Image: New York Times, July 28, 2020

Post last up-dated: 9 June, 2021

Since March 2020, there has been a flurry of research on emergency remote learning. Most published research up to March 2021 was of the quick-and-dirty kind: how did students, faculty and administrators react and what are they expecting in the future? From March, 2021 though we begin to see more extensive and detailed studies emerging.

We will need to wait some time down the road – if ever – to see what the actual impact on learning has been. Over one year now into the pandemic, more serious and perhaps more reliable and valid research is beginning to flow. In the meantime the last year has seen an unprecedented response to an unprecedented emergency. 

This is just a selection, of course, with a particular focus on North America, and will be added to as new reports emerge. This list goes so far to 27 April, 2021. The reports are roughly in sequential order of the date of publication, although not all full dates were available.

At the end I provide a ‘running’ overview of all these studies. This will be updated as I add new reports. I would appreciate being referred to any studies that I have missed or are coming up, especially in academic journals, as these are more difficult to track but are likely to be more reliable.

I recommend you look at the sponsors carefully, as there is a lot of commonality between the studies in terms of sponsors, and, as always, please read the actual reports, and not just my biased view of the results.

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  1. Authors: O’Keefe, L., Rafferty, J., Gunder, A., Vignare, K. (2020). Delivering high-quality instruction online in response to COVID-19: Faculty playbook. Every Learner Everywhere, May 18.

Sponsors: the Online Learning Consortium (OLC), the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), and the Every Learner Everywhere Network with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Topics: contains resources that can be used by both individual instructors and institutions seeking guidance for emergency remote teaching and for online learning. 

Sample size: not applicable

Sample results: this is not a survey of respondents but provides an overview of best practices in online learning prior to Covid-19 and is therefore a useful guide for instructors and institutional managers who have not had prior experience of quality online learning. 

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2. Authors: Bozkurt, A. et al. (2020) A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 Pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis Asian Journal of Distance Education, Vol. 15., No. 1, May 31

Sponsors: Primarily academic networking, probably lead by Professor Bozkurt of the Anadolu University, Turkey. The Canadian case-study was probably written by Professors Valerie Irvine and Michael Paskevicius of the University of Victoria, British Columbia.

Topics: responses of post-secondary systems to Covid-19

Sample size: cases from 31 different countries representing nearly 63% of the world population.

Sample results: The whole paper is 126 pages long, but the key issues are well summarised between pages 3-8. Probably will be a future ‘classic’ paper for those researching the impact of Covid-19 in higher education.

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3. Authors: Johnson, N., Veletsianos, G. and Seaman, J. (2020a) U.S. Faculty and Administrators’ Experiences and Approaches in the Early Weeks of the COVID-19 Pandemic Online Learning Journal, Vol. 24, Issue 2, June

Sponsors: The Online Learning Consortium, WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies (WCET), University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA), Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA), Every Learner Everywhere, Cengage, and Inside Higher Ed 

Topics:

• How have institutions provided continuity of education in the early stages of the COVID19 pandemic?

• What techniques are faculty using to deliver instruction online and what modifications have they made to their teaching practices?

• What would be of most assistance to institutions and faculty at this time? 

Sample size: 897 higher education faculty and administrators from the U.S.A. Participants represented 672 institutions from 47 states.

Sample results: ‘While emergency remote teaching enabled many students to continue the spring semester amidst the pandemic, this form of education is not a viable long-term solution. Going forward, institutions need to develop sustainable educational plans that can withstand the challenges and unknowns of the ongoing pandemic.’

‘A fair estimate would be that between 750,000 and a million faculty were involved in some way in making this emergency transition. While the higher education sector is sometimes described as slow and divorced from society, it rapidly developed approaches for instructional and learning continuity and iterated over time.’

The study found that even experienced online faculty used new teaching methods to cope with the challenges presented due to this mass-scale pivot. 

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4. Authors: Fox, K., Bryant, G., Lin, N., Srinivasan, N. (2020). Time for Class – COVID-19 Edition Part 1: A National Survey of Faculty during COVID-19. Tyton Partners and Every Learner Everywhere, July 8, 32 pp.

Sponsors: Tyton Partners and Every Learner Everywhere

Topics: the faculty perspective regarding the rapid transition of face-to-face or hybrid courses to fully remote delivery. The report recommends six actions/priorities for institutions for the fall semester.

Sample size: 4,798 faculty who transitioned a course to remote teaching this spring from over 1,500 institutions in the USA. Invitations were sent to over 185,000 faculty, deans, and department chairs at 2-year and 4-year institutions. 

Sample results: Shows clearly that faculty in institutions already with online programs prior to Covid-19 transitioned much more easily. 

