As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, distance learning is a new reality for students around the world. Even though all global master’s programmes at Karolinska Institutet embraced this new dynamic from March 18th 2020, each programme has had different experiences and outcomes from dealing with this new way of teaching. On this blogpost you’ll read about our experience with distance learning at the Health Economics, Policy and Management (HEPM) class of 2021.
Please note that these are our own experiences with distance learning as we were the first cohort to deal with such situation. The dynamics might or might not change in the future, depending on the overall pandemic situation and considerations made by the programme’s leadership.
Schedules have not been fixed and rigid for us anymore. Teachers have been very open to make arrangements to the schedule as the course develops and new ideas for activities start surging. Also, deadlines have been pretty flexible as well, with teachers even consulting about our insights. Our class has been able to re-define deadlines since teachers understand the difficulties of adapting to distance learning. Efficient and fluid communication between staff and students has never been more important!
Nonetheless, I must acknowledge that too much flexibility could have also negative effects. Not having a concrete schedule in such times where you have all kind of distractions (including your bed) next to you could be dangerous for your productivity.
More time allocated towards individual studies
It is not only a matter of time availability. Logically, since we don’t have to leave our homes to get to campus, we naturally have more time for studying that otherwise would have been spent on transportation. Nonetheless, because of the schedule flexibility that was previously explained, teachers have now allocated more time for individual studies and reading time. Even though it might sound daunting at first, it is actually a great opportunity for us to take the most of the studying material that is provided by the course staff. On previous courses we have raised the issue that sometimes we feel that we don’t have enough time to go in depth through all of the material available, which is definitely not the case for this new dynamic. Moreover, we have now extra time to search and share with our classmates new supporting material that is available online, such as TEDtalks or videos.
Less lectures, more interaction
Our teachers have acknowledge the fact that online lectures are just not the same. Being in front of a computer instead of next to each other is an evident limitation of distance learning. Hence, the amount of overall lectures has been reduced. Some lectures have been pre-recorded and posted online for us to review them as many times as we want, whenever we want! Instead, teachers have focused on having “interaction sessions” where the whole class connects on Zoom (with cameras on, that’s a rule) in order to discuss the course topics, the assignments, provide feedback and overall, pushing us to talk to each other. While some of my classmates sometimes feel that we spend too much time on such sessions, I personally find them very useful to keep us focused. Also, we have had the opportunity many times to meet our teachers separately as individuals or as a group, which has been really helpful for our assignments and overall well-being.
More group work?
I personally believed that distance learning would mean less group work, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
During the past months, the group work dynamic has changed as a consequence of not being able to meet in person before or after class. Because of the limitations of online meetings, it is natural that now we have to spend more time than before to make decisions and reviewing our work. The dynamic is overall different. Before the pandemic we would spend 2-3 hours on campus working with our group approximately twice a week. Now with distance learning, we have shorter group meetings 3-4 times a week to work together on the assignments. Sometimes the meetings are quite concise, serving as “checkpoints” for our progress. I would like to highlight that none of this is “imposed” by the teachers, instead we use the group work time to push each other, ask questions and provide feedback to our teammates. Moreover, since the current pandemic situation could potentially have serious implications on our mental well-being, the group meetings have also turned into a great opportunity to support each other emotionally and make a bit of social life on Zoom everyday.
Considering that our experiences in the class might be slightly different in some aspects from one group to the other, I have asked some of my classmates for their insights.
Question: How has distance learning changed your experience with the HEPM master programme?
Amy Barber (Background: Political Science)
Being in another timezone is something of a challenge, though the difference isn’t much you do need to pay attention. Group work is a bit tricky since we cant meet in person but its lucky that this has come at the end of the year, because we have already established ways of working (such as using Microsoft Teams) which make distance easier.
Heloísa Ricci (Background: Pharmacy)
The good side of the distance learning is not having to commute! However, even though I have always enjoyed working from home every now and then, now that we are forced to do it every day I am missing the daily interactions with my classmates more than I expected, especially having lunch together.
Group work is a big thing at KI and doing all the assignments 100% virtually is definitely a challenge. A long virtual meeting is exhausting (zoom fatigue) so we try to be more efficient and focus the meetings on taking decisions instead of engaging in long discussions.
Mandeep Grewal (Background: Medicine)
Under the circumstances of the pandemic, I was anticipating that KI would change to distance learning a bit sooner than it actually did. I much prefer the interaction of being in a classroom with friends than having classes by Zoom, and would never choose to study a master’s with a distance format for that reason. Having said that, under the circumstances, it has been well managed and we are able to have classes.For our current module it has been good to have our individual web cameras on to have more of a personal connection with each other and the tutors, which helped reduce the fatigue of watching slide shows with limited interaction. We have also been able to do group work across Europe via Zoom.For me as a health worker it also meant I could go back home (to the UK) just before flights stopped, meaning I can help with the Covid-19 response over the summer vacation, but did not miss any teaching time. If we had not had distance learning, I would have been faced with having to defer my education for a year.
I am however looking forward to returning to the traditional format of teaching in a classroom next academic year, so I hope the Swedish government are able to open the universities by then.
Stay safe and healthy!