This paper explores the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on university pedagogy and the lessons that can be learned from students who experienced emergency remote teaching. Unlike many countries, Sweden did not impose a lockdown or curfew, allowing students to gather in small groups on university campuses while receiving online instruction. This unique hybrid situation enhances the relevance of our findings for the post-pandemic context. Employing a participatory research methodology, we collaborated with first-year university teacher education students to co-construct their experiences as new students during COVID-19. Our research aimed to understand how the students' socio-cultural context and their university experiences influenced their learning and what insights these experiences provide regarding students' agency for learning. Through collaborative discussions and thematic analysis, we identified that students formed close-knit study groups, developed a strong sense of agency, became self-directed learners, and offered each other mutual support. Our conclusions highlight the resilience of students, the value of informal and spontaneous collaborative learning groups, the high degree of agency among students, and the potential benefits of a pedagogy that is less controlling and scaffolded, allowing for spontaneous, creative, and inquiry-directed learning. Future research could investigate whether collaborative learning groups are more effective with reduced mandatory lecture and seminar loads.


This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

Cite as

Sullivan, K., Lindström, N., Lindfors, H., Oskarsson, L., Surting, G. & Vestring, N. 2023, 'Lighting the fire: unleashing student agency in emergency remote teaching during the covid-19 pedagogical shift', Education in the North, 30(2), pp. 120-135. https://doi.org/10.26203/w38e-j819

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Last updated: 08 January 2024
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