained their teaching experience over
the pandemic period, experience teachers were more positive. Differences between academics
who had taught online due to the pandemic (Column 3) and those how did not teach online
(Column 1) were small. In contrast, looking at the marking it is notable that who did not normally
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mark online but had to do that whilst WFH, while not as positive/ less negative than those who
marked online normally, were considerably positive/ less negative than those who did not mark
online. This may suggest that past experience reduced the perceived amount of work associated
with marking.
< Table 3. Difference in mean responses of individuals who marked prior, and those that
marked during, the Covid lockdown ABOUT HERE>
While these descriptive tables highlighted that there are differences academics experiences
different in relation to their teaching as opposed to marking. Given these different patterns we
examined each survey question as a dependent variable in a series of separate estimations. Since
the dependent variable is ordinal, we implement ordinal logit specifications. In order to test the
parallel lines assumption, we applied the Brant specification test, but found insignificant
differences, indicating the assumption was not violated. We present results in Table 4. To ease
interpretation, odds ratios (ORs) are calculated and reported throughout. Coefficients bigger than
1 indicate that perceptions a positive relationship between the dependent variable and the
independent variables, while coefficients less than 1 indicate a negative relationship.
While there are some differences across variables, there is consistency in the findings for many of
the key hypotheses. We find that past experience of online activity has a strong positive impact on
coping choices, supporting Hypothesis 1a. Specifically, in terms of percentage change, the odds
of perceiving that online reduces understanding is (1-0.462)*100%=53.4% lower for those who
have had online teaching experience prior to the lockdown compared to those who have not.
Experienced online teachers are more than twice as likely to consider that working in an online
environment enhances their planning. Interestingly, we found that experience in online teaching
leads to individuals being about 30% more likely to consider that preparation is greater. This
enhanced preparation required will plausibly be beneficial to learning, however, it also has the less
positive implication that, unless adequately resourced, it creates greater demands on instructor’s
time. We found no indication that experience of online activity during the lockdown is positively
related to perceptions of working virtually (i.e. Hypothesis 1b was not supported).
< Table 4. Ordered Logit Estimates (odds ratios reported) - Dependent variables: Views of
online teaching and assessment ABOUT HERE>
The findings are even stronger for marking, with experienced online markers being 77% more likely
to consider online marking to be more time-consuming compared to those who had no
experience. Similarly, experienced online markers were over 70% more likely to find online
marking more time consuming. With respect to the quality of feedback, the findings suggest that
Henley Discussion Paper Series
© Walker et al, October 2020 15
experienced online markers were some three times more likely to consider the online
environment to be beneficial in this respect. These findings provide strong support for Hypothesis
1a. While responses of the questions directed towards virtual teaching did not indicate any
learning effects, the results support the hypothesis that experience of online activity during the
lockdown is positively related to perceptions of marking virtually (hence Hypothesis 1b is
supported). It is noteworthy that the learning-by-doing associated to experience in marking is
‘incomplete’ in the sense that there were substantial differentials in the extent that instructors
who developed their experience prior to the pandemic and those who obtained that experience
during it. The differentials were large in all cases but were most substantial with respect to
whether participants considered that online marking lead to better feedback where those who
had experience during the pandemic were a, not insubstantial, 27% more likely to agree, as
opposed to those who had experience prior to the pandemic being about three times more likely
to agree (a differential of 178%).
We then examine Hypotheses 2a-2c. We find strong evidence that when academics are struggling
to maintain their resilience and energy levels (vigour) and this is negatively associated with their
views of online teaching and assessment and marking (Hypothesis 2b). However, we found very
little evidence to support a relationship between the other two facets of engagement: dedication
or absorption (Hypotheses 2a and 2b are not supported).3 Hence, intriguingly, the findings suggest
that academics with higher levels of dedication and those who are able to remain ensconced in
their work were no more or less likely to have a preference for online delivery.
A number of the additional variables are also determinants of perceptions of WFH. Job insecurity
plays a significant role in how faculty view the online experience, being a robust determinant
across teaching and marking. In line with literature, job insecurity has detrimental consequences
for employees (Sverke et al., 2002; Schumacher, et al., 2016). On the other hand, being confident
about the outside options available to individuals makes them more positively disposed toward
the view that online teaching leads to enhanced planning (Silla et al., 2009). Overall, the findings
suggest that the effects of job insecurity have a more pronounced and well-defined impact on
perceptions than their ability to benefit from outside options; a finding that is plausible in a
context of high job insecurity caused by a crisis (Peiró, Sora & Caballer, 2012).