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5. Authors: Garrett, R., Legon, R., Fredericksen, E. E., & Simunich, B. (2020). CHLOE 5: The Pivot to Remote Teaching in Spring 2020 and Its Impact, The Changing Landscape of Online Education, 2020, July 21

Sponsors: Quality Matters, Eduventures/Encoura

Topics:

  • How Higher Education Pivoted from Classroom to Remote Teaching
  • Measuring the Success of the Remote Teaching Pivot.
  • Long-Term Impact of the Remote Teaching Pivot on Online learning
  • What Happens in Fall 2020? 
  • A Closer Look at Technology Choices; Online Program Managers and the Pivot to Remote Teaching; Online Experience and Degree of Success in the Pivot; How Big a Difference Did Prior Online Capacity Make in the Pivot?

Sample size: 308 chief online officers at 308 U.S. colleges and universities in May 2020

Sample results: 50% of faculty, 51% of undergraduate students, and 27% of graduate students at U.S. institutions had never taught or experienced a fully online course prior to Covid-19.

Most COOs (78%) judged the pivot to have been completely or largely successful in achieving its primary goal of allowing students to complete the academic term. Only 21% expressed reservations, and less than 1% described the effort as unsuccessful. 36% described the steps to carry out the pivot as “smooth and straightforward,” while 44% considered them “somewhat difficult” and 20% as “very challenging.”

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6. Authors: Johnson, N., Veletsianos, G. and Seaman, J. (2020b) Canadian Higher Education in Fall 2020: Multiple Online and Hybrid Learning Scenarios Halifax NS: Canadian Digital Learning Research Association

Sponsors: Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, Royal Roads University, Bay View Analytics, Academica Group

Topics: to explore the learning scenarios that Canadian university and college administrators and faculty anticipated for fall

Sample size: 273 faculty and administrators from across Canada. Invitations to participate were included in the Academica Top Ten on April 24th, April 28th, and May 1st. 

Sample results: Faculty and administrators are envisioning multiple scenarios but a full return to in-person classes was not a possibility, which is consistent with early announcements from institutions. At the same time, few respondents anticipated that classes would be canceled or postponed. In other words, most respondents were in agreement that the school year will go ahead, but the experience will be very different. 

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7. Authors: Means, B., et al. (2020) Suddenly Online: A National Survey of Undergraduates During the COVID-19 Pandemic.  San Mateo, CA: Digital Promise.

Sponsors: Every Learner Everywhere, Digital Promise, Tyton Partners

Topics: Student satisfaction with emergency remote learning; student access to technology; student challenges; equity and access; predictors of student satisfaction; recommended practices

Sample size: a random national (U.S.) sample of 1,008 undergraduates, age 18 and older, who were taking college courses for credit that included in-person class sessions when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and had to finish the course by learning at a distance.

Sample results: About half of the students in the survey (51 percent) said they were very satisfied with their course before it went fully online. Students’ ratings of their satisfaction with their courses after moving fully online were dramatically lower, with only 19 percent of students being very satisfied with their online course experience.

Nevertheless, even with this large decrease in the proportion of very satisfied students, the majority of students (59 percent) were at least somewhat satisfied with their courses after the shift to remote instruction. 

Involving teams of faculty, instructional designers, and faculty development staff in redesigning curriculum and instruction not only results in a better course but is also a very effective form of professional learning.

For an updated and revised version of this study, see: Means, B., & Neisler, J. (2021). Teaching and learning in the time of COVID: The student perspective. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1.

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8. Authors: Veletsianos, G., Johnson, N. and Seaman, J. (2020) How do faculty and administrators imagine the future of higher education in Canada? Academic Matters, July 27

Sponsors: Canadian Digital Learning Research Association, Royal Roads University, Bay View Analytics, Academica Group

Topics: 

  • How optimistic or pessimistic administrators and faculty are about the future of post-secondary education.
  • Imagine that it’s 2023 and COVID-19 is behind us. What do you think higher education looks like at that time?

Sample size: 273 faculty and administrators in Canadian post-secondary institutions

Sample results: 

  • Overwhelmingly, faculty and administrators expect more blended and online courses.
  • Administrators tend to be more optimistic than faculty about the future
  • Overall, faculty and administrators appear to expect little ‘radical’ change in the future

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9. Author: Bliss, C. (2020) Stanford makes strides to improve online learning in pandemic environment, Stanford News, August 17

Full report: Stanford Spring Student Survey: COVID 19

Sponsors: Stanford University’s Institutional Research & Decision Support (IR&DS) office. Every student enrolled in at least one quarter of the 2019-20 academic year was invited to take the survey; nearly 40 percent responded.

