I wrote some initial comments a couple of days ago about the chaos for education created by the COVID-19 Corona Virus. Without question, the COVID-19 outcomes for kids are certain to be profound, but it is far too early to gauge those impacts. Still, while very limited, some research has started to appear. Interesting data from a survey conducted by Education Week was presented by that newspaper’s Benjamin Herold during a recent Education Writers’ Association (EWA) webinar titled “Remote Learning 101 in the Time of COVID-19.”
Herold sent me his slides and has given his permission to share some of them with you here.
First, a quick review from the first blog. A major issue Herold mentioned is that current attempts by our public schools to continue learning while kids stay home are not like any formally planned and organized distance learning efforts such as Online Learning. What teachers are currently attempting to do across Kentucky is more correctly considered to be something new, now tagged as “Emergency Remote Teaching.” This is basically a crisis response for which research and advanced planning is in short supply.
Unlike normal distance learning efforts, the current Emergency Remote Teaching effort is heavily impacted by many teachers who are not conversant with the methods and technology required and who are at the same time hampered by a real shortage of technical support staff who can help get teachers up to speed to work in the distance learning world. This isn’t to say teachers aren’t making a yeoman effort, but it must be understood that they are facing some pretty significant challenges. And, as Herold’s slides below point out, teachers know this. To see more, click the “Read more” link.
To be sure, there are notable concerns about the impact of COVID-19, and Herold’s slides from a recent teacher survey show it.
Certainly, on the minds of many, as mentioned in “Coronavirus Closures: How Urban Schools are Responding,” from Rick Hess, Emergency Remote Teaching can open the door wide to potential problems with equity in education. Further evidence of those concerns is mentioned in a recent Courier-Journal article that says the implementation of remote learning in Jefferson County’s schools was delayed several weeks in part due to concerns about the equity challenge.
Some of Herold’s data slides bear on the equity issue, too.
One really major challenge Herald explores is just staying in communication with all students. During his EWA comments, Herold presented the slide below, which is based on an Education Week poll conducted on March 24th and 25th.
As you can see, fewer than one in three teachers – just 29% – report they are in daily communication with a majority of their students during the COVID-19 crisis. But, this group of teachers isn’t necessarily reaching all their students, however, but just a majority of them. For the rest of the teaching corps, except for the 1% in schools that had not been closed by late March and the 8% that are communicating multiple times a day, teacher-to-student communications are more challenging.
The survey shows 24% of the teachers, nearly one in four, have only been able to communicate with a majority of their students one time since the pandemic closed things down for their school.
Another 22% of the surveyed teachers say they are communicating on a weekly basis, again with a majority – but not necessarily all – of their students.
Meanwhile, 16% of the teachers surveyed say they have had no communication at all with the majority of their students.
So, a total of 62% of the surveyed teachers have communicated with their students no more than once a week – at best – since the COVID-19 situation hit schools with shutdowns.
This uneven communications picture opens the door for some serious equity issues, unfortunately.
Overall, only 8% of the teachers surveyed indicate they are communicating multiple times a day with their students. These teachers probably have some sort of live, interactive communications available where students can interact with teachers as needed. For all the other cases shown (except for the 1% in schools that apparently have not closed), interaction is more limited or nonexistent. This indicates it just about impossible for the vast majority of students to ask questions as needed and also impacts the ability of teachers to get timely feedback to assess how well the lessons are really working.
Herold’s next slide examines approaches teachers are using to interact with students.
The majority of the effort involves collecting and returning student work online. That clearly won’t work for students who lack technology and internet connectivity.
A bit more than one in three teachers are sending work packets home and another 32% prepare packets but students have to pick them up. How – or if – this type of material gets collected back and graded wasn’t mentioned, but it does offer another option for students who don’t have electronic connectivity.
Some lessons are just posted online, perhaps even using video formats. Again, this doesn’t seem to allow for student feedback, and students without the required technology are left out.
The “Teach synchronous classes with full interaction” type of effort, which only about one in five teachers are using, would approach a classroom-like situation where students can interact in real time with both teachers and other students. The similar but somewhat more limited “Teach synchronous classes with just student-teacher interaction” is apparently technology limited so students cannot communicate directly with other students. Only about one in ten teachers report using this approach.
For the most part, the Emergency Remote Teaching system currently in play isn’t much like what teachers and students normally experience in the school building. Interaction is generally not available in the vast majority of cases and teachers’ ability to collect, grade, and redistribute work to students on a timely basis seems to be limited.
Herold had one more data slide of note in his presentation. This deals with challenges teachers see as they try to cope with the current school building shutdowns.
As the earlier slides implied, due to various limitations, 58% of the teachers are concerned about being able to determine if students are actually learning. That generally aligns with the available communications options and the lack of feedback options from students to teachers.
A more basic access problem is student access to technology. Nearly half of the teachers are concerned about this problem, which means the only other option is sending home packets of paper, which creates still more challenges for delivery and for receipt of completed work.
A major concern from this slide has to be that 44% of the teachers say students are not logging into online programs or interacting through other means. Closely related issues of students having trouble focusing at home (33% of teachers reporting) and students having issues using technology (28%) point to concerns that a lot of students are not getting adequate support during this crisis situation. This also leads to still more concerns about equity. Certainly, the 39% concerned about meeting special student needs, which would include serving English language learners and students with disabilities, adds still more concern that equity is a significant problem during the Emergency Remote Teaching era.
To close this, I want to reemphasize this is not a criticism of teachers’ efforts to make the best of a really bad situation our teachers generally were not trained for and that is challenging a whole lot more than just the K to 12 community. I think a lot of teachers are stepping up to the plate with the best efforts they can offer under these trying times. However, at some point we may have to face the possibility that many, if not all, students have not had a terribly productive learning experience since the COVID-19 hit. That may force some tough decisions going forward, and we would be unwise not to be prepared to face some hard facts once more is known.