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Universities prepare to teach digitally until 2021

Norway’s lockdown likely to continue through autumn term, says head of university council

Norwegian universities have said they believe that digital teaching will have to continue in some form for the rest of 2020 because of the coronavirus crisis.

Dag Rune Olsen, chair of Universities Norway, said that most students would still be taught remotely this autumn, despite universities reopening their doors last week to some students who were unable to work digitally.

“Obviously, we hope that we will be able to get back to a normal situation, but how realistic it is I’m not sure,” Olsen, who is rector of the University of Bergen, told Norwegian researcher news website Forskerforum.

Olsen said that although the Norwegian government’s anti-virus measures had worked and the rate of infections had decreased, there was still a ban on larger gatherings. “I think it will be difficult to gather more than 30 students before the end of 2020,” he said.

The concerns at universities hint at a normalisation of online education. Olsen said that digital teaching should no longer be seen as an “exceptional circumstance”. “I think it must become normal and we need to find out how best it can be designed,” he said. “The obvious thing is the learning outcome, and how to ensure we can maintain it.”

How well online teaching compares with physical presence in the classroom in terms of students’ performance and learning is still not well understood, Olsen added. He admitted that Norway’s universities were falling behind targets on laboratory and fieldwork, as these could not easily be replicated digitally.

The coronavirus has killed just under 200 people in Norway and infected nearly 8,000. The government has hinted that some form of lockdown to contain the virus will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

As a result of this, the University of Oslo has asked faculties to prepare for a situation in which most teaching will continue to take place digitally. “Based on the signals from the health authorities, and to ensure a stable environment for students and staff, we’ve asked the faculties to plan for digital teaching in the autumn semester as well,” said Oslo’s rector Svein Stølen.

Preparation is especially important, Olsen said, as new students will be starting that semester. “We need to think of students entering a new life situation, who may have to move away from home for the first time and in the worst cases have to isolate themselves,” he said. “We must prioritise these students within the contagion framework that applies at that time.”