Teaching online in the aftermath of Covid-19: Why we cannot just ‘keep calm and e-learn on’.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


The Covid-19 pandemic is the defining global health crisis of our time (WHO, 2020) and has brought major disruption and unprecedented challenges to every sector of society – none more profoundly than education. The sudden closure of university campuses at the peak of the first wave of the crisis left HE lecturers with no choice but to deliver online teaching as a rapid response to the immediate dilemma. While learning technologies present tremendous opportunity for educators and institutions to engage students in innovative ways, the onset of the pandemic in 2020 dramatically accelerated the adoption of such technologies for teaching across the board. In HE institutions increased use of online learning has become the ‘new normal’, embedded within blended models which offer much reduced face-to-face interactions among the teaching and learning community.
Studies on the implications of embedding technologies in learning have focused primarily on student outcomes and have shown increased student engagement (Revere & Kovach, 2011) and enhanced performance and course satisfaction (Hsu & Hsieh, 2011). Nonetheless, technology-mediated learning does not always satisfy students’ diverse needs (Johnson et al. 2008) and some student populations may be disadvantaged (Chen et al., 2010). Certainly it is important to understand learners’ perceptions and experiences of online and blended learning approaches in order to best meet their needs, however, it is also necessary to gather the views and experiences of teaching staff who play a crucial role in assuring that learning mediated through emerging models of blended delivery is optimal.
According to Boelens et al. (2017), creating an effective blended learning environment involves nurturing social interaction and the perception of a shared community, while availability of support helps to stimulate social interaction and dispel feelings of isolation (Muilenburg & Berge 2005). This is important to generate not only for students, but also for teaching staff. Notably, the knowledge and skills required to deliver high-quality online tuition are distinct from those needed to teach in a face-to-face encounter. A review of the literature on online teaching (Pearson, 2016) concluded that instructors were often poorly prepared due to the speed of transition to digital formats and therefore staff should be provided with additional pedagogical training.
Deteriorating mental health among university staff has been well-documented (Morrish, 2018) and faced with major adaptations to work routines, expanding workloads and institutional uncertainty, HE staff’s wellbeing is at even greater risk. O’Brien and Guiney (2018) found that good relationships with students and colleagues and feeling valued were associated with positive staff wellbeing, while feeling isolated and over-burdened were linked to poor wellbeing. How all of these factors have been affected by new working regimes was of keen interest in the current research.
This exploratory study explored HE staff experiences of adjusting to online teaching methods in the wake of Covid-19. The challenges and benefits presented by the unique set of circumstances which prompted this transition were investigated to gain an understanding of staff perceptions and experiences in terms of change and the impact on their wellbeing. The main research question was: What is the experience for HE lecturers of adjusting to online teaching and blended learning models in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis?
A qualitative design using a solicited diary method was used to collect data. This technique allows for a contemporaneous insight into the lived experiences of the individual (Morrell-Scott, 2018) and can gather deep and detailed data. Participants comprised three HE academics (lecturers) from UK universities (female; age range 2: 35-55, 1: 18-35) who completed a daily diary for four working weeks. Inductive Thematic Analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2013) was conducted by two researchers independently and then emergent themes were cross-validated. Four thematic categories were generated: Dynamics of transition; Interpersonal relationships; Professional identity, and Wellbeing environment. Key findings indicated that the process of change had catalysed unique stressors including inadequate support/training; heightened responsibility for student mental health, and absence of professional acknowledgement/value (i.e. no consultation), consequently staff were exposed to an elevated risk of poor wellbeing and burnout.
This study shows that involving all stakeholders is imperative for managing effective transitions. Furthermore, it underlines how this must be a priority as HE institutions look beyond the Covid-19 pandemic to consider how technology is best leveraged to enhance the teaching and learning experience for students and educators alike and, crucially, support positive wellbeing for the whole education community. More qualitative research is needed to explore important process issues further and to understand how educational settings can shift from models of individual resilience to models of collective resilience.

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World Health Organization (2020). WHO Director-General's opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19 - 16 March 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/dg/speeches/detail/who-director-general-s-opening-remarks-at-the-media-briefing-on-covid-19---16-march-2020
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe British Educational Research Association Annual Conference 2021
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sept 2021
EventThe British Educational Research Association Annual Conference - Online
Duration: 13 Sept 202116 Sept 2021


ConferenceThe British Educational Research Association Annual Conference


  • Online learning, higher education, staff wellbeing

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