Faculty experiences on emergency remote teaching during COVID-19: a multicentre qualitative analysis

Blessy Prabha Valsaraj (Department of Community & Mental Health, College of Nursing, Sultan Qaboos University, Muscat, Oman)
Bhakti More (School of Design and Architecture, Manipal Academy of Higher Education Dubai Campus, Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Seena Biju (School of Management and Business, Manipal International University, Nilai, Malaysia)
Valsaraj Payini (Department of Food & Beverage Service , Welcomgroup Graduate School of Hotel Administration, Manipal Academy of Higher Education, Manipal, India)
Vinod Pallath (Medical Education and Research Development Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Article publication date: 19 May 2021

Issue publication date: 4 October 2021




During COVID 19 pandemic emergency remote teaching (ERT) in higher education emerged and faculty members had to go through a transformation in teaching-learning without preparedness. The purpose of the study is to understand the instructional delivery experiences of faculty members, explore the challenges and how they overcame these challenges during the transition from traditional classroom teaching to ERT.


A qualitative research approach using phenomenology is adapted for the study. The study is conducted in selected renowned government and private universities offering professional education in India, Malaysia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Data analysis is using NVivo, data management software, based on Ricouer’s theory of interpretation.


The findings identify unique challenges and opportunities in faculty experiences during the implementation of ERT and universities require more preparedness in implementing a revised pedagogy. Addressing these unique challenges is, therefore, essential in effective change management and ensuring the effectiveness of instructional delivery.

Research limitations/implications

The study comprises faculty experiences from only selected countries (the United Arab Emirates, Oman, India and Malaysia) and disciplines such as business studies, design and architecture, engineering, hospitality and tourism management, medicine and nursing. The research contributes towards change management and adaptability strategies during emergency transitions.

Practical implications

The study has implications in the field of education, administration, research and society at large. This is an era of change that has witnessed tremendous possibilities of digital technology in enhancing remote teaching and learning at all levels of education worldwide. The study enumerates the factors influencing the paradigm shift in the pedagogy for present and future higher education. The present study also highlights how challenging this transformation was to the lives of professional academics and emphasized how effectively the faculty need to be mentored for the future by the administration. Future research can envisage effective tools and techniques for strengthening professional education at universities. The social context and human experiences in ERT and their impact on the process of learning are also addressed in the study.

Social implications

The study aims to understand the social context and human experiences in the process of ERT and their impact on the process of learning.


The findings of the study would throw light into the factors influencing the paradigm shift in the pedagogy for present and future higher education.



Valsaraj, B.P., More, B., Biju, S., Payini, V. and Pallath, V. (2021), "Faculty experiences on emergency remote teaching during COVID-19: a multicentre qualitative analysis", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 319-344. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITSE-09-2020-0198



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited


The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a global emergency in January 2020 (WHO, 2020). Businesses across the globe were either slowed down or forced to succumb to closure due to the unavailability of resources or changed their course of actions to adapt to the new challenges. The Education sector and Academia were challenged to change. All systems, procedures and protocols of day-to-day functioning were revisited. Movement control orders by the economies forced schools, colleges and universities across the globe to close down because of the rapidly escalating infection and death rates reported. According to the UNESCO, COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, over 100 nations closed all their educational institutions, causing widespread disruption in the education sector of over 1.7 billion learners (UNESCO, 2020).

As a response to this situation, faculty members at the universities were expected to conduct online teaching and continue teaching activities (Amemado, 2020; Ali, 2020). Many universities declared this emergency remote transition (ERT) as a time for crisis management – demanding a shift in the instructional model from face-to-face methods to virtual platforms. Faculty members across universities instantaneously shifted gears into the virtual world with little or no (a luxury of) meticulous planning and course designs that suit online deliveries. This unprecedented transition caused enormous amounts of anxieties and uncertainties about the teaching-learning outcomes, both among faculty and students (Bessette et al., 2020). The abrupt change from traditional teaching to teaching on virtual platforms left the faculty members perplexed and unsure of handling the situation.

Thus, aptly named ERT, in essence, caused a disruption in Higher Education and post-pandemic scenario demanding a “new normal” with Universities expediting preparedness for effective remote pedagogical methods (Rapanta, 2020). The study explores the experiences of the faculty members, the challenges that they faced and the strategies they used while adapting themselves to this emergency transitioning. With blended learning, possibly as the future of academic sessions, this study aims to facilitate a significant understanding of the overall structural framework, which may be a model for effective online delivery. The learnings from the previous experiences can be applied to enhance the academic knowledge and preparation for both faculty members and students’ community to adapt to this “new normal” including enhanced engagement with students and faculty members across geographies, development of effective academic pedagogies for impactful teaching-learning goals.

The study attempts to understand the experiences of faculty members while they are adapted to learning various tools and techniques of online teaching, designed course content and strategies for student engagement. The faculty unlearned their traditional classroom strategies and, with the support of technology, learned new ways of student engagement and course deliveries for aligning to learning outcomes on virtual platforms.

The following research questions need to be defined:


What were the faculty members’ experiences concerning their preparedness, performance and perceived ERT effectiveness?


What were the perceived challenges faced by faculty members?


What factors enabled or influenced their adaptation through this sudden and enforced change?

Thus, the objectives of the study are envisaged to be the following:

  • Describe the experiences of faculty with the sudden transition to ERT during COVID-19.

  • Explore the challenges faced by the faculty during ERT.

  • Describe the faculty’s strategies to adapt to the shift to ERT during COVID- 19.

