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The Croatian Agency for Science and Higher Education (ASHE) presented the findings of the research entitled Challenges in Higher Education during the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation: experiences and needs of staff members and students at higher education institutions at the webinar held on 30 September 2020.

The research was carried out with a view to better understanding the influence of exceptional circumstances, such as a pandemic and social isolation, on the experience of studying and teaching.

Data was collected during June and July 2020 through an online survey in which staff members and students from higher education institutions throughout Croatia participated.

Challenges met while studying and working in exceptional circumstances and desirable forms of support to higher education institutions and other bodies in the higher education system were presented through the following thematic units: technological conditions of online studying during exceptional circumstances, quality of online teaching, quality of student support, assessment, student workload and psychosocial aspects of online teaching.

Personal experiences as well as ways of coping with academic obligations during and after the quarantine were also presented at the webinar. This topic was covered by the following speakers: Assoc. prof. Sanja Žaja Vrbica, PhD, Vice-Rector for Academic affairs and Students (University of Dubrovnik), Asst. prof. Ivana Bosnić, PhD and Asst. prof. Ana Sović Kržić, PhD (Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing, University of Zagreb), Assoc. prof. Maja Martinović, Associate Dean for Graduate MBA programme (Zagreb School of Economics and Management), Iris Jerković, student (Faculty of Economics and Business, University of Zagreb) and Tea Dimnjašević, President of the Student Council of the University of Rijeka. 

Conclusions of the research:

  • The majority of students that participated in the research (42%) is very dissatisfied and dissatisfied with the access to library funds during exceptional circumstances, while the majority of HEI employees (51%) was satisfied and very satisfied.
  • The majority of students (82%), as well as the majority of HEI employees (86%) expressed satisfaction (satisfied and very satisfied) with the level of their own digital competencies.
  • Half of the students (50%) consider the quality of online teaching carried out in the form of lectures considerably lower and lower than before the quarantine, while 38% of HEI employees evaluate the quality of teaching as equal to that before the quarantine.
  • The majority of students (57%) as well as the majority of HEI employees (54%) considers that the quality of online teaching carried out in the form of practical and field classes is considerably lower and lower than before the quarantine.
  • 42% of students and 44% of HEI employees consider that there is considerably less and less opportunity for an online interaction between teachers and students to be established as compared to before the quarantine.
  • 46% of HEI employees consider that the teaching workload of teachers is higher or considerably higher than before the quarantine, 27% consider that the teaching workload hasn’t changed, while 19% consider that the teaching workload was lower or considerably lower than before the quarantine.
  • The quality of the support provided to students hasn’t changed since the quarantine according to 36% of students, while 44% of HEI employees estimate that there were no differences in the quality of the support as compared to the previous period.
  • Half of the students (50%) responded that they were not aware of the possibility to receive psychological counselling at their higher education institution.
  • 34% of students responded that assessment has shown to a lesser extent (considerably lesser and lesser) the successful achievement of learning outcomes during online studying; 46% of HEI employees considers that the learning outcomes are achieved to the same extent as before.
  • Somewhat more than half of the students that participated in the research (56%) consider that the students’ workload in the online environment during exceptional circumstances was heavier and considerably heavier than before the quarantine, while 38% of HEI employees considers that students had the same workload as in the previous period.
  • Half of the students (50%) responded that during online studying, they felt anxious and/or depressed more often and much more often than before the quarantine; the same was stated by the majority of HEI employees (44%).
  • Around half of the students (51%) consider that the level of motivation for meeting student obligations was much lower and lower than before the quarantine, while the majority of HEI employees (45%) stated that the level of motivation remained the same as before the quarantine.
  • Although participants emphasise the effectiveness of online teaching and its applicability in the transmission of theoretical knowledge, they nevertheless place great emphasis on the non-substitutability of personal, direct contact between teachers and students.
  • The needs students and HEI employees expressed concern a stable internet connection, appropriate computer hardware and additional equipment, access to digital literature, better organisation of online exams and prevention of unethical behaviour, the possibility to carry out part of the teaching (especially the practical part such as laboratory exercises, etc.) in person, the evaluation of the increased teacher workload, the development of uniform guidelines for the delivery of online teaching, psychological counselling services, additional training for teachers on existing forms of online communication, questioning the effects of online teaching on students and other.

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