Partner: VU

Recent studies measuring the impact of distance education have demonstrated significant changes regarding HEIs students and teachers’ performance, knowledge and well-being when compared with the situation before the pandemic in Lithuania (LieDM (2022), Vilnius University (2022), Volungevičienė et al (2022), Čiegis et al (2022)) and internationally (Bergdahl and Bond (2022), The Hunt institute (2021), Unger and Meiran (2020)). Even though educational research indicates some positive aspects of e-learning, the negative effects prevail, including limited students feedback, social isolation, lack of self-motivation and time management skills, lack of communication skills, teachers’ focus on theory rather than practice, confinement to certain disciplines, lack of assessment and quality assurance, etc (Sederevičiūtė-Pačiauskienė et al (2022), Dagienė et al (2022), Butrimė and Zuzevičiūtė (2021), Lamanauskas and Makarskaitė-Petkevičienė (2021), Trinkūnienė and Juskaitė (2021)). In pursuit of addressing various unfavourable aspects of distance education, in 2021, a consortium of HEIs from six countries (Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Iceland, Lithuania and Slovenia) began a project “PLACEDU: The Digital Place for the Next Normal in Education”. The major objective of this project is to design an international meta-platform of the good practices undertaken in distance education and supplement it with state-of-the art e-learning tools as well as training for HEIs teachers. As partners of this project, Vilnius University (VU) researchers carried out a sample desk and field research in March-August 2022, exploring students and teachers’ views of the pivotal higher education aspects that are lost when face-to-face learning is brought online. The problem statement of this research evolves around the need to determine how distance education in VU has evolved based on the post-COVID experiences. As the conceptual framework behind this research the connectivist theory (Siemens (2005), Downes (2007)) – often referred to as the educational theory for the digital age – has been undertaken. It assumes that knowledge is not propositional and cannot be merely transmitted from a teacher to a student but that it is of a shared nature and is distributed as a network. This theoretical approach underlies such key aspects as the learning community, distributed knowledge and e-learning (Downes (2012)). The ethnographic methodological design of the research embraced desk research (analysis of national educational policy documents, literature in distance education research, etc.), mobile ethnography of VU students and teachers, and a focus group interview with teachers and staff of VU, which served for both data collection and analysis of the data collected during the desk and field research. Major findings of this project have revealed that distance education is burdened with lower student activity and students’ reluctance to turn their cameras on. With regard to teachers, their workload has significantly increased, particularly when dealing with blended learning as it embraces the challenges of both in-class and distance education. The research concluded that teachers are in constant search for new methods as well as epistemological approaches that are most suitable for distance education and that the connected approach towards knowledge as networking may support teachers in this search.

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