Literature review

Emergency remote teaching vs online teaching

The ERT was a response to continue education despite the global crisis due to the pandemic. Hodges et al. (2020) define ERT as A temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternative delivery mode due to crisis circumstances. Therefore, ERT is a temporary phase during an emergency or a crisis with solutions for instruction or education instead of face-to-face or blended format. Bozkurt and Sharma (2020) argue that ERT is an obligation and a re-engineered distance education due to interruptions caused due to pandemics, local conflicts or natural disasters. Therefore, ERT is beyond just online teaching strategies such as sharing tools, changing contexts, the flexibility of content, tools and timely solutions in collaboration with psychologists, sociologists and therapists to cater to various learners. This necessitates’ the change in approach to deliver the content successfully and consider overall strategies while interacting with online ERT learners.

Singh et al. (2020) in their study of a technology acceptance model (TAM) during the COVID 19 concluded that perceived usefulness forms a positive attitude towards using digital collaborative platforms (DCP) while perceived ease of use does not impact the attitude towards the use of DCP. According to Davis (1989), “Perceived usefulness” is the extent to which a person believes that using a particular technology will enhance performance, while “Perceived Ease of Use” is the degree to which a person believes that “using technology will be free from effort”, (Davis, 1989). In a study by Camilleri and Camilleri (2019) perceived usefulness was found to have a strong correlation with behavioural intention of using a mobile app for learning, while there was no significant relationship between perceived ease of use and enjoyment in engaging with apps at school. There have been challenges in understanding the adaptation to technology in teaching and learning in the given period.

Alvarez (2020) identifies that face-to-face learners when put to emergency remote learning, face challenges in the learning process due to lack of technical and technological support such as internet access, financial constraints and emotional support. Zhang et al. (2020) conclude that continuing learning during the pandemic had limitations of infrastructure, teaching resources, inexperienced teachers for online platforms and home environment. Toquero (2020) considers that ERT has provided an opportunity for a paradigm shift for teachers to develop new learning strategies for effective distance education and to foster skills technologically. Johnson et al. (2020), Trust and Whalen (2020) confirm that faculty went through anxiety and stress in this process – this mainly is due to lack of preparation. Unlike Online teaching, where there is more readiness, ERT is an unprecedented change. This called for changes at several ends, both for students and teachers. Therefore, the ERT has demanded robust strategies from stakeholders in education across the world (Onyema et al., 2020).

Faculty experiences, adaptation and content delivery during emergency remote teaching.

Understanding the needs and experiences of faculty members is critical for several reasons. Such research will provide early insight into how faculty members responded to ERT and adapted these techno-pedagogical practices during this period. Furthermore, taking an online course, developing hybrid courses, teaching, mentoring others to teach online and regular use of their institution’s Learning Management System (LMS) were sighted as other ERT experiences (Johnson et al., 2020). A poll on ERT conducted among the faculty and administrators of 600 institutions in the US found that 97% of the faculty did not have previous online teaching experience. “While 56% of them used the virtual platforms for the first time, 48% faculty experienced reduced student work expectations and 32% saw a significant decrease in the quality of student work” (Ralph, 2020). A Qualitative inquiry of nursing educators in New Jersey, on their experience of transition from the traditional classroom to online teaching experience, revealed they needed a radical mind shift to adapt to the new pedagogy and felt the need for professional development for learning management system, technological support and mentorship (Sinacori, 2020).

A study conducted among faculty members and administrators in the US reported that regardless of their previous experience, they had adapted new teaching methods during COVID 19 (Johnson et al., 2020). Similarly, another study conducted at Lesley University, Cambridge by Eisenbach et al. (2020) suggests that the middle-level teacher rose to the new challenges and exhibited critical thinking, creativity and compassion during the ERT. Nevertheless, it was also reported that faculty members have struggled to adapt their pedagogy to fluctuating situations such as students’ unreliable internet access, changing personal needs and unclear shifting educational or governmental directives. In continuum, faculty members also felt the need for significant support with shifting their practice. Because of this, they relied on informal, self-directed learning with their professional learning networks for teaching assistance (Whalen, 2020). Regarding content delivery and unlike planned online teaching, ERT is an unprecedented shift and comes with challenges, some of which were never dealt with before.

ERT involves content delivery through fully remote mode that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face or in blended form. The primary objective of the ERT is not to create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide a temporary solution for content delivery (Hodges et al., 2020). Despite its usefulness, technology-enabled content delivery involves a learning curve for both teachers and students. Faculty members may find it challenging to learn and teach online during this emergency because of the non-availability of time to evaluate and choose between synchronous and asynchronous online teaching and learning. Furthermore, faculty members need to be flexible enough to deviate from the original plan of content delivery (Iyer et al., 2020). Liguori and Winkler (2020) agree that as faculty members teach students to adapt, be agile and innovate, they must also practice what they teach and have more preparation to adjust to various delivery modes based on situations they are forced into.

Challenges in emergency remote teaching.

In online learning, the teacher’s role shifts to that of a facilitator. Virtual platforms have become the primary resource for learning and the focus of learning has changed. Information discovered is not packaged and more emphasis is given to the learning process than the product (Schell and Janicki, 2013). E-Learning has always been a challenging learning space, which has shown resistance in acceptance from both students and faculty members, Rosenberg and Foshay (2002), Al-Hujran et al. (2013). In ERT, there is no choice, but for faculty members to adapt to the situation to restore the continuity of education, despite the challenges (Karalis and Raikou, 2020). Mohmmed et al. (2020) identified three main challenges in ERT related to educator, student and contents. While educators’ primary role is to deliver content, engaging students in the online mode is paramount.