3 As noted when defining the independent variables, the engagement variables were the only ones that
exhibited higher levels of collinearity, most particular between the dedication and absorption variables at
(0.8). We tested whether multicollinearity was driving the ‘non-results’ omitting each of these variables in
turn, and found that the coefficients were still not well determined (below the conventional 5% level of
statistical significance).
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16 © Walker et al, October 2020
Of the variables that relate to academic’s time, we find that administration is the most robust
determinant. Of the institutional variables, the only one that was significant in relation to
assessment is the number of post-graduate students. Of the control variables, we found that nine
of the 132 field variables were significant at the 5% level and there are no discernible patterns
across any particular field. We did not find any significant difference between economists working
outside business schools (in economics departments or in other departments). Nor did we find
that the second wave or week effects had a significant impact on the dependent variables. That
there was no change in views over the period analysed is interesting as it may imply that there are
no short run learning effects, beyond those identified directly in relation to marking, which does
not support Hypothesis 1b.
Table 5, examining experience, probes the findings more closely by interacting with the different
academic ranks. The findings suggest, relative to the reference group of teaching-intensive ranks,
that all other groups have less positive (more negative) perceptions of online delivery. We
examined whether higher-ranked faculty are more likely to be more positively/ less negatively
disposed to online delivery compared to more junior lecturers. We did not find this to be the case,
indeed we found that lecturers and professors are more enthusiastic than associate professors:
for example, professors have (1-0.589)*100%=41.1% lower likelihood of perceiving that online
teaching reduces understanding while associate professors have an odds ratio of 60.8%.
Experienced professors are 2.30 times more likely than their peers to consider teaching online
enhances planning, lecturers are 2.11 times more likely than associate professors to consider
teaching online and enhanced planning, while associate professors were 1.88 times more likely
than their peers to consider teaching online and enhanced planning.
< Table 5. Ordered Logit Estimates (odds ratios reported) - Dependent variables: Views of
online teaching and assessment Rank differences ABOUT HERE>
The findings with respect to the amount of time that is invested in teaching and marking suggest
there are differences between hierarchical positions. For example, with respect to teaching, there
is no significant difference between professors and lecturers. This was not the case with respect
to marking where we found that professors with experience of online marking have a lower
likelihood of perceiving online marking to be more time consuming (OR=0.68), while lectures
had an even lower likelihood (OR=83%) suggesting that even with more experience in the short
run, marking online may have a more negative effect on the time junior faculty than it does on
professors.
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© Walker et al, October 2020 17
Qualitative evidence
Online teaching and assessment
While a number of respondents reported positive views and experiences with online teaching and
assessment, most are stressed and anxious about virtual teaching. In particular, academics familiar
with advanced technologies reported more effective coping choices. For example, one participant
mentioned that:
I am not afraid to try out new technologies.(…) Remote working just a logical next step.
I am excited and grateful to be part of a major change in the higher education sector.
Lecturer
Some groups, such as parents with young children, are disproportionately affected, referring to
increased difficulties in balancing teaching and childcare commitments. This becomes particularly
difficult when synchronous teaching assignments conflict with feeding or caring times of babies
and young children Family status appears likely to disparately affect how this global health crisis
impacts individual’s life and work (Kniffin et al., 2020). As our data shows, male participants are
less affected by family responsibilities and childcare than women. Across the sample, women
participants reported higher workload associated with household chores and childcare.
Participants reported increasing workloads associated with the preparation of online classes and
those with least pre-experience with online teaching and assessment report the most difficulty.
For example, one respondent stated:
At the moment I am working seven days a week. Online marking is still going on and
we have already started to modify the content for the autumn term. Normally, I use the
summer to catch up on my research, but this year it is all about teaching and marking.
Professor
Another respondent associated mental and physical stress and exhaustion with remote working.
He made a remarkable comment about remote working:
In a recent department meeting, we discussed the challenges and advantages of
working from home and realized that we should rather talk about living in the office
rather than working from home. Having the work always within your personal space
limits the possibility to distance yourself from it.
Senior Lecturer
One participant associated higher workloads with the disappearance of work-life balance:
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18 © Walker et al, October 2020
Few months ago, we could go to the office to work and return home to rest. We had a
choice! I think such a physical separation is essential maintain a good mental and
physical health. Now, we are not working from home. Instead we are living in our offices.
