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The new normal – a literature review

A person sitting with a laptop at a street crossing

Covid-19 and the subsequent closure of universities around the world have meant that we all quickly had to learn how to teach remotely. Educators all over the world have gathered experiences and evaluated them, and talk about the present as a "new normal" where both teachers and students expect universities to take advantage of knowledge and skills acquired during the pandemic.

Photo: Christin Hume on

This situation with teaching taking place both on campus and online, often called "blended learning", is perhaps better described as the extended classroom. Now that we are seeing changes in our teaching, it is important that we use our common pedagogical experience and keep the focus on our courses’ intended learning outcomes. This article provides a brief overview of research in this area from the past year, drawn from different countries and disciplines.


Courses that are in part given online provide us with a good opportunity to support students with how to study. This is especially important in beginner courses as it can help lead the students towards greater independence during their education (Nkomo &Nat, p.809). Students who make good use of learning platforms usually have better study results (Nkomo  &Nat, p.813).  However, there is a risk that students from non-academic backgrounds will find it more difficult to use our online resources; for example, they do not always have sufficient equipment at home, or they may have trouble finding a good place to sit when attending virtual meetings (Millican, p. 2-7). One needs to put effort into designing course content on the learning platform (Canvas at Lund University) so it can support all student groups and not just the most experienced, and the support we provide needs to be an integrated part of the course and lead towards the intended learning outcomes. 

Another important thing impacted by Covid-19 was the social opportunities offered in connection with teaching on campus. Students are socialized into the role of being university students, which affects both the self-image and the perception of career opportunities in the field of study (Millican, p.2). When used well, learning platforms provide opportunities to expand student-teacher relations in ways that can compensate for this social deficiency. Examples of this are peer-review that, when done more informally, can become a larger part of teaching, or a teacher can give more kinds of feedback as follow-up to their lessons with e.g. quizzes so that students can evaluate their understanding of the course material (Sharma & Alvi,  Millican, p.14).

The more teaching is done online, the more you need to actively work on creating the experience of a course and the social context of it, e.g. with Q&A and mentoring activities (Yang &Huang, 125-9). From a student perspective, it seems that what you lose in social factors online is outweighed by the opportunity to participate in teaching asynchronously, i.e., you choose for yourself when to watch lectures etc. (Yang &Huang, p.129).


Teachers value lectures in the classroom significantly higher than other forms of teaching (Millican, p.10), whereas our students are more likely to see online and campus teaching as two complementary parts of teaching. One recommendation is to focus online teaching on building professional relationships between teachers and students (Ahmed et al). To achieve this, the teaching in Canvas needs to be developed with the same focus on constructive alignment as other teaching elements. You need to see teaching as a whole that spans all teaching environments, online as well as on campus. No matter what we teach, there is a before, during and after each learning activity. We can plan how these are implemented and make conscious decisions about what should be done online and what should happen on campus (Nkomo &Nat, p.813). 

The learning platform produces a lot of information about how students interact with the published material. This can be used both to develop the course and to catch up and support students who are falling behind (Nkomo & Nat,p. 809-14). There is a clear positive correlation between a high degree of interaction with online teaching materials and high grades. It is also clear that formative assessment, using a learning platform such as Canvas, helps students from non-academic backgrounds (Nkomo & Nat,p.813). With Canvas, we have a learning platform that gives us many opportunities to develop formative assessments. 

The online tools are important, they enable flexibility, personalization, accessibility, and high quality of content. Equally important are the teachers’ part in online teaching where they need to offer support, enthusiasm, attendance and good communication with the students (Sharma & Alvi).  To get there, we all need to be adept at using our tools and seeing the possibilities.


The corona crisis has made us familiar with several of the tools we have available for online teaching; Canvas, quizzes, assignments, Zoom, Teams, Studio, Inspera, Padlet, Mentimeter. Most of us need more or updated training on these tools so that we can make online and on campus teaching work together. It is easy to feel overpowered, or pressed for time (you need about 12 h spread out over a year). Nevertheless, these tools are here, and our students expect teaching with good online support via Canvas (Millican, p.13). 

By thinking of all learning activities (lecture, seminar, laboratory, etc.) as something that has a before with instructions and preparation, a during with hands-on support for how to do things and an after with feedback or some kind of self-evaluation (e.g. a quiz), we can more easily plan which parts should be on campus and which should be given online (Nkomo &Nat,  p.813). 

Mastering the tools means that we can use them both technically and educationally; we can create a quiz and we know how to write good multiple-choice questions. Mastering video in teaching is not only a matter of being able to record and publish a film, but also to be able to judge when and how it works best (Belt & Lowenthal) and to see the different possibilities.


The extended classroom is a good opportunity to improve the quality of our teaching. Properly used, we can provide more support when teaching, provide more support to students with special needs, raise the overall quality and, where necessary, also increase time available for teaching. We have the tools and the knowledge to take on a new normal university environment, what we need now is a methodical and pedagogical effort. 


Ahmed, Samar A., Nagwa N. Hegazy, Hany W. Abdel Malak, W. Cliff Kayser, Noha M. Elrafie, Mohammed Hassanien, Abdulmonem A. Al-Hayani, Sherif A. El Saadany, Abdulrahman O.AI-Youbi, and Mohamed H. Shehata. 2020. Model for Utilizing Distance Learning Post COVID-19 Using (PACT)™ a Cross Sectional Qualitative Study, BMC Medical Education  20 (1): 1-13.
Link to full text here.

Belt, Eric S., and Patrick R. Lowenthal. Video Use in Online and Blended Courses: A Qualitative Synthesis. Distance Education 42, No. 3 (August 2021): 410-40.
Link to full text here.

Mates, Lewis, Adrian Millican, and Erin Hanson. Coping with Covid; Understanding and Mitigating Disadvantages Experienced by First Generation Scholars Studying Online. British Journal of Educational Studies, September8, 2021, 1-22.

Link to full text here.

Nkomo, Larian M., and Muesser Nat. 2021. Student Engagement Patterns in a Blended Learning Environment: An Educational Data Mining Approach. TechTrends: Linking Research & Practice to Improve Learning  65 (5): 808-17.

Link to full text here.

Sharma, Anamika, and Irum Alvi. 2021. Evaluating Pre and Post COVID 19 Learning: An Empirical Study of Learners' Perception in Higher Education. Education and Information Technologies, April, 1-18.

Link to full text here.

Yang, Bin, and Cheng Huang. 2021. Turn Crisis into Opportunity in Response to COVID-19: Experience from a Chinese University and Future Prospects. Studies in Higher Education  46 (1): 121-32.

Link to full text here.