While students may demonstrate their ability for self-learning and may have necessary skills, the content offered online also requires alignment with the learning outcomes. Student engagement has always been a challenge in online learning mode and to particularly to maintain attention (Bailey and Lee, 2020; Bao, 2020). Erdem and Gözel (2013), Lewis (2016) consider that one of the challenges that faculty members have always faced in the teaching profession is time management. This is due to the workload beyond their control or this has impacted work-life balance, Bubb and Earley (2004). Joshi et al. (2020) discussed the barriers teachers face in teaching online in a home environment due to disturbances from family members and neighbours. One of the major challenges teachers faced was lack of technical facilities, training on using online tools and lack of motivation to adapt to the virtual environment.

ERT has given rise to a changing role of faculty who have to manage pedagogical, social, managerial and technical roles (Keengwe and Kidd, 2020). The pedagogical role involves facilitating the teaching in an online mode; the social role is to facilitate an online social environment. The managerial role is to set objectives, while the technical role is to adopt the technology. As teaching continued online during COVID 19, there has been a need to enhance the faculty experience through more preparation. Kebritchi et al. (2017) concluded that professional development for faculty members to guide them on the delivery of courses is necessary to enhance online teaching and learning effectiveness.

According to Colpitts et al. (2020), the educational ecosystem comprising of the institution, faculty and students went through a transition to be more adaptive by strengthening their capabilities. The institutes had to improve their leadership capacities, while faculties had to adapt to the “intergenerational digital divide” by enhancing themselves through support systems, training and upgrading various skills. Students in this transition had to also strengthen their various IT skills.

A theoretical framework for the study

This study focuses on the experiences of faculty members of higher education institutions who had to adapt to the new norm of enforced online teaching or ERT to ensure the continuity of the instructional delivery. The impetus changes and adaptiveness led to an accentuated learning of online instructional delivery methods. Although academic faculty members of higher education institutions may have been aware of the online instructional delivery methods, this would have been the first time they were performing instructional delivery completely online. Such enforced changes would have resulted in unlearning and relearning the assumptions, beliefs and attitudes towards online instructional delivery. This study attempts to explain this phenomenon through the Modified Maslow’s conscious competence learning model (Figure 1) (Yaqoob, 2016; Pallath and Tajuddin, 2018).

Conscious competence learning model describes the stages of the learning process in an individual, starting from unconsciously incompetent and progressing through stages of consciously incompetent and consciously competent, culminating in the unconsciously competent (the newly learned skill becoming second nature) stage. Thus, anyone who becomes aware of a new skill, tries to learn the skill and practice it. Once he or she reaches proficiency, due to the continuation of the practice, the individual becomes unconsciously competent, denoting the skill becomes the second nature of the individual. The COVID-19 and the crisis could lead to unlearning of existing practices and relearning of newer needs. In such a situation, stage 4 could then move back to 1 and 2 again (unlearning and relearning). Now the model can have two axes– the consciousness axis and the competence axis. To move from incompetence to competence, any individual should perform deliberate practice and a trainer who facilitates that should perform coaching strategies. Any individual who would like to progress in the consciousness axis should perform reflective practice, trying to understand the needs of change and adaptation. The facilitator in such a situation should perform mentoring to ensure reflective practice.


Qualitative inquiry endeavours to discover how people interpret a phenomenon (Merriam, 2002). This approach encompasses an inductive investigation of the data to identify repetitive themes, patterns or concepts and then explaining and interpreting those categories (Nassaji, 2015). A qualitative research approach is best suited for this study to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of ERT based on the perspectives of the faculty. The research design and data analysis methodology for this study were based on phenomenology principles, a disciplinary field of Philosophy. It is a holistic approach that considers contexts within which human experiences occur and is, thus, concerned with learning from instances or cases. Qualitative research seeks to access the inner world of perception and made to understand, describe and explain the social process from the perspective of study participants. This approach does not commence with a prior hypothesis to be tested and proved but with a focus of inquiry that takes the researcher on a voyage of discovery as it takes an inductive approach to data analysis and research outcomes are not broad generalizations but contextual findings; qualitative researchers tend to speak of “transferability” (from context to context) rather than generalizability. This study seeks to understand the experiences that informed educators’ attitudes, beliefs and behaviours in the context of the COVID-19 crisis and its implications about unexpectedly moving to teach and learning to an online platform.

Setting, sample, sampling procedure and sample size

The study was conducted in selected renowned government and private Universities offering professional education from four different countries such as Oman, Dubai, India and Malaysia.

Untimely and sudden announcements of lockdowns (Malaysia – 2 days’ notice, India – 4 hours notice) hampered movement abruptly, thereby restricting the researchers from quickly reaching out to the respondents. The choice of the cities was thereby restricted to the cities of the researcher’s residence. The lockdown notification in itself served as a crisis in addition to the pandemic.

A second reason for these countries’ choice is that these countries also represent a cluster where online teaching is yet to generate acceptance compared to face-to-face teaching. Unlike some of the technologically advanced (in the realms of education) countries, the impression of graduating or completing higher studies through online learning is yet to receive adequate recognition.

The respondents’ diversity was paid attention to, which was vital to capturing the sentiment in full. Hence, the inclusion criterion was to involve the faculty who are teaching in professional colleges, engaged in the ERT during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Those with at least one year of teaching experience.

