01 SES 13 A, Online and Distance Learning
Undoubtedly with the beginning of this new decade, the outbreak of the coronavirus crisis which led to a global pandemic had impacted economy, businesses and the travel tourism industry, as well as education systems worldwide and disrupted the way in which students are educated around the world (Kafa & Pashiardis, 2020). About 1.5 billion learners in all educational levels were influenced by institutions decisions to lockdown in 191 countries due to the pandemic (UNESCO, 2020). Particularly, this “supernova” force (Azorìn, 2020) changed the overall educational landscape and triggered periods of uncertainty in several unprepared educational systems which have tried to address this crisis. In general, Harris (2020) argued that based on this unprecedented case of the coronavirus pandemic, education was re-designed and all teaching and learning practices have been dramatically altered and as a consequence, education systems needed to accept this “digital checkmate imposed” (Azorìn, 2020).
In addition, this global pandemic has raised significant challenges for the higher education sector worldwide. Particularly the unexpected and urgent need for previously face-to-face university courses to be taught online (Rapanta et al, 2020).Therefore, this new reality it also brought into to the spotlight higher education teachers, who were expected to adjust their educational practice from the conventional learning environment into this new distance/ online learning environment. As a consequence, during this crisis supporting education continuity in higher education institutes, was also a necessity.
Based on this unforeseen change, Frederick University, a private university in Cyprus which offers undergraduate and graduate programs on two campuses (one in the capital of the island Nicosia and the other in Limassol, the second largest city in Cyprus) addressed this challenge by an immediate response through a professional development series entitled “Improving teaching in online times”. In particular, during the months April and May 2020, teaching staff from five different schools and various departments, with limited to non-existing experience in online teaching, were invited to participate in these professional development series that covered the following topics:
- Best practices for online teaching delivery & engaging students for teleconferencing teaching,
- Online classroom management,
- Student perspectives about online teaching and learning: what they might be thinking and how to support them,
- Pedagogical design for online teaching: developing the appropriate educational material,
- The use of simulations and learning scenarios in the teaching and learning process,
- Quality assurance and the development of community of inquiry in online teaching.
Based on the aforementioned, this main objective of this particular research covers the reflections and perspectives of the teaching staff that took part in this professional development series. Specifically, the following research questions guided this research:
- To what extent the professional development series and specifically online professional development series were important to the teaching staff?
- To what extent the teaching staff utilized the practices and tools from the professional development series to their courses?
- What are the main challenges that arise from the online teaching environment and what other kinds of professional development are needed?
We have approached the aforementioned research questions through a quantitative research study that took place at the end of the academic semester 2020. The sample of this study constituted from the teaching staff that took part in the professional development series. A structured questionnaire with both closed-ended and open-ended questions was administered electronically to all the teaching staff that took part in the professional development series during the months April – May in 2020. The format of the questionnaires consisted of three sections. The first section covered the 1st research question and included questions on the importance and necessity as well as the online delivery method of the professional development series. The second section covered the 2nd research question and included questions on the use of this particular tools and practices during the online teaching courses. Finally, the third section consisted of two open-ended questions that covered the 3rd research questions and specifically the main challenges and the need for further training. Following, with regard to the 1st and 2nd research question we have analyzed the collected data using the SPSS and based, mostly, on the descriptive statistics we presented the results. Also, for the 3rd research question, the responses were analyzed based on the open coding analysis and presented into themes.
In general, the important mechanisms for meeting the demands for an online teaching are crucial in all educational institutions. Based on this study results we argue that developing a particular professional development scheme to enhance the capacities and capabilities of the teaching staff is important. In particular, based on our case, the teaching staff indicated the importance of the professional development training series in order to address the challenges to this new distance learning environment. They effectiveness of the delivery method of the professional development was thoroughly discussed. Also, the results indicated, that most of the tools and practices that were introduced to the training, were used throughout the online teaching and they were deemed useful and important. Finally, the participants argued about the main challenges that have arisen and mentioned that further training on the alternative assessment methods during the distance learning environment is needed.
Azorìn, C. (2020). Beyond COVID-19 supernova. Is another education coming? Journal of Professional Capital and Community. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1108/JPCC-05-2020-0019 Harris, A. (2020). COVID-19 – school leadership in crisis? Journal of Professional Capital and Community. Advance online publication. https://www.emerald.com/insight/publication/issn/2056-9548#earlycite Kafa, A. & Pashiardis, P. (2020). Coping with the Global Pandemic COVID-19 through the Lenses of the Cyprus Education System. International Studies in Educational Administration, 48(2), 42-48. Rapanta, C., Botturi, L., Goodyear, P. (2020). Online University Teaching During and After the Covid-19 Crisis: Refocusing Teacher Presence and Learning Activity. Postdigit Sci Educ, 2, 923–945. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00155-y UNESCO (2020, April 15). COVID-19 Impact on education. Retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://en.unesco. org/covid19/educationresponse
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