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  • Writer's pictureAlessia Salvato

Smart working and smart learning in comparison: Which teaching model to apply in universities?

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

In recent years, both the evolution of technologies and the emergency due to Covid-19 have required the need to adapt and seek flexible solutions for the organization of work in all areas, including education. Among these solutions, there is smart working: a work method that allows employees to have greater autonomy and greater flexibility in terms of time and place of work against greater responsibility for the results to be achieved.

In particular, the research conducted by Alessia Salvato aims to investigate both the phenomenon of smart working from the point of view of teachers and the phenomenon of smart learning from the point of view of students in order to identify what characteristics the new teaching model must have.

In order to carry out the research an empirical analysis was carried out. This analysis included two different phases: a first qualitative analysis with semi-structured in-depth interviews to understand the habits of students and professors (both before and after the lockdown caused by Covid-19) and their preference between presence mode or remote mode; and a second phase with two web-based questionnaires from which 169 (sample of professors) and 134 (sample of students) valid responses were obtained. The analyses were carried out with the statistical software SPSS.

The sample of professors is predominantly female (59.2%) and is concentrated in the 48-52 age group. Most of them hold the position of professor of the second rank (49.1%) and the preponderant teaching field is that of mathematical, physical and natural sciences (30.8%), followed by economics and statistics (30.2%). Considering work habits, during distance learning, 70.4% of respondents said they always or often did the traditional lecture online. However, there has been an increase in the use of innovative methodologies to teach during distance learning: 33.8% of the sample began to use always or often innovative methodologies such as debate or flipped classroom (20.3% of them had stated that they rarely or never used these methodologies before distance learning) and 79.3% began to use always or often slides or other types of support such as digital platforms for collaboration, learning apps, or games-learning (20.1% of them had stated that they rarely or never used these methodologies before distance learning) during lessons. On the other hand, the tool most used for teaching turns out to be the laptop (65.1%) and 57.4% of the sample of professors declare, moreover, that their own knowledge has been sufficient to adapt to distance teaching while still having acquired new skills.

Finally, the preferred mode of work is face-to-face (81.7%) and the drivers of satisfaction for those who chose this mode are, in order of importance, the following: the effectiveness of the training (42%), the ease of involving and getting students to participate (31%) and the relationship with colleagues (27%).

The sample of students is made up, for the most part, of female students (69.4%) and within the age range 22-25 years. The 87.3% of the sample attends a public university and the prevalent field of study is economics and statistics (26.9%), followed by cognitive, psychological and pedagogical field (23.1%). Considering their habits, before the distance learning, 41.8% of the sample of students were accustomed to follow all the lectures in classroom, 68.1% always took notes and the most used tool (75.9%) was the block notes (a percentage that changed with the introduction of the distance learning in favor of the use of the laptop). Regarding the mode of study, 55.2% of the sample preferred to study individually rather than together with colleagues. Finally, the preferred mode of teaching is distance learning (59%). For those who chose this mode, four drivers of satisfaction emerged, in order of importance: convenience in following online lessons (34%), experimenting with new digital tools (26%), interaction with colleagues (23%) and the possibility of choosing place and time to follow the lessons (17%).

Then, classical segmentation was carried out in order to identify clusters that presented a high internal homogeneity in terms of benefits sought with the aim of being able to optimize the final result and propose a teaching model appropriate to the needs of the target audience. In order to carry out this analysis, no distinction was made about the preferred teaching mode because the number of observations would have been very low, therefore, only the items in common between the two modes were considered.

For professors, the 8 items submitted for evaluation were reduced into three factors: educational aspects (e.g., effectiveness of training), job satisfaction (e.g., managing work and personal life better, quality of work...), and organizational aspects of work. Based on these factors, the final 4 clusters were identified:

- Educators: prefer face-to-face work. They love educational aspects and pay little attention to the organizational aspects.

- The indifferent professors: prefer face-to-face work but they are uninterested in any aspect of teaching.

- The demanding professors: they prefer face-to-face work and pay close attention to all aspects of teaching, especially organizational ones.

- The pessimists: they prefer smart working but they appreciate nothing.

For students, also, the items in common were reduced in three factors: the educational aspects, the organizational aspects and the ease in taking exams. So, the following three clusters were identified:

- The diligent students: they prefer face-to-face lesson and they like educational aspects but they are uninterested in the organizational aspects and in taking exams with ease.

- The slackers: they prefer smart learning and they only take into consideration the ease in facing the exams.

- The organized students: they prefer smart learning and pay attention to the organizational aspects in order to better manage their studies with their private life.

The last analysis, the conjoint analysis, was useful in answering the main objective of the research and was carried out by asking respondents to evaluate 9 models of teaching based on their propensity to use them.

The 9 models of teaching for professors stemmed from the combination of 4 attributes: possibility of choosing time and place of work; use of technology in the teaching process; type of teaching and interaction with students (traditional mode, interactive...); responsibility and autonomy in managing their work methods. It emerges that the most relevant attribute for professors is being able to flexibly and responsibly manage their work arrangements. The cluster of educators, also, places greater importance on the latter attribute, while the cluster of demanding professors prefers greater use of technology.

For students, on the other hand, the 4 attributes considered were: possibility to choose time and place to attend classes; use of technology in the learning process; type of teaching; interaction with colleagues through group activities. It emerges that the most relevant attribute is interaction with colleagues, which is also preferred by the cluster of diligent students. While the cluster of organized students prefers the possibility of choosing time and place to follow the lesson.

In conclusion, the new teaching model should be a hybrid model that: allows teachers to manage their work methods autonomously (being able, for example, to choose the type of teaching); enhances and integrates the use of technology without, however, making it totalitarian; facilitates interaction among students through cooperative learning; allows a certain flexibility in terms of time and place. Always keeping in mind that the goal is to obtain a more effective, flexible and personalized training aimed at the growth of the individual.


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