Topics: 

  • students’ responses to Stanford’s emergency remote learning response
  • main adjustments made by Stanford as a result of the survey

Sample size: all Stanford students; 5,898 out of 15,662 responded (38%)

Sample results: 

  • financial aid to students needed to be increased
  • special support needed for first-generation and low-income students, who often lacked adequate home study conditions

You might want to compare Stanford’s response with UBC’s (report no. 18)

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10. Author: Naffi, N. (2020) Disruption in and by Centres for Teaching and Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Leading the Future of Higher Ed Québec City: L’Observatoire Internationale sur les Impacts Sociétaux de l’IA et du Numerique and the Government of Québec, 24 August

Sponsors: L’Observatoire Internationale sur les Impacts Sociétaux de l’IA et du Numerique and the Government of Québec

Topics: The practices Centres for Teaching and Learning have employed to support online delivery of courses in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sample size: Nineteen Centres for Teaching and Learning and equivalent teams from Canada, the USA, Lebanon, the UK and France were studied through in-depth interviews. In addition, publicly shared resources from 78 CTLs in 68 universities and educational institutions located in 23 countries were also studied.

Sample results: 

  • Emergency remote learning increased inequities for students in terms of internet access, completion rates, etc.
  • Emergency remote learning highlighted the essential role of CTLs: their staff were ‘the sherpas of online learning teams’
  • COVID-19 provoked a long-awaited disruption to higher education, pivotal to ensuring students are well equipped for the future of work in a digital and artificial intelligence era.
  • CTLs affirmed that online learning and flexible modalities of teaching are here to stay
  • their four main challenges were:
    • balancing quantity vs quality of emergency remote courses
    • scaling up CTLs’ activity to all instructors
    • inconsistent information from above
    • getting ready for the Winter term

My conclusion: We need a much more systematic and a more fundamental approach to faculty training and development. It can’t all be down to the CTLs.

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11. Author: McCormack, M. (2020) EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Fall Readiness for Teaching and LearningEDUCAUSE Review, September 18

Sponsor: EDUCAUSE

Topics: Institutional (online) readiness for the fall Semester, 2020

Sample size: Poll invitations were sent to participants in EDUCAUSE community groups focused on IT leadership and instructional technology. Most respondents (475) represented US institutions. Respondents from Canada, Asia, and the UK also participated, but not in sufficient numbers for individual national reports.

Sample results: 

  • institutions and instructors are far better prepared for the September semester than they were in the spring.
  • early but flexible decision making for the fall semester resulted in better prepared institutions
  • the focus was on improving instructors’ use of tools and online course design
  • internet access is still a problem for many students and even some instructors
  • longer term investments in support for online learning are needed
  • There is still a good deal of faculty resistance to online learning

My conclusion: early but flexible decision-making can make a difference, but there is still a long way to go to get to a fully satisfactory, system-wide, online experience.

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12. Author: Alyssa Wise and Yoav Bergner, College in the Time of Corona: Spring 2020 Student Survey Report, Learning Analytics Research Network (LEARN), New York University

Summary of Report: Diverse Education, October 2 

Topics: students’ experiences with remote learning during the 2020 spring semester

Sample size: 298 undergraduate and graduate students from 50 universities, between late March and early May. 39% from NYU but no significant differences with students from other universities, 71% respondents female

Sample results: 

  • 88% of participants used Zoom and 57% utilized their school’s learning management system (LMS): Zoom worked OK, but ‘over-reliance’ on it as a learning platform; 15% had no LMS
  • while working remotely, 96% of students used their desktop or laptop while only 14% worked using their mobile devices; often difficulties with internet connection/access.
  • overall learning experience: before pandemic 4.47/5; in March, 3.11/5; in May, 3.67/5
  • originally, 24% of students reported feeling nervous about remote learning, which dropped to 6% by May. Additionally, 38% of students eventually felt “okay” with remote institution compared to the 20% that felt “resigned” to it

My conclusion: students differed considerably in their reactions to emergency remote learning, and instructors varied considerably in their effectiveness in lecturing online. Students’ responses were mainly focused on improving the video lecture experience.  

There simply was not the time to re-think course design in the Spring semester, but the report shows that re-thinking the approach to teaching is really essential when students are isolated, working on their own, and under other pressures, such as parental care, working from home, or poor study conditions. 

