Aarhus Universitets segl

Embodied teaching: development of academic teacher identity and 'practical sense' of teaching

The Covid-19 pandemic redefines how we think about teaching and how academics at universities think about themselves as teachers. Studies on the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic have largely focused on students’ learning and well-being. Little attention has been paid to the impact Covid-19 has on teachers.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of teaching at universities was still organized as face-to-face activities. During the pandemic, teaching contexts became overwhelmingly – if not entirely – digital and remote, and teaching via platforms such as Zoom, Skype and Teams became the ‘new normal’. These disruptive changes in teaching contexts caused by a pandemic are likely to have impacted teachers’ identities on a global scale.

Teacher identity develops in a dynamic interplay between changing teaching contexts and the personal interpretative framework every individual teacher develops throughout his/her career. However, much more knowledge is needed to fully comprehend the complex intersection between teacher identity and online teaching practices (Bolldén, 2016), not only to support teachers’ adoption of various digitalized tools but, more importantly, to support sustainable and long-lasting development of teachers’ motivation and self-understanding in changing academic contexts. This is an important gap in the current literature given that 1) teacher identity serves as an organizing element in teachers’ professional decision-making, and 2) teachers are key agents in facilitating students’ learning environments.

Consequently, this study raises the question: How does the dramatic change in teaching contexts during Covid-19 affect teacher identity?


First, we examine how the disrupted teaching contexts during the Covid-19 pandemic affected teacher identities in health science education. The study accounts for the socio-cultural influences on teachers’ continuing professional development and teaching practices in the wake of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Qualitative interviews with 19 experienced university teachers form the data basis. The informants were a purposeful and strategic sample of volunteer teachers from health sciences educations at two Danish universities (Aarhus University, n=11; University of Southern Denmark n=8). The interviews were analysed through a systematic text condensation method. Finally, we conducted a theoretical reading of data based on the sociological concept of practical sense.

Then, we conduct a systematic state-of-the-art review on university teachers’ agency and identity in times of trouble such as the emergency online teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic. A state-of-the-art review address more current matters in contrast to the combined retrospective and current approaches of more traditional literature reviews. Our review includes literature on higher education teaching across all disciplines. Included studies are empirical, written in English, and explore teacher agency and identity in higher education during the Covid-19 pandemic (after January 2020).


This study contributes to a new understanding of how continuing professional development among academic teachers and the digitalization of learning environments are interconnected.

The preliminary results indicate a form of practically embodied teacher identity constitutes a basic condition and a resource for the teachers. However, the sudden change in the teaching context has meant a loss of teacher identity. Furthermore, the study raises questions about an overlooked basic condition in teaching, namely that teachers use their practical sense – an incorporated knowledge that refers to ways of doing and handling things using know-how and a feel for the game – in navigating and adjusting the teaching. Moreover, the actual use of the practical sense seems to be highly motivating for the teachers and contributes to the teacher’s sense of appreciation, sense of connectedness, sense of competence, sense of commitment, and how the teacher imagines a future career trajectory.

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This study is part of a newly established research initiative about continuing professional development and embodied teaching in health sciences education. The first article entitled “Embodied teacher identity: a qualitative study on ‘practical sense’ as a basic pedagogical condition in times of Covid‑19” was published in 2021, and the second article is about to be submitted:

  • Christensen, M.K., Nielsen, K.J.S. & O’Neill, L. (2021). Embodied teacher identity: a qualitative study on ‘practical sense’ as a basic pedagogical condition in times of Covid‑19. Advances in Health Sciences Education. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-022-10102-0

Other articles and reports related to this topic are:

  • Christensen, M.K. and Nielsen, K.J.S. (2021). Undersøgelse af underviseres pædagogiske kompetencer på Health. Centre for Educational Development, Aarhus Universitet. https://pure.au.dk/portal/files/223913693/FDQ_2020_final.pdf
  • Christensen, M. K., Sørensen, J. K., Jensen, R. D., Gjedde Brøndt, S., Norberg, K., O’Neill, L. D., Mortensen, L. S. & Charles, P. (2020). How to play the game of medical education: Sociocultural analyses of educational difficulties among medical residents. MedEdPublish, 9, [1], 125, https://doi.org/10.15694/mep.2020.000125.1
  • Christensen, M.K. et al. (2018). Qualitative analysis of MMI raters’ scorings of medical school candidates: A matter of taste? Advances in Health Sciences Education, 23(2), 289–310.https://doi.org/10.1007/s10459-017-9794-x
  • Lund, O., Andersen, B., & Christensen, M.K. (2016). Old habits die hard: a case study on how new ways of teaching colonoscopy affect the habitus of experienced clinicians. International Journal of Medical Education, 7, 297-308. https://doi.org/10.5116/ijme.57d5.5693


Co-researchers in the project: