Goal & Purpose
The objective of this toolkit is to increase understanding of how the dark season is influencing student learning at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and provide practical recommendations for students and universities to improve learning during the dark season. The toolkit is a result of a project in the Collegial Teaching in Learning in STEM Education course (MNPED660) through the University of Bergen. The recommendations are built on a study where we conducted a focus-group with students that were attending courses at UNIS during the dark season, interviewed a representative of the Norwegian Arctic Student Welfare Organisation, and carried out a desktop study of relevant literature. Results from this study are transferable to other universities located in high latitude environments.
UNIS is the world’s northernmost higher education institution. Due to its high latitude, a natural day/night cycle is absent for a large part of the year. Every year, there are approximately four months during which the Sun does not set (i.e. the midnight sun) and four months during which the Sun does not rise. Both employees and students experience rapid changes in the amount of daylight available over the course of a semester. Students typically stay between 6 weeks (length of a single Master/PhD course) to a full semester. Since approximately 50% of the student population comes from universities outside of Norway, it can be assumed that at least some of the students are not used to the daylight deficit during the polar night. These students could potentially struggle to maintain a 24-hr rhythm, also known as a circadian rhythm or focus on their studies. Human specific studies into circadian rhythms are scarce, especially in Svalbard. The lack of studies on the effect of the polar night on humans combined with our personal perception that the dark season impacts our daily (work) life in Longyearbyen, are the key drivers to conduct this project.
Although our project focusses on Svalbard, we believe that the dark season also affects students and teachers at universities in mainland Norway, making our recommendations transferable to those universities.
This study has been conducted by four geoscientists at UNIS. This toolkit with recommendations regarding the dark season is intended for both students and teachers in Norway (and other universities at high latitudes) to help dealing with the dark seasons.
To facilitate a good learning experience for students at universities at high latitudes we give the following recommendations:
- Take into account dark season in course structure and schedule.
- The university should focus on structuring the learning activities that encourage students to work and study at campus during dark periods. This would facilitate social interaction.
- Students expressed specifically that structuring lectures in the morning and having more interactive activities such as group discussions and projects in the afternoon would improve their engagement.
- Longer breaks in the afternoon (11 am-1 pm) during diminishing lights (typically October-November) could help students gradually adapt to diminishing daylight.
- Provide information to students about the dark season and adaptation methods.
- At the start of both short courses and semester courses running partly or fully during the dark season.
- The universities should provide information regarding coping mechanisms for the dark period, mental well-being and help contacts, and practical advice for incoming students. The universities should provide information and practical advice on the importance of social life well before the actual polar night starts.
- The universities could create a calendar listing all activities going on in town to engage students in local activities. The university website, a bulletin board or a Canvas group could replace the use of social media. This would ensure that the universities communicate happenings in town to students better.
- Make indoor spaces accessible to students for prolonged periods during the dark season.
- Students highlighted the importance of indoor spaces and cosiness (including access to food and coffee). They also expressed the desire to have access to coffee machines outside office hours, snacks in the canteen outside peak hours, and meeting rooms for group project work.
- The universities should provide (or advertise the already present) daylight lamps that students can use when working in the morning, similarly to the light café being provided at UiT. These should be located in areas where students work independently, such as the library and study areas.
- Charlotte Maartje van Hazendonk
- Marjolaine Verret
- Shridhar Jawak
- Knut Ivar Lindland Tveit