Associate Professor
Most respondents also reported lower rates of engagement among their students in an online
environment compared to their experience of face-to-face teaching. Generally, students did not
switch on their cameras so teachers had no idea whether students are even in the room, following
the class. There is widespread concern about students’ learning the students, too, have limited
experience with online teaching and learning. Most of the interviewees expressed dissatisfaction
with the idea of only online teaching with most respondents stating that online delivery is not of
the same quality as conventional face-to-face teaching environment because they felt it did not
lead to a good learning experience. However, across the interviews, academics expect that the
‘new normal’ will look different to the pre-2020 situation. Across the sample, participants
expected that some elements of remote teaching and learning will be maintained post COVID-
19. These findings are of particular interest given that it was the case that only a small minority of
those in the full sample (18%) had been engaged in online delivery.
Work engagement
A large number of the participants were generally satisfied with their jobs, though some reported
a change in the ways they feel about them. The unexpected move to WFH, and online teaching
and assessment, has been stressful and feels uncoordinated. Although most higher education
institutions offer support, academics viewed institutional support as being limited. The
uncertainty associated with WFH, and the blurred lines between workplace and private social
space were viewed by a number of respondents as unfortunate: academics missed their
workplaces and the social connection with their colleagues and students:
I enjoy most the time in the classroom. This is the place which inspires and challenges
all the time. In fact, the being surrounded by students, having challenging conversations
with my colleagues over a cup of coffee, was the best part of my job. At the moment, I
am not sure how to feel about my job…
Lecturer
In spite the radical changes in their working routines, the majority of the respondents made clear
with their statements that they felt obligated to deliver best possible learning experiences to their
students and communities. These findings align to the quantitative results in highlighting that
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© Walker et al, October 2020 19
academics remain as ‘dedicated’ and ‘absorbed’ in their work, but struggle to maintain the same
levels of ‘vigour’.
Some academics reported that their relationship with their line manager has been negatively
impacted since, for example, head of schools were overloaded with administrative work and there
was little or no interaction with faculty members. Some participants feared pay cuts and argued
that they would not get involved in any voluntary tasks if their institution implemented them,
switching to doing the minimum to maintain the basic requirements of the job.
Job insecurity
Interviewees were worried about the reduced number of international students and associated
shortfalls in the university budgets and job security is a major concern. Many respondents said
that the uncertainties in HE sector keep them awake during the night. Some were considering
working outside the UK. Others were worried about their financial commitments. In these
conversations a few of the interviewees got emotional and some broke into tears. For instance,
one respondent made the following statement:
I am 62 and I always thought my jobs is secure. However, as the lockdown showed us,
nothing is really guaranteed. My university will most likely lay off a number of people. If
I lose my job, no one is going to hire me again. I have five years of my mortgage to pay.
So, I will not only lose my job I will also lose my home. What am I supposed to do? How
can I concentrate, give the horrifying future outlook?
Teaching/Marking Fellow
Our data also shows that ethnic minorities worry more about the future of their jobs than their
Caucasian counterparts. In a number of interviews respondents with a black, Asian and minority
ethnic (BAME), participants were reporting higher stress and anxiety level associate with the fear
to be laid off first because of their skin colour:
I always put a lot of effort in my work because I have to work harder, so my achievements
are noticed. Given the current uncertainties, I am worried all the time. I work even more
out of fear be asked to leave first. I know nobody wants to hear it, but I know that a black
person would be fired first.
Lecturer
In summary, our qualitative data supports our findings from our quantitative study but highlights
a number of factors beyond those findings, exploring further the gender related inequality or the
impact of COVID-19 on academics with BAME background.
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20 © Walker et al, October 2020
Concluding discussion and limitations
Moving to home working will most likely affect productivity across a range of sectors and there is
a need for research to assess whether the pandemic and the associated lockdown has accelerated
the use of WFH and the extent that working patterns will revert to the status quo ante. In the HE
sector, there is an expectation amongst business school and economic academics that the
lockdown will have increased the likelihood of universities moving towards ‘blended learning’ and
beyond online assessment that is already being the most common form of assessment. This will
have significant implications for the roles that universities can play in society, for students and the
student experience and, as we explore here, for academics. Our research provides valuable
insights from a large, representative, sample of academics who been working at the ‘coal face’ of
remote work since the lockdown commenced in the UK.
Online delivery in HE has been touted as a potential panacea which can enable scaled delivery.
Given the longer-run concerns about the UK’s declining productivity since 2005, its large-scale
service sector dependency, the coronavirus pandemic and the large-scale lockdown induced
recession resulting from it, an appreciation of potential benefits is of interest beyond HE (UK
Parliamentary Post, 2020). In this respect, our findings show that the vast majority of those
involved agree that online teaching is ‘a lot more time consuming to prepare’ is sobering.
Academics with previous online experience are more likely to consider preparation takes more
time than novices do, but all agree that it is more time consuming to prepare for online than for
face-to-face delivery.
