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Covid-19 forced remote teaching and university education after it

Wednesday, 20 April 2022

Blog by the 4TU.CEE Leader of Wageningen University & Research: Emiel van Puffelen

The COVID-19 outbreak at the beginning of 2020 led to a quick transition from education, including face-to-face interaction to emergency remote teaching (ERT). During this period, research on the experiences and innovation needs was done at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). The results will be published in June (van Puffelen et al., 2022). Below is a preview of findings and advice for education in the years ahead.

The well-being of teachers and students

Teachers experienced an increase in workload but were still motivated to teach online and felt they could teach their courses online successfully. The well-being of students was low during the ERT. Survey questions did not separate the general effects of the pandemic from the impact of online education. The strong general restrictions like curfews, worries about health and relatives, and extreme online life during the ERT period caused severe stress for many. Student rooms are often small, which is ok as long as students spend much of their time outsides of them. But during curfew and lockdown, small rooms might feel like prison cells. This is, even more, a problem for students being outside their home country as they have no option to temporarily move to parents or relatives. Questions on well-being and appreciation of education during the pandemic might measure that effect combined with the impact caused by the shift in education. In addition, there might be interactions: for instance, the forced general online life adding up to the online education work stress. Also, some students left their university towns to study online from other places. Even before the pandemic, there were well-being issues amongst higher education students, and new periods of forced remote teaching might be ahead of us. So, a clear focus on student well-being is needed in the years ahead. 

Appreciation of the ERT

The ERT enabled education to go on, and that was appreciated. And it helped that there had been face-to-face education before the ERT. Nevertheless, the students indicated a lack of sense of connectedness and a strong desire to have face-to-face education as part of the Teaching and Learning Activities (TLA’s).

Education design for the years after the ERT

In 2020, ERT saved higher education from being completely stopped. Now, face-to-face education is possible again in many countries, but sometimes with restrictions. The battle with new virus mutants will continue in the following years, and the potential for new outbreaks remains (Mostafavi et al., 2022). So, it is wise to stay prepared for 100% online education when needed. This requires focusing on the well-being, sense of connectedness of students and staff and having online versions of most courses available. The experience with ERT is valuable for that, and we can now integrate the ERT online courses into our blended learning curriculum for a less restricted time. That will reduce maintenance costs compared to keeping separate ERT courses. This can be done using guidelines in mind. First, students differ in preferences towards online and other TLA's (van Puffelen, van Berkum & Diederen, 2018). A carefully designed mix of TLA's is needed to activate most students; it is not a matter of simply flipping one kind of TLA for another. Also, the combination of synchronous and asynchronous TLA's need more design time than our teachers had at the beginning of the ERT. In addition, we need (partial) online ERT alternatives for lab education, excursions and assessment. In combination with the (re)design of courses geared to a sense of connectedness, this might all add up to the resilient curricula we need for the following years. 

Ongoing work

WUR is now researching the present situation. The preliminary results indicate higher motivation, higher workload, and more stress for teachers in the current situation, and for students, lower stress, higher motivation, and higher workload experiences. Results will be disseminated in scientific and practitioner communities. In addition, related work is shown on the 4TU.CEE innovation map and on a project page (Researchgate, 2022) about Education design for new educational challenges of universities.


Mostafavi, E., et al. (2022). SARS-CoV-2 Omicron variant: A next phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and a call to arms for system sciences and precision medicine. MedComm, 3, (1), e119. doi: 

Researchgate. (2022). Education design for new educational challenges of universities. Retrieved from 

van Puffelen, E.A.M., et al. (2022). Covid-19 forced remote teaching and university education after it. Proceedings of the 18th International CDIO Conference, hosted by Reykjavik University, Reykjavik Iceland, June 13-15, 2022, To be published in June 2022, 

van Puffelen, E.A.M., van Berkum, M., & Diederen, J. (2018). Balancing online and face-to-face teaching and learning activities. Proceedings of the 14th International CDIO Conference, Kanazawa, Japan. 339-348.