This month, we have focused on the third and fourth of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals on health and well-being and quality education, respectively. At the same time, we find ourselves in a time after corona when many people have happily forgotten the blue masks and the ‘raise hand’ feature on Zoom. Despite this joyful amnesia, corona has taken its toll on our well-being and mental health, when anything resembling physical attendance and social activity was moved into the realm of cyberspace.
In the wake of corona, there has been time for reflection. How did corona affect the students’ well-being and mental health as well as quality education, which is otherwise highly valued at a university like SDU?
We asked Rie Troelsen from SDU Centre for Teaching and Learning what quality education is, whether the quality deteriorated during corona, and whether quality education has any impact at all on the students’ well-being.
The reason for our existence is to help the students achieve the best learning results possible. And in fact, that's also what the teachers are there for
Coherence and relevance
‘We usually say that coherence makes for quality teaching,’ says Rie Troelsen, Head of SDU Centre for Teaching and Learning (SDUUP).
She explains that quality teaching consists of three parts: the learning objective, the practice and finally the exam.
‘Good teaching is when you actually do what you intend, and then you measure it too,’ she says.
She emphasises that it is very much the coherence of the education that helps to create quality, but that the relevance, where the meaning of the teaching is clear to the student, also has an impact.
‘The reason for our existence is to help the students achieve the best learning results possible. And in fact, that’s also what the teachers are there for,’ Rie Troelsen points out and adds:
‘When we offer quality programmes, we also produce some really good graduates who can function, who are useful, and who can develop society as well.’
The quality of teaching and education is therefore not only important here and now, but also on a higher societal level.
A tribute to frustrations
According to Rie Troelsen, quality education plays a role when it comes to the students’ well-being and, not least, their motivation to study.
‘I believe that a clear purpose and obvious relevance also create well-being.’
She points out that coherence in teaching plays an important role when it comes to the frustrations that most people encounter during a semester. Coherence in the teaching means that the student can find a sense of security from having confidence in the teaching and the teacher. And Rie Troelsen believes that frustrations are important:
‘We have to be able to accept that there are things we don’t know,’ she points out, adding:
‘If you were never frustrated that you couldn’t figure something out, you didn’t make any progress. If you never made any mistakes, you didn’t make any progress either because you just carried on at the same level all the time.’
At the same time, she believes that the ball is in the students’ court when it comes to well-being and active learning.
‘Well-being also comes from engagement, that you actually also experience some teaching in which you are actively involved,’ she says.
It is therefore also important that the students make themselves available for active learning and are ready to make changes, if you ask Rie Troelsen.
Disruption of teaching
On 11 March 2020, Mette Frederiksen addressed the nation, and that particular press conference had crucial consequences for teaching over the considerable period that followed.
‘The purpose may not have changed, but the activity changed because the framework for it changed.’ This is how Rie Troelsen explains what happened to teaching back in 2020.
She explains that the problem for both the teachers and the students at the time was that it all had to happen so quickly:
‘It was emergency education,’ she points out.
Two years later, however, Rie Troelsen feels that corona has left more positive after-effects. According to her, the teachers have learned to a much greater extent what the different media can be used for and what they cannot be used for. Teachers have figured out what physical presence can actually do, but at the same time some of the fear of digital teaching has dissipated.
‘Seen in a positive light, corona has broadened our horizons in terms of what different teaching methods can – and cannot – be used for,’ she points out.
However, it is not only positive aftershocks that we are experiencing after corona. The latest study environment survey from 2021 shows that corona has affected the students’ well-being. In the 2021 survey, the general assessment of the study environment fell to the as yet lowest level since measuring the study environment began in 2004.
Although there may be several reasons for deteriorating well-being among the students, which the lack of socialising partly explains, Rie Troelsen also believes that the lack of academic affiliation has had an impact:
‘Increased well-being also entails meeting up with others, being put in situations where you and your fellow students have to actively participate, and that the teacher also organises things where you and your fellow students have to get to know each other.’
She believes that feeling like you and your fellow students are a team as opposed to feeling alone affects well-being:
‘This academic affiliation, academic and social integration – the fact that you actually share a common desire to learn – has a great impact.’
A sense of unity, which was long gone during corona.
A clear connection
It seems that within several parameters there is a connection to SDGs three and four – at least at a university like SDU. The quality of our teaching and programmes may affect well-being more than we realise, and this became clear following the corona lockdowns, during which the students’ assessment of the study environment was at its lowest. According to Rie Troelsen, however, corona has also made us more aware of what we missed and how we can use different media in an educational situation in the future.