In 2017, the project group called ‘Teaching methods of the future’ was formed with ten members from four Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Fribourg, Switzerland. These HEIs are diverse, applied universities, focusing on health, social work, engineering, and business, respectively.
The group’s objectives were to:
1) Identify future teaching methods,
2) gather evidence from students and faculty,
3) support the members of the schools in their effort to change their teaching methods toward interactive, interdisciplinary, ethical and efficient learning experiences
4) draft innovative pedagogical projects for implementing digital programs in the future and honouring the best with a teaching award. The purpose was to gauge the preparedness and potential for launching online HEI programs by 2025.
In this context, a survey of 2,485 students was launched at the end of 2018. The survey included questions on student perceived self-efficacy to learn (i.e., students’ study strategies and practices), the students’ learning environment (i.e., their places of study in order to be able to adapt, for example, the infrastructure, courses or course materials), and student perceptions toward technology (i.e., specific tools proposed by the HEIs for the specific programs). The initial results from the 663 completed surveys showed that, for self-efficacy to learn, students seek resources beyond the ‘expected’ course work to improve their learning experience such as extra readings on topics not covered in the course (53%), recommended readings by the faculty (49%), Internet research (47%), and asking the faculty for further information (53%). In response to the question on their preferred environment, students pre-COVID-19 expressed the need for more study spaces with large tables, extended opening hours for libraries and labs, and a place to relax between courses. Their most significant concern was the amount of paper waste for course materials and assignments; in fact, 59% preferred receiving course documents online. Regarding technology pre-COVID-19, the students found the platform, Moodle, ‘very useful’ (53%, particularly for downloading course documents (35%) and uploading assignments (20%). While the majority of HEI students used technology such as smartphones and tablets to find supplementary information (59%), more than 10% used these same devices to do other tasks during, but unrelated to, the course.
When HEIs in Switzerland switched to emergency remote teaching in March 2020, the project group’s initial findings were imperative to create effective learning environments that embraced technology and relied upon students’ self-efficacy in the learning process. The COVID-19 pandemic became a catalyst for embracing change to traditional education and moving forward well ahead of schedule. This paper shows how four HEIs in Switzerland immediately applied the project’s findings before the project itself was complete. Further, this paper provides guidelines for HEIs to move beyond traditional education based on preconceived notions of how individuals learn in prescribed places and using existing methods (curriculum, resources, technology) to the changing role and identity of the teacher, learner and contexts and collaboration in the online setting where new learning opportunities have emerged during COVID-19 and will continue in the future. The future has come quicker than imagined; HEIs must evolve to offer exceptional education in exceptional times.