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Switch to distance learning causes perceived drop in quality

Image: David Martyn Hunt [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Students say that online teaching implemented during Covid-19 pandemic lowered university standards

Nine out of ten German university courses were accessible online in their entirety during this year’s summer semester, but students are dissatisfied with the overall quality of higher education, a survey has found.

The survey, undertaken by German funders’ union Stifterverband and consultancy McKinsey, showed that the country’s universities reacted quickly to the coronavirus pandemic. It found that half of all universities managed to switch to digital teaching within 14 days of a nationwide lockdown implemented in mid-March to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

However, respondents said that while academia’s response was quick, the experience of studying had suffered.

This was borne out by quantitative data. During the 2019/2020 winter semester, around 85 per cent of students said they were happy with their learning experience. However, this has fallen to 51 per cent for the 2020 summer semester.

Students said the lack of social interaction, low motivation and an inability to concentrate on online lectures were recurring problems. They also said they struggled to learn at home and felt disoriented when having to access a wealth of online learning resources.

“Students will rightly expect more next semester,” said Stifterverband deputy secretary Volker Meyer-Guckel.

Students felt that digital lectures were more conducive to online learning than small-group formats such as exercises. The longer they were exposed to digital teaching, the more dissatisfied students felt in general with their higher education institution, the survey’s authors revealed.

By contrast, three-quarters of lecturers said they’d had a positive experience with switching to digital teaching. More than half said they could imagine offering every third course in digital form in the future.