Lost in transition? COVID-19 changed face-to-face teaching and learning across all levels

COVID-19 changed face-to-face teaching and learning across all levels (primary, secondary, tertiary or higher education) as we know it.

Julius-Cezar MacQuarie

Research Affiliate, Central European University | STAR-UBB Fellow, Babeș-Bolyai University

In a similar fashion to the Coffee and Cocktails® (C&C) podcast custom, with speakers having their chosen drink as they participate in Dr Ann Wand’s show, I write this blog entry over a cup of green coffee (Yes, you read that right, a surreptitiously coffee flavoured tea-like drink). This blog entry complements episode 19 on ‘distance teaching and learning’ with testimonials from Sociology students who I taught last year in a Transylvanian university in Romania.

Since early 2020, when the pandemic began spreading, tackling the challenges of moving to an online learning system was no easy task. During the pandemic, students experienced distance learning and teaching as a novelty or a challenge. This disruption impacted their usual routine, education, and social life, since transitioning from face-to-face classes to online education. Therefore, in the post-COVID near future, designing online learning will be even more important as we continue to rely on technology.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, governments around the world enforced social distancing restrictions, which meant that teaching face-to-face, as we knew it, moved online. Now, teaching happens synchronously (with students and teachers interacting in real time), and asynchronously (recorded lectures shared via platforms, preferably used and recommended by the institution). The most challenging and time-consuming for teachers is the blended synchronous type, when some students are present for a face-to-face class, while others join online via a video-conferencing tool (Misic and Rymarenko 2020).

A 3rd year sociology student, whom I call Diana, shares her experience of distance learning during the lockdown. She recollects that ‘by learning from home, I discovered that I was both relaxed and stressed, at the same time. On the one hand, I was not physically present and that meant that I was free to do what I wanted during the online class. On the other hand, I had difficulties studying on so many platforms the teachers at my university were using because I lost time having to learn the software and it became problematic for both teachers and myself to find our ways around this reappearing issue. Every week there was another software to learn from Zoom, MicrosoftTeams, and Skype, to Facebook Messenger, and even Webex, the latter of which I never used since I finished the term.’ Overall, during the winter term, Diana was less engaged because she was not required to have the camera on and because the teachers were still grappling with the new technologies while teaching.

In episode 19 of the C&C podcast, Dr Ana Carolina Balthasar offers some practical considerations that she introduced when teaching in a private college in Brazil. She believes this advice could improve the teacher-student experience of online learning. She advised her students to make an effort to dress up for the class just as if they were attending a face-to-face class, and to set clear boundaries by not allowing family to disrupt them during online sessions.  Moreover, she encouraged both teachers and students to prepare their minds to enter this new, online mode of teaching and learning.

The infrastructural aspects of online sessions need to be addressed as well. The ‘support needed by students in higher education needs to come from the top, at the institutional level’ (Guarnieri 2020, on the C&C podcast lecture). This year, I taught in Romania, a country at the periphery of globalisation, and I found it difficult due to the lack of infrastructural support, and thus I saw many students dropping their online classes. In Diana’s opinion: ‘My country is not prepared to embrace online teaching. We still have teachers who do not know how to use the internet or who do not have a pc desktop at home. A mobile phone is not always practical, and some cannot even run some of the platforms on their phones. Laptops or even a tablet would be more useful. But I think we can’t talk about transitioning to online learning in schools and higher education until everybody has a device or internet in their home.’

Another student, Alex, found online learning problematic because her social relationships and study time in cafés have been drastically disrupted by COVID-19. On reflection, she asks: ‘Has COVID-19 just slowed down our way of living? working? Studying?’

I asked my students how they experienced distance learning during the lockdown. One answer best summarises their lived experiences: ‘Lockdown has made me realise that I can’t focus, I can’t motivate myself to pay attention to the class, or the teachers, and I feel that my grades will be much lower than when we had face-to-face classes. It messed me up in the long run. Too many assignments, and I can’t even keep up this rhythm. It has not been easy at all to focus during these classes without putting in much more effort than I was during face-to-face classes.’

The three student testimonials seem to point out the importance of teachers allowing for student ‘downtime’ to maximise learning so as to not overload students with various platforms and expect students to participate for a two-hour class (as was initially expected in the original syllabus). Instead, teachers should support students through the technical challenges of learning online and offer them alternative methods.

As Misic and Rumarenko (2020) would have it, teachers offering classes online should design their lessons for learning in order to elicit meaningful interactions to engage students via interactive lectures, whole class discussions, small group work, student presentations, and assessments. The authors argue that this method would be of interest to social scientists, teachers, educators, and coaches in higher education because it maximises learning and reduces the challenges for teachers. In addition, without institutional support students will find online learning disruptive and counter-productive to learning.

NOTE. Dr Giulia Guarnieri’s live lecture on ‘Tips and tricks for online teaching’ is available to C&C Patron Supporters on the Coffee & Cocktails® podcast Patreon page. An experienced lecturer in hybrid teaching at City University of New York (CUNY), she addresses the pros and cons of distant teaching and learning:  What exactly is teaching online? How different is it from face-to-face classrooms and what does it actually mean to do distance learning with online tools (over an internet/wi-fi connection via zoom, and other connectivity paraphernalia)?

Bio. Julius-Cezar MacQuarie is a *CEU* trained anthropologist concerned with the lack of visibility of migrant nightshift workers in public debates and political agendas. MacQuarie writes on nightwork, precariousness, and decent work agendas, and is a Migrant Voice Ambassador. With @nightworksop MacQuarie produces short ethnographic films and the NightWorkPod (CEU Podcasts) series. *Central European University*

Resources and Bibliography

In episode 19 of the Coffee & Cocktails® Podcast on distance teaching and learning, Dr Ann Wand brings together, Bea Addis, a prospective PhD student at Washington University, Dr Ana Carolina Balthasar (postdoctoral researcher at PUC-Rio, Brazil), and Dr Giulia Guarnieri (CUNY) to discuss how distance teaching and learning has taken place on the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. More online at:

Research on All About Teaching in Higher Education. Online at:

The Centre for Teaching and Learning contributes to CEU’s longstanding commitment to excellence in teaching and a community engaged in inquiry, debate, and discovery. Online at:

All social research, whether it is directly focusing on the pandemic or not, is now inevitably changed. We are now dealing with a COVID world and a post-COVID world lies in our future. More online at:

In writing this editorial in the middle of this significant rupture in time, the authors note how COVID-19 has brought to the fore existing inequities in how time is experienced everyday by people living on the margins. More online at:  

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