A purposive sample of faculty teaching various professional colleges of medicine, nursing, engineering, designing and architecture, hospitality and tourism management, mass communication and business studies were recruited for the study. According to Creswell (1998), “long interviews with up to 10 people” are sufficient to reach saturation. In this study, the investigators interviewed 23 faculty members from the five selected universities from four countries until saturation was achieved.

Description of the data collection instruments

The investigators developed the instrument through an iterative interaction process among themselves and already available literature on ERT. The tool contains a faculty data sheet with 15 items and an interview schedule with seven items. In the Faculty datasheet, the first three items were on the demographic data (age, gender and nationality) and the remaining 12 items on the professional details of the participant such as area of specialization, highest qualification, designation, years of total work experience, years of teaching experience, type of teaching, courses currently taught through ERT, number of students, level of the course, institution, university and country. The interview schedule includes items on familiarity with online teaching before COVID- 19, support available, challenges and skills to adapt with the change process, in-depth experience of the change process, reaction to change, skills and transition training and the challenges faced during ERT. All the items contain appropriate prompts that elaborated the idea more clearly.

Validation and pretesting

The content validity of the interview schedule was done by five educators with expertise in qualitative research from the fields of nursing, engineering and business studies from Oman, Malaysia and India. There was 100% agreement for the relevance and appropriateness of all the items by the validators. Some of the items were reorganized and simplified and most of the prompts were reworded to complete question form to bring clarity and specificity based on the suggestions of the validators. The interview guide was pre-tested by interviewing one faculty in the field of Architecture from Dubai. It was found that all the items were understandable and clear in the interview. It took approximately 50 min to complete the interview.

Ethical approval and participant recruitment

The ethical approval was obtained from all the concerned institutional research committees based on institutional research and ethics policies. Based on Groenewald (2004), the investigators recruited the participants purposively considering their experience in the phenomenon under ERT study. The identified participant were approached by the investigator personally and they were given all the details of the study, including the title of the study, information about the authors, purpose, process, risks and benefits, autonomy in participation and protection of confidentiality of their information. Informed consent was obtained along with the permission for audio recording the interview before the interview. Four to eight participants were designated from each of the research sites.

Data collection and data analysis

An in-depth interview was conducted individually, either directly or via Microsoft teams or Zoom (based on the participants’ convenience) by the investigators themselves. Each interview took around 50 to 55 min, as identified in the pre-test. As experienced educators, the investigators were able to explore the information in depth through lead questions. The prompts were used suitably. The interviews were audio-recorded with prior permission from the participant. Data were coded, analysed and reported following the guidelines from Ricouer’s Theory of Interpretation (1984), which built on Heidegger’s (1927) work in his approach to data analysis and interpretation. NVivo R1 software from QSR International 2020 was used to manage the data as it is widely recognized as an appropriate tool for computer-aided qualitative data analysis processes (Richards, 2005). Ricouer’s stages and processes are set out in Table 1 below and compared to their equivalent process in NVivo. Column 1 shows the overarching aim of interpretation. Column 2 shows Ricouer’s stages of interpretation and column 3 shows how each stage was managed in NVivo and column for shows the iterative processes of moving from discourse to understanding.

Data analysis was done based on Ricouer’s theory of interpretation and using NVivo data management software. Nowell (2017) discusses the application of Nvivo software to organize large data set to efficiently manage complex coding with a large amount of text, facilitate analysis by coding the extracted data in different themes. The guidelines from Ricoeur’s theory of interpretation stages such as Stage 1- “naive reading of the text”, Stage 2- “naive understanding” and depth understanding will be followed in the data analysis (Ricoeur, 1973a, 1973b, 1973c). This will be matched to the phases of NVivo data processing phases such as Phase 1-Open Coding, Phase 2-Categorization of codes, Phase 3- “coding on” Depth understanding, Phase 4-Data reduction, Phase 5-Writing analytical memos, Phase 6-Validation analytical memos, Phase 7-Synthesising analytical memos (Pai and More, 2018).

Ricouer’s philosophical underpinnings of his approach to data analysis are also set out in Figure 2.

Evidence of each stage of the encoding and interpretation process is supported by the audit trail presented as appendices to this paper.


A total of 23 participants of age ranging from 30 to 60 years from four different research sites participated in the study. Table 2 presents the respondents based on their socio-demographic features. Almost half the participants were men (12) and were teaching theory courses (11). Most of them were Indians (14), master’s degree holders (15) and novices in the teaching field, with 1 to 5 years of teaching experience (9). Participants were from various disciplines such as architecture, engineering, nursing, anatomy, physiology and neuroscience, mass communication, management, language, pediatric surgery, medical microbiology, emergency medicine, culinary arts, hotel management and hospitality and tourism management.

Table 3 indicates the coding framework based on the responses. The themes were divided based on familiarity with online teaching, effectiveness of online teaching, transition to ert, university support, course content on ert, faculty personal and professional skills and challenges for faculty. The number of interviews very coded with citations has units of meaning. Figure 3 indicates the use of flow from codes to categories of codes to themes and each theme is aggregated from sub-theme. Figure 4 refers to Data results from Nvivo software.

RQ1: What were the faculty members’ experience in relation to their preparedness, performance and perceived effectiveness of ERT.

Familiarity with online teaching

Figure 5 indicates the number of citations based on prior online teaching experience before ERT, familiarity with online tools and delivery learning platform and faculty experience in certifications or online courses. This information is broken into groups to understand how many experienced prior online teaching before ERT. They were familiar with applications of online tools and delivery learning platforms such as learning management systems, Moodle or have pursued certifications or online courses. Most of the key informants had no prior online teaching experience but were familiar with online tools, delivering learning platforms and completed certifications or online courses to enhance knowledge.

