Remote Learning

It's Not Online Ed; Call it 'Crisis Teaching'

Don't refer to the instruction delivered in the spring as "online education." Better to call it "crisis teaching." Nearly the entire American education system had to move online with "little to no preparation." Nobody was fully prepared, not the educators, the parents or the students. That was the description given to what happened when schools closed their doors and turned on their Zoom accounts, according to Future of School, a "public charity" focused on giving students access to quality education.

In a recent survey undertaken by Future of School, while a big majority of educators (more than eight in 10) reported that they were satisfied overall with their professional accomplishments before schools had to close facilities, only slightly more than half (between 54 percent and 55 percent) said the same about their performance during the crisis period. And while most "wish" they could be back in the classroom with direct contact with students, they also have a "greater appreciation" for how technology could help them in their work.

Attitudes about the crisis teaching period. Source: "Progress Report on Crisis Schooling: National Survey of America's Teachers" from Future of School

Attitudes about the crisis teaching period. Source: "Progress Report on Crisis Schooling: National Survey of America's Teachers" from Future of School

Those results came out of a national online survey of 1,000 K-12 teachers in June. The sampling covered the gamut, all grade bands, school locations and types of schools. The survey was intended to understand the training and experience the respondents had with technology, online teaching and online learning, as well as the challenges they faced, the surprises they experienced and their attitudes about teaching during school closures. Future of School worked with Geddes Analytics and Martin Research Consulting on the survey.

The biggest challenges reported by respondents when schools closed in March was a diminishing of student engagement and motivation, performance and attendance and follow-through, reported by 30 percent. As one middle school teacher told interviewers: "I feel like I had to significantly decrease the rigor of my assignments. If something was perceived as too demanding, I would get little to no response. I feel like I created a lot of fluff (assignments that were very easy and took very little time to complete) just in order to get any kind of a response from my students. I was also shocked by the number of students who would turn in nothing -- click submit, with nothing attached (no doc, no text, literally nothing) in Google Classroom just to make it disappear on their end, completely out of parent view." A high school teacher reported that students weren't engaged: "They have special needs and need face-to-face instruction. Their parents aren't qualified or able to provide it. Most are just home."

On the positive side, 17 percent of teachers said they "got better at using technology." Fourteen percent saw how students put in the effort and appeared "eager to participate" and help other students. Plus, as one elementary respondent explained, "parents and students have learned the value teachers have in education in the community."

Teachers reported that 40 percent of students didn't have computing devices at home when the crisis hit, and 50 percent had no internet access. However, at the same time, there's apparently no going back on the use of tech in instruction. Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) teachers said they'd like to get more professional development for technology-related subjects, because they feel ill prepared to teach their students "higher-level tech skills."

As the researchers noted, even though educators "were feeling a bit defeated during the crisis period, most stepped up and did their best to meet the technology needs, without proper preparation, training or experience."

According to Future to School, the emergency wrought by COVID-19 offers a "unique opportunity to permanently transform how K-12 education happens," including the integration of digital learning into instruction.

Future of School held a webinar to share the results of the survey. That's openly available on-demand, along with the slide deck on the Future of School website.

About the Author

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