22 SES 10 B, Paper Session
The transition to remote teaching appears a mix of “continuity, adaptation, and innovation” (World Bank Group, 2020). Schools and universities had to reorient themselves quickly within the wide plethora of digital technologies and resources without adequate protocols and guidelines for effective online teaching practices. Like other education levels, the closing of universities caused the disruption of their services and had both financial and educational consequences (UN, 2020; UNESCO, 2020). The concerns have to do with students’ health and well-being, and uncertainties about the academic and socio-emotional support (UNESCO, 2020). Other issues deal with already existing inequalities which are added to new digital inequalities, that could be further amplified for students belonging to vulnerable groups (UN, 2020). In this regard, the UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition represents an international partnership aiming at mobilizing resources and implementing new and appropriate solutions to deliver education remotely (Williamson et al., 2020).
Online instruction, remote teaching, and distance education are by no means new approaches to curriculum design, although they have lately gained a renewed momentum (Williamson, Eynon, & Potter, 2020). Online learning brings a stigma of being qualitatively inferior to face-to-face learning even though research having shown it is often not the case (Hodgeset al., 2020). Since well-planned courses are far different from learning experiences provided online because of a crisis, Hodges et al. (2020) suggest the term emergency remote teaching to describe “a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances” (p.6). A comparison between an online course delivered during the lockdown with its face-to-face version would, therefore, often prove to be misleading.
Additionally, the effectiveness of distance teaching and learning at university level depends on many factors (Mitchell, Parlamis & Claiborne, 2015) such as the digital skills of teachers and students, the availability of platforms, devices and internet access, and most importantly the teachers’ attitude towards online teaching. Research points out the features characterizing the teachers’ effectiveness, including their competencies and the repertoire of practices (De Angelis, Santonicola, & Montefusco, 2020). Evidence based research contributed greatly to this debate, including the meta-analyses performed by Hattie (2009; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Wisniewski, Zierer, & Hattie, 2020). For Hodges et al. (2020), the most comprehensive summary on online learning was made by Means, Bakia, & Murphy (2014), who found nine dimensions, each having many options, thus pointing out the complexity of course design. These are modality, pacing, student-instructor ratio, pedagogy, instructor role online, student role online, online communication synchrony, role of online assessments, and source of feedback. Concerning feedback, Hattie & Timperley (2007) suggest that the more information feedback contains, the more effective it is, but also that the timing is at a premium.
Against this background, this article presents a survey conducted at the beginning of Summer 2020 among the teaching staff of a Faculty of Education in a trilingual university. The paper reviews the recent studies on online teaching during the pandemic, often conducted by universities. It focuses on synchronous teaching, that is when the teacher and the students can interact in the same timeframe, thus allowing for a social rather than individual interaction (Biggs & Tang, 2011). Being aware that make comparisons between a course suddenly switched online and the same course taught in presence it proves often troublesome (Hodges, Moore, Lockee, Trust, & Bond, 2020), we asked the teachers of our faculty to compare their emergency remote teaching with their previous courses to explore possible adaptations, challenges, and opportunities regarding four areas of teaching: course contents, student participation, student feedback, and the future of teaching.
A questionnaire was designed in May 2020 in the IN-IN-Education research cluster at the Faculty of Education of the Free University of Bozen/Bolzano to appraise the status of academic teaching. The questionnaire has a complex structure with closed and open questions; with a total of 21 items, the questionnaire is detailed enough to capture relevant aspects of online teaching. The questionnaire collects first sociodemographic data (6 items). The second block of questions (4 items) inquires on the features of online teaching. The second half of the questionnaire (11 items) records teachers’ experience during the summer semester under the conditions of the pandemic, and these questions are again both closed and open ended. The last two questions capture future ideas and expectations for online teaching, as well as a combination of online and face-to-face teaching. The online questionnaire was designed and distributed online using software "Opinio" to the staff of the Faculty of Education at the Free University of Bolzano-Bozen. Concerning the data analysis of the open-ended answers, and proceeded through a wilful and systematic data inspection of data that happened throughout the whole research process (Ravitch & Carl, 2019, p. 216). We made sense of our dataset by means of a structured process to look across the data set and find and generate analytic themes, and eventually to transform these themes into representations. We followed an empirical approach, meaning that the categories would be not influenced by our previous theory (Schreier, 2012). Concerning trustworthiness of our analysis (Ravitch & Carl, 2019, p. 187), we ensured credibility and rigour through sharing our findings with our colleagues (also the subjects of this research) in cluster meetings and faculty meetings; in this way we could discuss our results and find suitable interpretations until we reached data saturation. To analyse the quantitative data, we firstly performed descriptive statistics, then, we created a composite variable – result of the count of positive responses’ occurrences in a series of questions (Delli Zotti, 2007) – that we called “Positive Quality Distance Teaching Index”. Next, we inspected the relationship between some professional background variables through the analysis of multiple correspondences (ACM), a multivariate exploratory technique that analyses categorical variables, highlighting the homogeneity between response modalities, and tracing them back to a small geometric space (Benzécri, 1992). Statistical analysis was performed with SPSS 25.0.
Concerning course contents, in the open question on the larger variety of ways to present the course contents, the staff mentions “same modalities” as first answer, but for some it is difficult to make comparisons between the online modality and the face to face one, and this difficulty aligns well with Hodges et al. (2020). Regarding student’s participation, in both questions the answer “I do not know” reminds again to the difficulty of making comparisons as from Hodhes et al. (2020); on the top of that, in the sample 80% of the teaching staff contend that the level of satisfaction of their students is high, which is in line with the findings of Aristovnik et al. (2020). Regarding student feedback, it is certainly a shortcoming that only less than half of the respondents reported to use online tools, since giving feedback and supporting individual learning is considered key (see Hattie, 2009; Kunter et al., 2013). Among the possible causes for this, one could blame lacking digital skills or inexperience with online teaching (Huber & Helm, 2020). Concerning the future of teaching; the respondents will be happy to deliver online teaching, although for some it is difficult to compare, and this is again in line with Hodges et al. (2020). Finally, the quantitative analysis found that two factors - having more teaching experience and, above all, being an external contracted teacher - related with a positive experience in online teaching. The relation suggests that future questionnaires would have to inspect the power relationships arising from being internal or external staff, perhaps through qualitative inquiry (Karnieli-Miller, Strier, & Pessach, 2009). Overall, the results suggest that the teachers managed to transfer their teaching to the online modality and found appropriate strategies to ensure adequate content provision, which is in line with the University of Vienna (2020).
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