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13. Author: Top Hat (2020) Higher Ed Students Grade the Fall 2020 Semester, Top Hat (accessed November 19, no published date)

Sponsor: Top Hat (online publisher)

Topics: experience of students in the fall semester and whether their experience has improved from the poor experience of remote learning in the spring

Sample size: 3,412 undergraduate students in the United States and Canada

Sample results:

  • Students continue to view online learning as the poor cousin of the traditional in-class experience
  • Learning virtually on the whole is seen as less engaging and student motivation outside of class continues to suffer
  • Many students are also contending with a cumbersome patchwork of technologies to ‘attend’ lectures, connect with faculty and access readings and other assignments.
  • The lack of reliable access to computers, the Internet and quiet study spaces are being deeply felt by many students.
  • a slight majority of students agree that their instructors are taking steps to make learning in the virtual classroom more active.
  • when instructors work to create a sense of community and to make learning more interactive, students are more engaged—and more motivated both in and out of class.

My conclusion: the small sample and lack of details do not allow an examination of key variables that may have influenced these results or the extent to which they can be generalised. The report’s conclusion that active learning, building a sense of community, and empathy, make an enormous difference in online learning is true but not new.

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14. Authors: Lundqvist, A., Rice, A. and Widenhorn, M. (2020) The Pandemic College Student Experience:Implications for Student Success and Retention Anthology Inc., November (no publication date given)

Sponsor: Anthology Inc. (futurist consultants)

Topics: impact of the various arrangements made by colleges and universities with respect to Covid-19 on student sentiment regarding the ‘academic and co-curricular experience.’ 

Sample size: a survey in October of 1,143 undergraduate students in the USA.

Sample results:

  • a significant shift in the way students are taking courses from pre-pandemic, from 18% fully online before the pandemic to 66% fully online in October 2020.
  • satisfaction is lower currently than how respondents rated their satisfaction prior to the start of the pandemic across three areas (academic courses, communications, and student services), as well as for the institution overall; however, two-thirds expressed that they were  still somewhat or very satisfied with all four areas in October.
  • Institutions need to find ways to increase and improve social support, particularly in the virtual environment
  • moving to online learning mid-semester led to lower levels of satisfaction than for students who went online from the beginning of the semester
  • nine in ten students indicated a likelihood to re-enroll at the same college for the next term
  • more than two thirds of students indicated they were concerned with their ability to pay for their education
  • half of the student respondents indicated that the level of risk in their college’s current pandemic plan was “just right.” However, more students indicated it was too risky as compared to too cautious.
  • on the basis of these results several recommendations were made for institutions, including the need to strengthen students sense of belonging and community while online.

My conclusions: a useful and interesting report despite the small sample size. Students by and large remain positive about their institutions and their studies, despite the difficulties caused by the institutions’ responses to Covid-19.

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15. Author: OCUFA 2020 Study: COVID-19 and the Impact on University Life and Education Toronto ON, November

Sponsor: Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations

Topics:  to assess the decline in academic quality caused by the move to online learning in response to the pandemic.

Sample size: students in Ontario universities: 502 (0.2%); faculty and administrators in Ontario universities: 2,208 (13%)

Sample results: To date, only student results have been analysed by me; faculty results to come:

  • Just under two thirds (62%) of students reported either a ‘highly negative impact’ (15%) or ‘a moderately negative impact’ (47%) of the changes due to Covid-19 to the quality of the teaching; 16% reported a highly positive impact (3%) or a moderately positive impact (13%). Nearly a quarter (23%) reported no impact
  • 85% of students reported a negative impact on my ability to participate in extracurricular activities, 77% reported that it was more difficult to access important learning resources (student tutorials, informal study groups, libraries) 
  • 55% of students expressed concern regarding mental health due to changes and challenges arising from COVID and just over half reported financial difficulties due to inability to work part-time or cover their costs of education
  • the main areas of dissatisfaction focus on the lack of interaction and engagement resulting from the migration to online learning/delivery of course material.
  • online education will not see the enthusiastic adoption that many have claimed. On the whole, neither students nor faculty view online learning as a desirable approach to a university education.

My conclusion: OCUFA got it wrong. It isn’t online learning that caused students’ dissatisfaction, but Covid-19, which forced institutions to pivot away from on-campus teaching to a poor form of online learning, emergency remote learning. Criticising emergency remote learning for not being perfect is not helpful. Conflating emergency remote learning with quality online learning is particularly galling.

For a more detailed analysis, see here.

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16. Author: Thomson Reuters Institute (2020) Law Schools and the Global Pandemic Thomson Reuters (no date: report accessed December 19), pp.16

Sponsor: Thomson Reuters

Topics: the response of law schools to the Covid-19 pandemic and to consider what the future of legal education might look like

Sample size: 2,897 law school students, faculty, and administrators in August 2020, presumably in the USA

Sample results:

  • student concerns about the value of online legal education perceived by employers 
  • difficulties of students staying engaged when studying online
  • challenging off-campus learning environments
  • lack of clear student guidance from administrators
  • 28% of students, 53% of faculty and 64% of administrators would like some classes permanently offered online

My conclusion: There are methodological problems with this survey. Also it would have been good to know what student, faculty and administrator views on these issues were before Covid-19, especially regarding perceptions of value for money of law programs. Unlike most other subject disciplines, law was clearly lagging in its use of online learning pre-Covid.