This contrasts with our findings about differences over time within our survey, but it seems likely
that the short space of time was not enough for the effects of these experiences to translate to
behaviour and that the extent of pre-lockdown experience is a better guide and more consistent
with social cognitive theory. In line with our findings, a profound sense of self-efficacy to manage
remote teaching and learning is a main requirement to its successful adoption. Hence, it requires
time and space to build a resilient sense of efficacy (Benight & Bandura, 2004) to manage
effectively new form of working and teaching. Academics can draw strengths from their
experiences during the lockdown. The overnight move to online teaching and marking gave
academics the opportunity to gain new skills and competencies (Greenberg & Hibbert, 2020).
The fact that the amount of work involved in online teaching and marking is being underestimated
raises concerns for academics, many of whom are already under pressure at home, and also have
research and administrative responsibilities. It is also raising alarm bells for universities, who are
already taking steps to tighten their belts at a time there is going to be, for most, more work to be
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© Walker et al, October 2020 21
online approaches, as Redpath (2012) suggests. Thus, it may be that the technological capability
of remote learning has found, force majeure, a context where the opportunity for a large increase
in distance learning can be created.
A majority of academics in UK business schools also find online marking requires at least as much
time as, and the time devoted to marking on screen is more tiring than, marking physical copy,
consistently with McKinney (2018, pp. 236). However, experience of online marking is a factor
driving positive views of such marking, suggesting the potential for productivity gains as faculty
continue to adapt to the online world. It was also the case that even in the relatively short time
since the lockdown had occurred that there were positive learning benefits. They paint a quite
positive picture with respect to this element of online activity given the strong view of
experienced markers that they are able to provide higher quality feedback online.
Overall, the findings suggest that both academics experience in online delivery and those with
such experience prefer face-to-face delivery to enhance understanding and control preparation
time but appreciate the benefits of enhanced planning of course material required by online work.
This leaves open the possibility that there may be benefits in ‘cherry-picking’ online and face-to-
face elements via blended learning. Certainly, but partly by necessity, some institutions have
shown a preference towards blended learning (Time Higher Education, 2020a). This is particularly
true in Business Schools as many of them have been gaining wisdom from decades of experience
in offering distance and digital learning to students (Times Higher Education, 2020b). That said,
our finding that only a minority had online teaching experience in what is a highly internationally
focused market, the UK, suggests that there is considerable scope for diffusion of online activities.
But as we show, unlike in the marking domain, experience over the lockdown did not enhance
academic’s perceptions of online delivery.
A plausible reason for this is that the amount of time and training is considerably greater in order
to become proficient and confident in an online arena. Additionally, the short onset period of the
lockdown lead to faculty having to move online in a short time period. The findings with respect
to marking suggest that ‘learning-by-doing’ with online activities leads to as faculty become more
comfortable and able to appreciate the pedagogical benefits of online delivery reducing bias
against on line learning (Redpath, 2012). This is comforting, given that online teaching delivery,
to a great or lesser extent, will be the norm in the UK and elsewhere, as it is a necessity in the next
academic year.
In UK business schools, faculty who were unable to maintain their energy levels were less likely to
focus on the positive elements of the online experience. This confirms previous research (de Lange
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22 © Walker et al, October 2020
et al., 2018) that lower levels of engagement negatively affect individual’s perceptions of job
demands. In line with most recent literature (Kniffin et al., 2020), our study supports the notion
that organizational commitment to academics’ professional development and personal well-
being during the crisis will lead to sustainable and fruitful working environments.
Line managers, and the institutions for which they work will need to be sensitive to their staff’s
needs, support them in developing necessary skills and keep them from falling into mere
presenteeism, as the quality of online learning may be determinant for the survival of many UK HE
institutions in an environment where satisfaction with online provision has fallen compared to
prior to the COVID-19 lockdown (Times Higher Education, 2020b). Furthermore, institutional
support (e.g. time and space) is required to grow professionally and personally when we emerge
from this pandemic (Greenberg & Hibbert, 2020).
Labour market uncertainty is a potentially significant hindrance to staff who have a positive
perception of, and willingness to work within, online teaching and assessment. It is hard to be
motivated, and staff who feel that they may soon be out of a job will see little point in developing
online materials. There are fewer outside options available to staff in a recession (Peiró et al.,
2012) and we did not find those with strong outside options were any less positive (more
negative) about online delivery or assessment. Job insecurity is potentially higher among
academics with a BAME background. HE institutions may consider to provide differential
resources and opportunities to minimise discrimination towards minorities (Bapuji, Ertug & Shaw,
2020). Furthermore, according to Probst et al. (2007) job insecurity is positively related to
productivity, but negatively related to creativity, which may actually be a great source of concern,
especially as creativity may be a crucial element for the quality of online delivery. Our findings
suggest that being able to provide a secure environment for staff will be an important factor in
ensuring that staff embrace online delivery.