Perceived effectiveness of online teaching – opinion – before and after emergency remote teaching.

Figure 6 indicates the number of citations based on Perceived Effectiveness of Online teaching, (A)Opinion before and (B)Opinion after ERT. Most of the key informants’ perceptions before ERT were that Online teaching cannot be applied to their respective programmes. Not many were sure if it could be an add-on for a traditional classroom. After ERT, the respondent’s opinion indicates that Online teaching cannot replace classroom teaching but can add to the classroom and not many considered Online teaching as the only mode of delivery in the future.

Transition to emergency remote teaching – initial feeling and feeling over a period of time on emergency remote teaching.

Figure 7 cites the feelings experienced by the faculty members in the transition, (A) First Feeling of Transition, (B) Feeling over a period of time on ERT. Most of the key informants experienced anxiety and stress due to a sudden change in their pedagogy. They were not prepared to deliver ERT and felt that they had to unlearn previous competencies of classroom teaching.

The respondent “P006” experienced a feeling of trauma while conducting a clinical course online as teaching such a course online seemed impossible.

Some of them felt there were challenges to achieve learning outcomes and thought this would be a temporary phase. As academicians, their concern also loomed around student adaptability. One of the respondents, “P009”, considered student acceptance for online learning as a challenge if they will have the confidence that learning will continue in the online mode.

Over time, the respondents felt they have begun learning how to teach online though they were aware of online teaching, which demonstrates their conscious incompetence. As mentioned by respondent “P010”, adapting to technical tools online was easier than actually delivering the teaching

Many felt that they were not aware of the skills that existed to deliver online teaching. Those who had some online teaching experience had not practiced and, therefore demonstrated the transition from Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence. Some respondents felt that classroom teaching was preferred to Online teaching. A respondent, “P012”, discussed the challenges of teaching language courses in a restricted virtual space and the new virtual environment; both knowledge and online teaching techniques were important.

As most of the faculty were not extensively experienced in Online teaching, there were no citations for Unconscious Competence.

There were 12 of 23 participants who had 10 years or less experience, with 1 having between 11 and 15 years. There were 10 participants with greater than 15 years of teaching experience. Table 4 below shows the number of comments from each group as they discussed transitioning to ERT.

Figure 8 below shows an analysis of Table 4 above based on the degree of emphasis on transitional topics from those with fewer and greater years of experience.

Column 1 of Figure 8 above shows the various sub-themes discussed by participants in the context of transitioning to ERT. Column 2 shows the collective number of comments for participants with less than 15 years’ experience bearing in mind that 12 of 13 had 10 years or less experience. Column 3 shows the same information for the 10 participants with 16 to 35 years of experience. Column 4 shows the proportional representation of comments for each group relative to the study population. Column 4 rows shaded in red represent the degree to which more experienced participants placed a greater emphasis than their less experienced colleagues, while rows shaded in blue show less experienced participants’ punched above their weight’ by being proportionally over-represented in those topics. Therefore, A1, A2, A3 and A5 were each overrepresented by more experienced participants, while A4, B3, B4 and B5 were proportionally overrepresented by less experienced participants. Experienced faculty with over 15 years of experience have shown more anxiety, stress on delivery mode, less preparedness, challenges to achieve learning objectives and considered this as a temporary situation. Those faculty members with 0 to 15 years of experience emphasized unlearning previous competencies, indicating that they were more ready to change. This group also emphasized unconscious incompetence, conscious competence and conscious incompetence, showing their different transition levels:

RQ2. What were the perceived challenges faced by faculty members?

Challenges for faculty

Figure 9 indicates the number of citations based on the Challenges the faculty members experienced during ERT. This information was broken into groups and respondents considered Student Engagement as the most crucial challenge, followed by time management. Many faculty members considered that learning new competencies in a short time was stressful to them, as they worked long hours to cope with the ERT. Another challenge was the connectivity issue of students, aligning learning outcomes, working from home, assessments and examinations. Not many considered learning new competencies in technology as a challenge as they adapted to learn new competencies. Some of them considered designing course content and unlearning the traditional classroom learning style as a challenge. Though faculty members were working from home, they did not consider isolation from peers as a challenge as coaching and mentoring were available for them during the process. Experiences came in many forms:

One of the respondents, “P-005” discussed the imbalance in their work-life, stating that they was stressful work 24x7. Students’ queries and doubts are always much to handle. “At the same time, preparing the content, especially at the start of ERT, had to be done”.

As mentioned by respondent “P-010”, working from home has made her more organized:

Another respondent, “P012” felt time management with family was hard. Breakfast or lunch was sometimes skipped and she received support from her husband during these times. She conducted many webinars attended by people from different time zones but with no international students. As a result, the difference in time zone makes a lot of changes in daily routine.

RQ3. What factors enabled or influenced their adaptation through this sudden and enforced change?

University support

Figure 10 indicates the number of citations based on preparedness of University on Infrastructure for online instructional delivery, training and orientation programmes to cope with ERT. The respondents had mixed responses on the preparedness of infrastructure to deliver ERT:

A respondent, “P-008”, commended the support received but was not enough in the sense that other technologies and advanced programmes needed to equip and teach in online mode effectively are being paid for from their pockets.

“P-011”, one of the respondents emphasized the important role of support from colleagues and the management. A technical team, which was set up at the university for continuous training for online delivery had about 4 to 5 platform training sessions, each about 4 h and a 30-h Train-the-trainer course mandatory for all faculty members, irrespective of whether it was a holiday or not.

