The COVID effect: Factors influencing academic practice in higher education during the emergent 2020 COVID-19 pandemic

Presenter: Gwen D. Erlam


The COVID-19 pandemic has led to unexpected and abrupt changes within higher education both nationally and globally. This resulted in academic staff needing to swiftly establish strategies necessary to pivot teaching and learning from campus-based to online environments.

Online learning is touted as providing anytime/anywhere opportunities for learning and teaching. It brings with it synchronised and asynchronised opportunities, immersive learning spaces and discussion forums that prioritise learner continuity and flexibility. However, there is a challenging side to online learning in that it requires a different skill set from face-to-face teaching. Due to the rapid emergence of the pandemic there was a need for both agility and an obliging and convivial workspace moving into this ‘new normal’.

Aim: The aim of this research is to understand factors that influenced learning and teaching practice at a New Zealand University during the emerging COVID-19 crisis while transitioning to an online educational environment.

Methods: After receiving ethics approval (AUTEC 20/266), a mixed-method design was selected that included a focus on descriptive/inferential statistics (survey) alongside a secondary qualitative approach (open-ended survey responses). Academic staff (n = 497) in a health and science faculty across four different schools were invited to participate. The combination of quantitative and qualitative responses offered depth in the data that was gathered and analysed.

Conclusions: The provisional results of this study explore factors influencing academic staff during the COVID-19 pandemic while transitioning to an online teaching environment. Urgency to move tertiary teaching online set into motion a wide range of responses – seamlessness was not one of them. Challenges as well as benefits are highlighted. The preliminary results provide an opportunity to learn from the challenges and inform future learning and teaching practice in higher education.