Although our cross-sectional data does not allow us to test causality, our findings suggest that low
levels of vigour are associated with more negative perceptions of job demands due to online
learning. These could potentially then have negative implications on individual performance
(Bakker, 2008). Our qualitative data suggests that such low levels of vigour may be also due to
contextual factors such as living with others, having limited space to work and, most of all,
parenting responsibilities towards young children (particularly for mothers).
Our findings relating to the negative effects on engagement, and associations with online delivery
suggest that while there is a potential that learning-by-doing associated to the enforced online
delivery may help to breakdown instructor bias, this is contingent on environmental factors.
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© Walker et al, October 2020 23
Individuals and managers will need to find means and interventions to be able to sustain their
engagement, which can include personal resource building, job resource building, leadership
training and health promotion activities (Knight, Patterson & Dawson, 2017). While there is
abundant research evidence that online learning is just as effective as classroom learning, a bias
toward face-to-face delivery exists. The lockdown movement may have the potential to enhance
the shift to online delivery, but the absence of investment and adequate resourcing institutions,
could lead to lower quality outcomes undermining the confidence of students and academics.
There are several limitations to our research approach. First, our study is based on a survey of
business, management and economics’ academics in a single country, which limits the
generalizability of our findings. In our defence, within the wider debate there has been a long
linage of research focused on business schools, reflecting their being traditionally engaged
extensively with post-experience students, and having been at the forefront of developing online
delivery methods for decades (e.g. Webster and Hackley, 1997). These schools are the focus of an
existing substantive literature and capture a broad set of disciplines from the humanities (e.g.
business history) to more scientific domains (e.g. IT). In addition, we did not find that there was a
difference between economists working in economics departments and as economist in other
departments providing further that our finding can be generalised within the social sciences.
Further research in this sector in other countries and further research into working at home in
other sectors would help to set this study in context.
While we focus on the significant, but surprisingly little studied group of academics in terms of
teaching and learning, it would be useful to match the views and experience of the students that
are being taught and to gather insights from both parties in order to enhance the learning process.
We suspect that doing so would be particularly valuable to better understand what elements of
virtual and face-to-face teaching could best be blended to obtain the best possible learning
outcomes. It would be useful to take a more rounded view by also looking at components relating
to learning development and the social and networking elements of education.
Fourth, our survey studies academics over a short time horizon. While having a solid
representative database of all academics in business schools enabled us to act quickly and to carry
out research much closer to real time than is normal in the scholarly field, we feel we can credibly
compare the effect of events prior to and during the lockdown, and are able to test whether views
changed over the 5-week period when the study ran. By its nature the research does not allow us
to comment on whether the learning effects we observed will translate into future teaching, nor
whether academics will wish to move to online delivery more extensively following the lockdown.
There is considerable debate that there will be permanent shifts due to the lockdown, but at this
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24 © Walker et al, October 2020
point these remain largely a matter of speculation rather than being grounded in empirical
research. Findings from the study provide a tantalizing suggestion that learning-by-doing has
altered the perception of instructors facilitating such a shift. While there are many reasons why
institutions, academics and students may prefer to spend more of their working lives at home, it
is also the case that these rationales existed prior to the lockdown and there are negatives too and
that the balance has been discussed for decades with change being gradual. Addressing this issue
is an important one for future research.
Henley Discussion Paper Series
© Walker et al, October 2020 25
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Table 1. Perceptions of online teaching and assessment (proportion of responses on a 5-point
scale)
Note: Five-point scale has been simplified into three groups for expositional purposes.
Table 2. Summary statistics for key independent variables
Note: Text describes the variables.
Henley Discussion Paper Series
© Walker et al, October 2020 31
Table 3. Difference in mean responses of individuals who marked prior, and those that
marked during, the COVID lockdown
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32 © Walker et al, October 2020
Table 4. Ordered Logit Estimates (odds ratios reported)- Dependent variables: Views of online teaching and assessment
Notes: z-statistics in parentheses *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1. Odds ratios reported.
Henley Discussion Paper Series
© Walker et al, October 2020 33
Table 5. Ordered Logit Estimates (odds ratios reported)- Dependent variables: Differing views of online teaching and assessment of differing
ranks
Notes: z-statistics in parentheses *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1. Odds ratios reported.
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34 © Walker et al, October 2020
Appendix
Appendix Table I. Summary statistics for additional variables
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