Most respondents considered that Orientation was given to the faculty. Most respondents emphasized Coaching and Mentoring’s role in the training programme, which helped them with adequate training on the use of tools and platforms to gain Conscious competence.

Course content in emergency remote teaching.

Figure 11 indicates the number of citations based on course delivery, strategies for engaging students and enhancement of the course content. The course delivery information was broken into groups. The respondents felt most challenges in aligning to learning outcomes followed by delivery of practical courses, adapting to learner styles. There being no live interaction between faculty and students was also a challenge. Some of them considered challenges in the delivery of theory courses and software-related courses. One of the areas they considered assisted them in course delivery was support from peers, which indicates coaching and mentoring in learning stages for the faculty. Strategies for engaging students were through interactions during the classes, videos, innovative information technology tools and multiple-choice questions. The flexibility in the process also assisted in designing course content – very few applied simulation tools. The enhancement of course content in the process was learning through student feedback, learning from peers and webinars and other courses. This also indicated the transition through Conscious Incompetence to Conscious Competence stages of learning.

Professional and personal skills

Figure 12 indicates the number of citations based on the professional and personal skills for ERT coping. This information was broken into groups for personal skills such as learning and adapting change, unlearn and relearn new competencies, confidence in self for learning, motivation and passion for teaching. The professional skills were continuous knowledge upgrading in the subject area, adapting to technology for delivery, teaching and industry experience. The citations discuss the ability to learn and adapt, which were also reflections on awareness of the state of conscious incompetence of the faculty members, which could have been the personal skill instrumental in coping for ERT. In contrast, continuous knowledge upgrading and adapting to technology were professional skills that helped in coping.


Universities and institutes of Higher Education across the world have been combating the unprecedented need for change brought in by the pandemic. Working closely with the stakeholders, control for providing an infection-free campus, following advice from the WHO and the respective ministries of the state/country and consulting national and international offices for the way forward are some of the macro-level activities the universities/schools/colleges have been engaged in, as the outbreak and the Movement control orders started setting in. Standard operation procedures were revised to suit the new courses of action.

At the micro-level, individual colleges and departments have boosted their weekly meetings, training the trainer sessions, department/unit updates, student engagements and academic deliveries to cope with any reasonable loss of either time or opportunity. It is worth noting how the end providers – the academicians themselves coped with the external changes and the internal adjustments. Work from home, balancing their work-life, engaging with students for (probably) the first time on virtual platforms, expediting their familiarity with online pedagogical modalities, strategizing class deliveries and re-designing the course contents to suit remote teaching and learning are some of the ways in which academicians have responded to the pandemic. Members of the teaching fraternity have been quick to adapt and be acclimatized to the unprecedented new demands. This study evaluated the overall sentiment of transitioning and the impact of ERT on the faculty members and identified resilience and a strong sense of readiness to change.

At the individual level, the factors influencing the learning process and the outcomes could be explained through the Biggs 3P model (Figure 13) (Biggs et al., 2001). In the context of this study, the individuals going through the process of change were the faculty members. Their approach to the change will depend on their presage factors of personal characteristics, prior knowledge, attitudes and beliefs. Theme 1; familiarity with online teaching, including prior online teaching experience, opinion regarding the effectiveness of online teaching and their personal skill of adaptability indicates the presage factors. There could be situational influencing factors, which could be the subject area taught and its demands, the time available to make the changes and the existence of support systems. Undergoing these changes would then be with certain experiences depending on the individual. This could start with initial awareness of the need to change (Consciously incompetent stage) and then go through denial stages to accept the need. This is indicated by the anxiety and stress and later becoming comfortable with the online instructional delivery. The process then leads to a trial of the newly learned strategies. In this situation, as it was a must to change at least for a short period, the individual will have to perform conscious practice (transitioning to conscious competence stage) till he becomes proficient in the new skill and probably the new skill and the new process of instructional delivery will be accepted and continued to be practiced (Yaqoob, 2016). Suppose the individual does not accept the new skill, in that case, once the stimulus of need was removed, it could be possible that the newly learned skill will be discarded and the old practices would be reinstated. In this study, there was evidence of conscious and deliberate practice to learn new skills, but the majority indicated switching back to the initial state of face-to-face onsite teaching when conditions improve. It could be argued that most of the faculty members became aware of the need for online learning to complement physical onsite learning. The acceptance of online learning as a primary, more instructional delivery was limited. This points towards the need for more support systems to enhance faculty members’ acceptance of online learning, as committed and motivated practice of online instructional delivery could only be archived through a broader acceptance of the practice than a short time remediation strategy. Committed and motivated practice will ensure the achievement of learning outcomes. Thus, the study reiterates the need for continuous monitoring experiences of academic faculty members, their adaptation strategies and support system requirements to effectively facilitate the process of change.