In particular, the concerns about student engagement in online learning are serious, but avoidable and fixable by following prior best practices regarding building an online community, instructor presence, and online student moderating. Law schools then clearly have a lot of catching up to do.

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17. Authors: Usher, A. and Sullivan, M. (2021) Examining Learning Experiences during Covid, One Thought to Start Your Day, Higher Education Strategy Associates, January 28. 

Sponsor: Unknown (report is behind a paywall: to access the full report go to info@higheredstrategy.com)

Topics: students’ learning experiences in Canadian post-secondary institutions (?) since the start of the 2020-21 academic year

Sample size: 1,392 university students (0.1% of all Canadian university students), of which just over 300 were graduate students, from 23, mainly larger, universities from across Canada. Eight of the universities were in Ontario and six in Québec. There was one university (Dalhousie) from the maritime provinces. Just over 20% were francophone students and six per cent were international students. Female students were overepresented (70% compared with 57% in the total university student population).

Sample results:

  • most students (about two thirds) were satisfied or very satisfied with their fall term experience. Less than a quarter were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
  • the most troublesome aspect of the fall experience was the loss of the overall campus experience (77%) and the opportunity to socialise with other students outside of classes; however, only 31% of part-time students said they missed being on campus
  • 53% said they liked online classes
  • 48% said they would like to take mostly or fully in-person classes
  • finally the authors argue that as a result of Covid-19, there is pent-up demand for online learning: ‘nationally, we are talking about 200,000 to 400,000 students who might be open to making remote education a permanent part of their education.’ (According to data from the CDLRA, pre-Covid there were already about 1.36 million online credit course registrations in 2016/17).

My conclusion: The value of this study is more likely to be in the breakdowns by type of institution, size and level of programming, but you have to pay a hefty fee to get these. Also I would really like to examine the sample to answer basic questions such as how many students were involved and the response rate. Without access to such data, any published results have no merit.

For a more detailed analysis, see here.

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18. Authors: Bartolic, S. and Guppy, N. (2021) UBC’s Pivot to Emergency Remote Teaching and Learning: Perspectives on the Transition at the Vancouver Campus Vancouver BC: University of British Columbia

Sponsor: UBC Teaching and Learning Enhancement Fund

Topics: Faculty, student and administrators’ responses to UBC’s pivot to emergency remote teaching as of May 2020; impact on academic policies 

Sample size: 57 faculty in five departments (response rate 54%); 1,069 students (response rate 46%); 8 instructional designers; 12 senior administrators + analysis of data from Registrar’s office, LMS

Sample results:

  • Emergency remote teaching – not courses designed from the outset as online learning
  • A leap into the dark for most faculty – and students
  • Rapid and comprehensive change is possible even in a large university
  • Academic policies and integrity under stress
  • Effective communication was a major challenge
  • Nearly all classes were shifted online
  • The transition worked well

My conclusion:  this is a pretty convincing account of what happened in the early months of the pandemic at UBC. I don’t think anyone would be shocked that learning was to some extent negatively impacted during an emergency, even – or especially – in an elite university. At the same time, the enormous effort and the achievement of moving all teaching online and completing the semester justly needs to be recognised. Overall, a highly recommended read for anyone interested in the nuts and bolts of university administration during an emergency.

For a more detailed analysis, see here. You may want to compare UBC’s response with Stanford’s (report no. 9)

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19. Authors: Jisc (2021) Student digital experience insights survey 2020/21: Findings from UK higher education and further education (pulse 1: October-December 2020), 8 March 2021

Sponsor: Jisc (Joint Information Systems Committee)

Topics: students’ digital learning experiences in British post-secondary institutions over two weeks from early November to early December 2020.

Sample size: 21,697 UK higher education (HE) students from 11 universities and 4 FE colleges; and 5,372 learners from 10 UK FE colleges: around 1% of all students, and 5-10% of all institutions.

