Contingency Planning

Survey on Digital Learning Hints at Gaps in School Prep for 'Virus Days'

If more schools need to close even temporarily in response to Coronavirus (COVID-19), in some places, they may not be able to substitute at-home learning for in-class learning. A recent survey found that just 70 percent of educators worked for schools in states that allowed for the use of digital learning days in place of "snow days" (which now might need to be renamed to "virus days"). Among those schools that have tried digital learning days, 70 percent of respondents reported that those had a "positive impact" on teaching and learning, with a subset of 18 percent stating that the use was "very effective."

These results came out of an open online survey for both teachers and administrators in K-12. The project was initiated by PowerSchool, a company that sells several education technology programs, including Schoology, its flagship learning management system. The survey drew 16,906 responses, 97 percent of which came from the United States and the remainder from the rest of the world.

Schoology's "The State of Digital Learning 2020" came out before COVID-19 dominated headlines. Its findings primarily focused on other topics — how schools are using digital tools and digital learning and what the hopes and challenges are for that. But it also provided a glimpse into some of the barriers schools will face if they need to begin delivering instruction virtually in areas such as whether devices are available for student use at home and whether teachers feel ready to teach that way.

Among teachers only, the biggest digital learning challenge was student access to technology at home, mentioned by 42.5 percent of respondents. The next biggest challenge was "lack of time during normal business hours," referenced by 39 percent. That was followed by lack of parent involvement or understanding (30 percent).

The top digital learning priorities for the current school, according to teacher respondents, was more effective use of digital tools for teaching and learning, mentioned by nearly half (46 percent); implementing a new instructional approach (27 percent); and collaborating with a professional learning community or other educators (25 percent).

For K-12 administrators, the top digital learning challenges consisted of:

  • Providing relevant and effective professional development (37 percent);

  • Device management (36 percent); and

  • Technological infrastructure, such as wireless networking and security (31 percent).

Their top priorities by a wide margin were:

  • Providing relevant and effective professional development (41 percent); and

  • Improving instructor collaboration (39 percent).

The use of "differentiated learning" was most common instructional approach used by respondents, mentioned by 76 percent. That was followed by blended or hybrid learning (57 percent), individualized learning (56 percent), personalized learning (39 percent) and flipped learning (26 percent). Purely online learning existed in just 10 percent of represented schools, and where that existed teachers and administrators scored it below average in effectiveness. (Blended and hybrid learning, on the other hand, was rated a 3.5 on the 5.0 effectiveness scale.)

On the tech front, two-thirds of schools represented in the survey (66 percent) are using Chromebooks; nearly half (47 percent) are using Windows laptops and desktops; and more than a third (36 percent) have iOS tablets and devices on hand; with Apple laptops/desktops present at another 26 percent of schools.

The largest share of schools (four in 10) run 1-to-1 programs, allowing students to take devices home. Nearly a quarter of schools with 1-to-1 programs forbid their students from taking machines home. Another large group (28 percent) use shared carts with devices on them. Only 2 percent of respondent schools run bring-your-own-device programs.

Even though this survey was run by a learning management system company, LMS users didn't dominate. Just 47 percent said they had an LMS (and in 30 percent of schools, usage of the LMS was required); 13 percent said they didn't have one; and 39 percent were unsure.

There was wide variation in school policies regarding the use of social media. At nearly four in 10 schools (39 percent), social media was only allowed for instructional use. Just under a quarter of schools said social media wasn't allowed by anybody (23 percent) or only by instructors and staff for sharing projects and activities (22 percent). Just one in seven schools (16 percent) said social media use was "openly permitted."

In the area of professional development, most respondents (62.5 percent) said they attended "periodic workshops" among many other options. More than half (55 percent) attended single-session workshops. About half (51 percent) were part of a professional learning community. Fewer than a quarter (24.5 percent) attended online or blended courses.

The concept of digital learning itself is an integral part of the overall teaching and learning strategy in almost every school (97 percent); the larger the district, the stronger the integration. And while most educators (96 percent) believe that digital learning has had a positive impact on student achievement "very much" or at least "somewhat," a smaller share (87 percent) say the same about whether it has made teachers more effective.

The complete report is available with registration through the Schoology website.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.