Challenges and opportunities for learning and teaching during COVID-19

The results in this study have shown patterns of adaption in relation to years of experience. The relatively less experienced faculty expressed more unconscious incompetence, later transitioning to conscious incompetence and conscious competence. Although the level of competence achieved in facilitating the learning in a virtual environment is questionable in such a short time, the data indicates a sense of ability to perform whatever is essential in this group of faculty members. More experienced faculty members (16– 35 years, Figure 8) became anxious probably because of unfamiliarity with online teaching and learning. They had a belief that the situation would be temporary. This group expressed less achievement of conscious competence, which could be because of the reluctance to practice believing that the situation will soon resolve. This shows challenges and opportunities for learning and teaching in such an emergency transition period. The challenge here is to make a relatively equal amount of commitment to change in faculty members with varying levels of experience. This could be an opportunity to enhance faculty collaboration and togetherness through engaging faculty members who are ready to change and adapt (probably the younger, lesser experienced faculty) to support and motivate more experienced, reluctant to change faculty members. This, if provided through institutional scaffolding, could become the most effective faculty development approach in times of need. The other challenge which could be made into an opportunity is the change itself. Instead of considering the change as temporary, it could be a time for innovation and improvement in practices. If approached through reflective practice, the change could become the most powerful tool for creating awareness for individual and institutional improvement.

The current study identified that the faculty were struggling to adapt to the ERT initially. Schlesselman (2020) stated that the Teaching and learning centres across the globe identified that academics pretended nothing had changed by attempting to shift their course online without making modifications. Brought out that Parasitology educators were forced to rapidly improvise solutions to maintain and attempt to enhance student learning experiences and outcomes all of a sudden as a result of the pandemic.

Present study findings support the existing evidence on the utility of online learning. This crisis has opened up opportunities for higher education providers to re-construct their educational systems and establish suitable blended learning environments for the learners (Rajhans et al., 2020). Students should be included in the designing and planning for an on-line curriculum (Lalonde, 2020). Development of an online course requires exhaustive time and effort (Zsohar and Smith, 2008).

The present elicited that the faculty have acquired a lot of essential competencies for managing online education and most of them were looking at the positive side of the change overall. According to Kawaguchi-Suzuki et al. (2020), pharmacy educators worldwide considered the positive impacts of COVID-19 such as telehealth, changes in the training, curriculum and student outcomes.


‘Based on seven themes’ derived from the qualitative observations, this phenomenological study bifurcates the faculty members’ experiences on competency and consciousness lines based on the modified version of Maslow’s competence conscious learning model. At the outset of the transition journey, anxiety and lack of preparedness were the experiences of the prima-facie feeling by the academics. This feeling eventually transformed into a realization of incompetence and, therefore, the need to unlearn old methods and learn/relearn new techniques. This study establishes the sentiment of Conscious incompetence among the faculty members in this context- this was also irrespective of the experience of the faculty member. Faculty members demonstrated a sense of awareness with regard to their incompetence in the current scenario of ERT. The motivators included strong support from the respective universities and departments, coaching from mentors and peers and several orientation and training programmes organized to facilitate quick transitioning. The challenges of aligning the course content to learning outcomes- given the lack of experience-based learning, including laboratory-based learning- were cited as the greatest deterrents to effective teaching online. Some of the external challenges faced by the faculty members included student engagement – owing to different learning styles of the students, lack of effective interaction and network connectivity.

A redesign of how to operate alternatively to withstand times of emergencies and align back into the paths of continued excellence is now imperative. Faculty members will practice facilitating global education very differently – online collaborations, technology-driven (blended) deliveries, digital libraries and teaching spaces, webinars and various other experiences. Support from the university leadership was cited as the most motivating factor by many of the participants in this study. Transformational leadership with strategies for sustenance is now an essential norm in light of what the world of higher education experienced last year.

What is required of the universities and the leaders in higher education domains is to establish standardized processes to facilitate teaching efficiency in this new environment. These processes may largely reflect long-term sustainability measures that protect faculty interests and competencies. Change is inevitable and unprecedented changes are challenging. With a galore of challenges, including competition within the sector, hire-freezes/layoffs, operation cost-cutting and the innate need to maintain the expected level of academic quality, higher education providers must strategize their way forward.

Research limitations

The study included only selected countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Oman, India and Malaysia for the data collection considering the researchers’ accessibility. This could have brought limitations in the generalizability of the results. The nature of the lengthy and in-depth data collection was a constraint to select faculty from various disciplines. This barrier led to the handpicking of the consented faculty from selected disciplines such as business studies, design and architecture, engineering, hospitality and tourism management, medicine and nursing.

Future research directions

A multi-country, mixed-method study can be conducted on change management and faculty resilience during emergency transitions. The attitude of faculty towards the digitalization of education and innovative curriculum can be explored. Perceived challenges and ways forward towards effective online student engagement and blended learning can be explored among the cross-country faculty. Similarly, students’ perceptions of the challenges and opportunities of digital transformation in the field of education can be assessed. Students’ perception of the dream curriculum and educational innovations can be studied.


The study has implications in the field of education, administration, research and society at large. This is an era of change that has witnessed tremendous possibilities of digital technology in enhancing remote teaching and learning at all levels of education worldwide. The study enumerates the factors influencing the paradigm shift in the pedagogy for present and future higher education. The present study also highlights how challenging this transformation was to the lives of professional academics and emphasized how effectively the faculty need to be mentored for the future by the administration. Future research can envisage effective tools and techniques for strengthening professional education at universities. The social context and human experiences in ERT and their impact on the process of learning are also addressed in the study.


Modified conscious competence learning model

Figure 1.

Modified conscious competence learning model

Ricouer’s approach to data analysis

Figure 2.

Ricouer’s approach to data analysis

Example of use of flow from codes to categories of codes to themes

Figure 3.

Example of use of flow from codes to categories of codes to themes

Data Result by Nvivo software

Figure 4.

Data Result by Nvivo software

Number of citations for (a) Prior online teaching experience before ERT, (b) Familiarity with online tools and delivery learning platform and (c) Faculty experience in certifications or online courses

Figure 5.

Number of citations for (a) Prior online teaching experience before ERT, (b) Familiarity with online tools and delivery learning platform and (c) Faculty experience in certifications or online courses

Perceived effectiveness of online teaching – opinion before and after ERT

Figure 6.

Perceived effectiveness of online teaching – opinion before and after ERT

Transition to ERT – Initial feeling and feeling over a period of time on ERT

Figure 7.

Transition to ERT – Initial feeling and feeling over a period of time on ERT

Analysis of emphasis on theme-03 topics considered by years of experience

Figure 8.

Analysis of emphasis on theme-03 topics considered by years of experience

Challenges for faculty

Figure 9.

Challenges for faculty

University support

Figure 10.

University support

Course content in ERT

Figure 11.

Course content in ERT

Faculty personal and Professional skills for coping for ERT

Figure 12.

Faculty personal and Professional skills for coping for ERT

Bigg’s 3P model: Adapted from Biggs et al. (2001) and modified as per the findings of the study

Figure 13.

Bigg’s 3P model: Adapted from Biggs et al. (2001) and modified as per the findings of the study

Process involved in qualitative analysis – adapted from Ricouer’s theory of interpretation

Data analysis using Ricouer’s theory
of interpretation in this study
Corresponding NVivo process Strategic objectives
Interpretation Naïve reading of the text Importing transcripts into the data management software known as NVivo
Phase 1 - open coding





Naïve understanding Phase 2 -categorization of codes
Phase 3 - “coding on”
Depth understanding Phase 4 - data reduction
Phase 5 - writing analytical memos
Phase 6 - validation analytical memos
Phase 7 - synthesizing analytical memos

Distribution of study participants based on socio-demographic features

Socio-demographic features n = 23
Age in years
30–40 9
40–50 8
50–60 6
Male 12
Female 11
Indian 14
Jordanian 1
French and Lebanese 1
Malaysian 7
Architecture 2
Engineering 2
Nursing 3
Physiology and neuroscience 1
Mass communication 2
Management 2
Language 1
Culinary arts 2
Hotel management 2
Paediatric surgery 1
Medical microbiology 1
Emergency medicine 1
Anatomy 1
Hospitality and tourism management 2
Highest qualification
PhD 6
Master degree 15
PG diploma 1
Bachelor degree 1
Years of teaching experience
1–5 9
6–10 3
11–15 1
16–25 6
26–30 1
30–35 3
Type of teaching
Theory 11
Clinical 4
Theory/lab/studio 8
Country of present work
United Arab Emirates 4
Oman 4
India 8
Malaysia 7

Themes and subthemes emerged from the study

Thematic framework Interviews coded Units of meaning coded
Theme-01∼Familiarity with online teaching 22 79
A-Prior online teaching experience before ERT 18 31
B-Faculty experience in certifications or online courses 14 18
C-Familiarity with online tools and delivery learning platforms 18 30
Theme-02∼Effectiveness of online teaching 20 78
A-Opinion before ERT 16 28
B-Opinion after ERT 19 50
Theme-03∼Transition to ERT 23 299
A-First feeling of transition 20 93
B-Feeling over period of time on ERT 23 206
Theme-04∼University support 23 157
A-Orientation programme 18 42
B-Training programme 23 90
C-Preparedness of University for Infrastructure to deliver online 11 25
Theme-05 – Course content in ERT 23 339
A∼Course delivery 23 134
B∼Designing course content 21 153
C∼Faculty enhancement on course content 15 36
Theme-06∼Faculty personal and professional skills 16 86
A∼Personal skills 10 42
B∼Professional skills 15 44
Theme-07-Challenges for faculty 23 291
A-Learning new competencies in technology 10 17
B-Unlearning traditional class learning style 5 9
C-Designing course content for online 9 17
D-Aligning learning outcomes 12 28
E-Student engagement 20 83
F-Time management 17 56
G-Internal assessment and end sem exam 9 19
H-Work from home 9 19
I-Isolation from peers 2 3
J-Connectivity issues of students 18 40

Voice distribution of transition to ERT comments by years of teaching experience

Theme-03 – transition to ERT X years
of experience teaching
A1∼Anxiety and stress on the mode of delivery 7 3 5 15 3 2
A2∼No preparedness to deliver ERT 8 0 2 10 0 1
A3∼Challenges to achieve learning objectives 1 0 1 2 0 2
A4∼Unlearning of previous competencies 9 1 0 10 0 1
A5-This may be a temporary situation 1 0 0 1 1 0
A6-Motivation to continue teaching 4 3 0 7 0 5
B1∼Online teaching was a comfortable experience after few weeks 21 4 3 28 1 1
B2∼Classroom teaching is preferred to online teaching 4 1 0 5 0 0
B3∼Unconscious incompetence 13 8 0 21 2 2
B4∼Conscious incompetence 41 12 4 57 1 11
B5-Conscious competence 10 2 0 12 0 0
B6-Unconscious competence 0 0 0 0 0 0


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Further reading

Anas, O.A.H., Hanin, A. and Nabeel, A.H.H. (2013), “Challenges to E-learning success: the student perspective”, 2013 International Conference on Information, Business and Education Technology (ICIBET 2013), Bei Jing. China, 2013. doi: 10.2991/icibet.2013.226.

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Schratz, M. (2006), “Leading and learning: ‘Odd couple’ or powerful match?”, Leading and Managing, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 40-53.


The authors acknowledge the respondents of this qualitative study for sharing their experiences of the ERT.

Corresponding author

Bhakti More can be contacted at: bhakti.more@manipaldubai.com

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