Sample results:

  • 81% of HE students were studying fully online compared with 14% of FE students
  • 68% of both types of student rated the quality of online learning good or better
  • 62% of HE students and 71% of FE students rated online learning support as good or better
  • 86% of HE students experienced within the two week period live lecture/teaching sessions; 84% accessed recorded lecture/teaching session; 81% accessed other course materials, eg notes, assignments
  • 66% of FE students within the two week period accessed other course materials eg notes, assignments; 63% live lecture/teaching session and 59% submitted coursework
  • collaborative and engaging activities were less well used, yet this is an aspect of learning that the qualitative data showed learners value.
  • 62% of HE students had poor wi-fi access, compared to 36% of FE students
  • less than half of all students reported the learning environment was well-designed, reliable, or easy to navigate
  • students identified the following needed improvements to online learning: better technology (such as wi-fi); more interactive sessions; more available recordings; better trained and supported instructors; better paced teaching; and timely feedback

My conclusion: While the results are interesting, there were serious methodological flaws in the study, including a lack of detail about the the extent of lock-down in the surveyed institutions. However, it appeared that HE students had to rely essentially on online learning while FE students were much more campus-based – but this needs to be confirmed. The results are difficult to interpret without knowing students’ responses to similar questions about campus-based teaching. Overall, there are too many unresolved questions for me to have any confidence in the findings

For a more detailed analysis, see here.

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20. Authors: Johnson, N., Seaman, J. and Veletsianos, G. (2021) Teaching during a pandemic: Spring Transition, Fall Continuation, Winter Evaluation Bay View Analytics: Oakland CA, March 25, pp. 53

Sponsor: Cengage

Topics: The study examines the nature and magnitude of the changes in teaching and learning over the course of the pandemic from faculty and academic administrators’ points of view.

Sample size:

  • the first survey collected data from April 6 through April 19, 2020, with 897 participants from 672 institutions and 45 states
  • the second collected data between August 4 and August 14, 2020, with 887 participants from 597 institutions and 45 states
  • the third collected data between December 2 and December 4, 2020, with 1,708 participants from 1,204 institutions.

Sample results:

  • 19.6 million total students in U.S. higher education, supported by 1.5 million faculty members, and 2 million other staff members, were all impacted by transitions to remote or alternative forms of teaching and learning.
  • Higher education institutions, and the faculty and administrators within them, nevertheless proved to be highly agile, adaptable, and resilient when faced with numerous challenges between March and December 2020.
  • Attitudes toward teaching online, which had been relatively stagnant since the turn of the century, became markedly more positive over the past year.
  • Faculty expressed considerable concern in the spring about how they would teach the following fall. By the end of the summer, that attitude had turned to cautious optimism, with most faculty reporting that they felt prepared for the semester ahead.
  • Experience with online instruction resulted in some faculty coming to new understandings and appreciations of online learning, and second, some faculty, due to the transition to online learning, came to receive worthwhile professional development that can support them and their students in any modality.
  • More faculty are now familiar with incorporating video, digital materials, and OER into their teaching. Also, more institutions are now supporting the use of such tools. Future in-person offerings will likely make greater use of various technologies to support instruction and learning.
  • COVID-19 laid bare the inequities that exist in higher education institutions. These inequities stem from economic, class, racial, gender, and geographic issues, impacting student access and success. The impacts are manifested in many ways, including unequal access to tools and technologies. Some students had very little space and privacy for studying outside the campus.
  • Flexibility is a design feature that will become increasingly relevant in post-pandemic education, from students having the flexibility to access course materials digitally, to faculty having the flexibility to access professional development asynchronously.

My conclusion: 

It is interesting to see how institutions, faculty and administrators changed and adapted over time. Higher education has shown it has the capability to be much more flexible than I believed before Covid-19. The pandemic also appears to have resulted in the largest professional development push on university and college teaching in history. Lastly, the use of technology in teaching will almost certainly get a boost as a result. 

For a more detailed analysis, see here.

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21. Authors: OECD (2021) The state of school education: one year into the Covid pandemic Paris, France: OECD, pp. 50

Sponsors: OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank

Topic: comparative education statistics tracking developments throughout the pandemic. The focus is on school (k-12) systems.

Sample size: All UNESCO/OECD member countries.

Sample results:

  • [In 2020] 1.5 billion students in 188 countries were locked out of their schools
  • The crisis has exposed the many inadequacies and inequities in school systems
  • Some countries were able to keep schools open and safe even in difficult pandemic situations. Social distancing and hygiene practices proved to be the most widely used measures to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, but they imposed significant capacity constraints on schools and required education systems to make difficult choices when it came to the allocation of educational opportunity.
  • Infection rates in the population appear unrelated to the number of days in which schools were closed. In other words, countries with similar infection rates made different policy choices when it came to school closures
  • The countries with the lowest educational performance tended to fully close their schools for longer periods in 2020; the crisis did not just amplify educational inequalities within countries, but it is likely to also amplify the performance gap among countries
  • Where school capacity was limited because of social distancing, most countries prioritised young children and students from disadvantaged backgrounds for learning in presence
  • Local capacity was key for a safe opening of schools. Success often depended on combining transparent and well-communicated criteria for service operability, with flexibility to implement them at the frontline.  
  • Virtually all countries have rapidly enhanced digital learning opportunities for both students and teachers and encouraged new forms of teacher collaboration. 
  • Digital learning systems can adapt learning to suit personal learning styles with far greater granularity and precision than any traditional classroom setting possibly can
  • The crisis caught many education systems cold: the Special Survey documented major limitations in access, quality, equity and use of digital resources for learning and teaching.
  • Effective learning out of school during the pandemic placed much greater demands on autonomy, capacity for independent learning, executive functioning and self-monitoring. The plans to return to school need to focus on more intentional efforts to cultivate those essential skills among all students.
  • Countries that could draw on multiple modes of assessment in pre-pandemic times found it easier to substitute examinations with other ways to recognise student learning.
  • Most countries made major efforts to support teachers’ learning online during the pandemic. 
  • Governments cannot innovate in the classroom; but they can help by opening up systems so that there is an evidence-based innovation-friendly climate where transformative ideas can bloom.

My comments

This is a useful record of how  school systems in many countries responded to the Covid-19 crisis, at least at a policy level. It indicated the importance of local autonomy on the one hand, necessary for responding appropriately to local conditions, which in a pandemic can vary widely, while at the same time the importance of having some national co-ordination and policies in place that support local decision making (funding flexibility being the most obvious).

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22. Author: Johnson, N. (2021) Digital Learning in Canadian Higher Education in 2021: National Report Halifax NS: Canadian Digital Learning Research Association

Sponsors: eCampus Ontario; BCcampus, Campus Manitoba; Contact North; Government of Québec; D2L; OCAS; Pearson

Topic:  to identify ‘the transformations that were taking place over the course of the year’ as a result of the pandemic, and ‘to gain a sense of the changes and challenges that faculty and administrators experienced as the year unfolded’ in the Canadian post-secondary education system.

Sample size:

  • Spring survey 2020: 273 higher education faculty and administrators from across Canada;
  • Fall survey 2020: 427 higher education faculty and administrators from across Canada
  • Semi-structured online interviews with senior Canadian administrators (Provost, VP-Academic) – no numbers provided

This was a self-selected sample of readers of the Academica Top Ten blog post.

Sample results:

  • The need for developing consistent definitions for terms related to digital learning is imperative for tracking the long-term impact of the pandemic on postsecondary education.
  • The rapid shift to emergency remote teaching placed considerable burden upon faculty and students, which will need to be reduced going forward. Providing the time, support, and resources to set faculty and students up for success is imperative. 
  • Despite the challenges of Spring 2020, most faculty felt prepared to teach online by Fall 2020. Regardless of the type of professional development, it was perceived as effective by faculty. Professional development related to teaching online was widely available to faculty as they prepared for the 2020 Fall semester.
  • If online and hybrid learning is going to occur to a greater extent post-pandemic, then affordable widespread access to high-speed Internet, affordable learning devices, and accommodations for students with disabilities must be addressed.
  • Institutions must consider the unintended consequences of expanding online and hybrid offerings and develop strategies to mitigate possible negative impacts for students and faculty.

My comments

This is a sub-set of the results from Research Report No. 19, focusing on the results from Canadian participants, which in fact are fairly consistent with the larger sample in Report No. 19.

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23. Author: Bouchey, B., Gratz, E., & Kurland, S. (2021). Remote student support during COVID-19: Perspectives of chief online officers in higher education. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No.1

Sponsors: National Louis University and the Online Learning Consortium

Topic: How were higher educational institutions’ online student support services affected during the pivot to remote learning necessitated by COVID-19?

Sample size: 31 chief online officers (COOs) from higher education institutions across the United States.

Sample results: 

  • These findings illuminated the gaps between the student support services offered to face-to-face stu
  • dents and their fully online counterparts. The forced shutdowns and the ensuing pivot to emergency remote operations closed these gaps rather quickly, thereby increasing access to these critical support services.
  • Due to COVID-19, student services suddenly expanded to remote delivery for ALL students 
  • providing online student support serves all students, not only online students.

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24. Authors: Hart, C.M.D., Xu, D., Hill, M., & Alonso, E. (2021). COVID-19 and community college in:structional responses. Online Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1

Sponsors: Spencer Foundation + the California Community Colleges Chancellor’s Office

Topic: The survey aimed to:

  • characterize pre-COVID distance education resources, emergency responses to the pandemic, and readiness for online instruction in the fall, and
  • determine how pre-COVID distance education resources, emergency responses, and fall readiness relate to each other

within the California Community College system.

