Teamwork the key to a successful transition
Courses at KTH are continuing, despite the coronavirus crisis. This has been due in no small part to the nimble-footed and determined team that has worked so hard to convert KTH to distance education.
“I think having an engineering culture has been a great benefit, we are trained to face problems and find solutions that work in new situations,” says Stefan Stenbom , a teacher and researcher in online learning who has headed the reconfiguring work.
KTH has kept a close eye on developments and been prepared for a scenario where teaching should switch from physical to online. When the decision came that Sweden was to close the country’s universities and offer distance learning, KTH had already started preparing for the change.
There were several challenges at the same time. Would systems and digital tools cope with the far bigger load when all education was online? How would teachers manage a switch-over that would be done within a matter of days? And what human resources would be available to implement the transition?
“The capacity for the systems within online learning has been expanded at record speed,” Stenbom explains. “In close cooperation with international and national partners, the IT department upgraded hardware and server capacity to manage a growing use of e-learning.”
There are tried and tested procedures in place at KTH to support teachers running online courses. We have now increased staffing for e.g. the e-learning website, the learning management platform Canvas, seminars, workshops and support, Stefan Stenbom points ut.
“In addition to the 15 or so personnel who normally work with e-learning, around 50 more people are now providing extra assistance, ranging from full-time involvement to updating content or hosting webinars. We expect to be able to host daily webinars for teachers very soon.”
There has been a sharp increase in activity in the digital systems. Compared to last year, the Canvas platform that contains course material, discussion forums and submission details for all KTH courses, is now being used twice as much. The number of video conferences using the e-tool Zoom, has gone from 100 to 2,000 a day in the space of two weeks.
So, despite everything, you would say KTH courses are now up and running?
“I can safely say that, yes. Of course, we face some big challenges in terms of laboratory work, for example, that is normally done on campus using specific equipment, but I still feel that the majority of courses are proceeding and working online.”
In the immediate future, questions concerning how the spring exam periods, resits in April and normal exams in May, can be done online.
“We all need to think along new lines. I think it is possible to structure good exams for many teaching purposes that do not need to involve traditional exams and therefore doing these from home can work well,” he says then adds:
“Having said that, we are working flat out to develop systems solutions and support for those courses that do require sitting exams in a similar setting to classic exams.”
How have the teachers reacted to all this?
“Almost entirely positively. Many feel that we are all in the same boat and have to be creative together to succeed with the switch. I have also heard for example, that colleague are engaging in fascinating educational discussions as a consequence of things we take for granted, such as our physical campus as a hub for education, suddenly no longer being able be used.”
What has this change work been like for you?
“Intensive, exciting and a bit scary. But above all, I think it is fantastic to see how having to tackle a problem of this size together has generated such a sense of community. Nobody was prepared for this but everyone has been truly determined to roll up their sleeves and help out.”
Text: Christer Gummeson