Professors conduct a number of tasks— research, teaching, supervising students, administrative coordination of research projects and not least disseminating research findings in journals, books and in popular media.
Digital technology has certainly made my teaching workload easier in the sense that I interact with students from anywhere in the world.
Long before the Covid-19 pandemic upended our lives, I had gradually become accustomed to using digital technology in my teaching modules. It began almost two and a half decades ago when I began to share lecture slides and encouraged students to discuss topics raised in class in online “chat rooms”.
These simple tools made life a bit easier and perhaps a bit entertaining for students, and several evaluations later found that it helped improve their learning experience. I have also taught classes in Oslo while living in Palo Alto, California.
The only real problem then was the nine-hour time difference and my having to get up at 2 am in order to teach a morning class in Norway. But the class interactions were nonetheless rewarding, at least for me!
The use of digital tools in teaching did not really attract much attention until around eight years ago when Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) began to be popular. Although first launched in 2008, MOOCs received a major boost in 2012 when several top-ranked American universities began offering courses through platforms such as Coursera, Udacity and edX.
I jumped on the MOOC bandwagon and developed the University of Oslo’s first MOOC entitled “What Works? Promising Practices in International Development”, which has since 2014 attracted over 12 000 students over a hundred countries. The MOOC experience taught me the value of short, and relatively entertaining, lectures and our ability to reach out to a large global audience that was thirsty for knowledge.
Since the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, the digitalisation of education has been fast tracked in many countries.
But a whole set of challenges remain. One set of issues concerns access to, and the quality of, available equipment (e.g. desktops, laptops, iPads, mobile phones, etc.).Then there is the speed and reliability of the Internet connection, assuming one has uninterrupted access to electricity.
In addition, many teachers are not ready to make the transition to teaching online and are still trying to figure out how best to reach out to their students.
And not all students will benefit from such education and not all teachers will be able to make remote learning an enjoyable experience.
My own take on this is that digital tools can function as a supplement to in-class teaching. They can, however, never entirely replace face-to-face interactions.