Sample size: 47 responses from DE leaders in 45 colleges (response rate: nearly 40%) + data from IPEDS 

Sample results:

  • The study found wide variability in pre-COVID distance education resources.
  • Colleges with fewer pre-COVID resources focused on foundational efforts such as creating online student services, while institutions with greater pre-COVID resources offered somewhat broader responses to training students and faculty in skills to successfully transition online.
  • Although colleges improved their readiness for continued remote instruction in the fall term in terms of training faculty and providing students with technology to access classes, respondents estimated that roughly a third of students would still face barriers accessing remote classes.

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25. Authors: Rutherford, T., Karamarkovich, S.M., Xu, D., Tate, T.P., Sato, B., Baker, R.B., & Warschauer, M.(2021). Profiles of instructor responses to emergency distance learningOnline Learning, Vol. 25, No. 1

Sponsors: Grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation

Topic: Effective teaching practices in in-person and online learning and how they shifted during the pivot to emergency remote learning.

Sample: 137 instructors in one university in California(?) who, at the close of the spring 2020 quarter were teaching a large undergraduate course online with at least 50 students enrolled and who had previously taught the same course F2F.

Sample results: 

  • In terms of frequencies of practice, instructors tended to shift “down” from a more-supportive to less supportive profile when moving from the F2F to EDL context.
  • Instructors who, on average, gave formative feedback and practice opportunities more frequently in their face-to-face course(s) were more likely to be in the Highly Supportive profile during emergency distance learning
  • instructors who, on average, did not frequently help their students with the LMS in their face-to-face course(s) were more likely to be in the More Detached profile during emergency distance learning

My comments: I compliment the authors in examining the extent to which effective teaching practices were employed both in the prior in-person courses, and how this shifted as instructors pivoted to emergency remote learning, illustrating clearly why institutions need to provide training and support for instructors when they move their courses online. Although interaction with students is important for all teaching, it is particularly so for online students.

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26. Author: Cengage/Bay View Analytics (2021) Cengage (2021) Digital Learning Pulse Survey: Pandemic Era Report Card Independence KY: Cengage, April 27

Sponsors: Cengage, in association with WCET, UPCEA, OLC, CDLRA and Bay View Analytics

Topic: to better understand the needs of colleges in the wake of the transformative disruption brought on by COVID-19 through surveys of faculty, administrators and students

Sample size: 1,286 faculty and administrators and 1,469 students across 856 U.S. post-secondary institutions were surveyed between March 30 and April 12, 2021.

Sample results: responses from all three groups tend to be surprisingly positive, in terms of the ‘grades’ given to their educational experience during the pandemic.

  • courses and faculty engagement were rated highly by students, faculty and administrators
  • stress was the most pressing challenge, followed by maintaining motivation and then having coursework to do.
  • students reported that post-pandemic they would be willing to take more online courses, more blended courses, and would like more digital technology and online learning materials.

My comments

This was not a research report but an infographic so the methodology remains a bit of a mystery. Nevertheless the results are significant and surprising, if verified by more rigorous studies. For more details see here.

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My interim conclusions (as of 27 April, 2021)

My conclusions will constantly change, as I take account of any later reports. In the meantime, there is plenty of grist for the mill, as they say in Yorkshire.

Overall, at least in North America, higher education responded amazingly well to an unprecedented crisis in an incredibly short period of time. However, it is beginning to appear that some of the lessons learned since March 2020 are being applied as we move into 2021.

School (k-12) systems though struggled more, mainly because of the limitations of online learning for younger children, but also because many school systems, unlike higher education, had little or no prior experience of online learning.

It is clear that Covid-19 aggravated already existing inequalities in the system, especially with regard to student access to bandwidth and equipment. Institutions that already had experience with online learning not surprisingly managed better the pivot to emergency remote learning. 

The crisis though also revealed to many institutions how much further they still need to go before blended or digital learning is widely integrated across the institution, and that much work still needs to be done to improve emergency remote learning.

And lastly, there is a suggestion in at least one report that many faculty and administrators do not believe that major changes to teaching and learning will result in the long run from the Covid-19 pivot. However a later report challenges this assumption.

Certainly the attitude of instructors to online learning has changed, there has been a massive effort in professional development that will continue to reverberate through teaching and learning, and we can expect much greater (if not better) use of technology for teaching in the future.

For a more detailed analysis of what we have learned from Covid-19 in post-secondary education see my 10 Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World from Covid-19 for Canadian universities and colleges. That analysis represents my views in November, 2020.

If you know of other similar studies on the impact of Covid-19 (that involve more than a single case study) please let me know. In the meantime, happy reading!

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