We are now beginning to see a flurry of research on emergency remote learning. Most published research to date is of the quick-and-dirty kind: how did students, faculty and administrators react and what are they expecting in the future?
We will need to wait some time down the road – if ever – to see what the actual impact on learning has been, but to be honest, how much will that matter? There’s not much that can done in a year’s time to correct whatever mistakes may have been made in the last few months. It was an unprecedented response to an unprecedented emergency. We need information and data NOW for planning for September, so let’s take a look at what quick-and-dirty reports show us to date.
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 21 November, 2020. They are roughly in sequential order of the date of publication, although not all full dates were available.
If I have time, I will eventually provide an overview of all these studies, but in the meantime here are the links and some brief details. 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.
- 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.
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.
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
• 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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.”
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
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.
7. Authors: Means, B., et al. (2020) Suddenly Online: A National Survey of Undergraduates During the COVID-19 Pandemic. San Mateo, CA: Digital Promise.
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.
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
- 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
- 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
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.
- 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%)
- 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
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
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.
- 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.
11. Author: McCormack, M. (2020) EDUCAUSE QuickPoll Results: Fall Readiness for Teaching and Learning, EDUCAUSE Review, September 18
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.
- 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.
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
- 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.
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
- 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.
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.
- 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.
15. 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
- 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.
My interim conclusions (as of December 2020)
This 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 remains to be seen whether the lessons learned since March 2020 will be applied as we move into 2021.
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. I don’t think I share that point of view.
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!