22 SES 12 B, Paper Session
The outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020 appears to have been a significant blow to tertiary education globally, with institutions forced to make a transition to digital modes of interaction to facilitate what became labelled as emergency remote learning (Watermeyer et al., 2020).
However, educational organisations may have focused on offering an emergency response rather than necessarily sound pedagogical practice (McStravock, 2020). Many recent studies globally report on students struggling to adjust to the new academic (alongside, arguably, social and personal) settings, which can take a toll on their mental health (Martinez et al., 2020; Kapasia et al., 2020; Jiang, 2020; Nasan and Bao, 2020; Glowacz and Schmits, 2020; Doolanby, 2020). The digital transition was no less dramatic for teachers, who already belong to a profession which is more prone to stress, hence burnout, than others (De Heus and Diekstra, 1999). Unsurprisingly, teachers continue to report significant stress levels due to the pandemic (MacIntyre et al., 2020), quoting struggles in their professional roles and in their private lives (Watermeyer et al., 2020). Indeed, the pandemic might have had a more serious impact on people in the caring professions, such as teachers (Minello, 2020). My literature review did not identify a strong European focus of this kind of research – hopefully, the study I report on will help address that gap.
Working at a faculty of philology at a state university in North Macedonia, my colleague Ruska Ivanovska-Naskova and I were intrigued to find out how the teachers and students at our faculty fared, academically and personally, during the first semester affected by the pandemic (February-May 2020). We anticipated that the sudden change of work mode will bring to the surface important beliefs about teaching and learning, as evidenced in teachers’ practices and students’ opinions about them, which may otherwise remain tacit. Since direct measurement of beliefs is difficult to make, beliefs typically need to be inferred from the ways in which research participants provide evidence for them, e.g. belief statements, plans for action and related behaviour (Rokeach, 1968). Sharing beliefs about teaching, in turn, has the potential to trigger useful methodological discussions among colleagues, which they may not normally have opportunities to engage in. Also, we were curious to find out about the impact the digital transition had on teachers’ and student’s wellbeing. We take a eudemonic understanding of wellbeing as encompassing positive emotions, profound engagement in an activity, meaningful relationships, a more general sense of meaning and accomplishment in life, as well as good physical health (Seligman, 2011). In this paper, I focus on the following two research questions: (1) How did the teachers go about the digital transition? What tools and methodologies did they use? What do they, and their students, think about them? and (2) What impact on their wellbeing do the two populations report?
We used a combination of quantitative and qualitative research methodology, using online questionnaires and online focus group interviews to understand the perspectives of both cohorts, teachers and students. The questionnaires were anonymous and featured both closed- and open-ended questions. The participants were invited to sign up, voluntarily, for semi-structured interviews in focus groups. A total of 55 teachers (43% of the staff) and 344 students (20% of all students enrolled in the faculty) took part in the study, and we interviewed 7 teachers and 6 students, all of whom we considered to be representatives of different categories within each cohort. The interviews were partially transcribed, in line with the main foci of the research. The data from the questionnaires was analysed using descriptive statistics; the interviews were thematically coded. Seeing as both of us, researchers, were ‘insiders’ to the research context, we took care to exercise reflexivity throughout in order to minimise our influence on the data collection and data analysis processes. We did this by reviewing and challenging each other’s work regularly and cyclically.
Our analysis so far suggests that the main online tools used for teaching purposes during the first academic semester affected by the pandemic were videoconferencing platforms and email, which was in line with the students’ preferences. However, the students were critical of the one-way email communication practised by some teachers, quoting an appreciation of learning as an interactive, two-way process which should include informative feedback from the teacher – a form of support they felt they were denied. Another contentious issue which emerged from the study was the appropriateness of using social networks for teaching/learning purposes. Opinions on this topic were divided in both populations, with some valuing the immediacy of social media communication, and others considering their use as a form of institutional intrusion into their personal space. There is consensus in both population, however, that face-to-face teaching is superior to online teaching, with the students being more critical of the benefits of the latter that their teachers. When it comes to the effects of the digital transition on the participants’ wellbeing, they self-reported negative effects on their physical and mental health. As for the former, screen fatigue appeared to be the most prominent issue being discussed; with regard to the latter, the participants discussed the impact on the pandemic on their motivation to learn and develop. Some participants expressed their concerns about not feeling sufficiently cared for and protected by the institution. One form of support that was felt was needed was psychological expertise readily available both to teachers and students.
De Heus, P. & R. F. W. Diekstra (1999). “Do teachers burn out more easily? A comparison of teachers with other social professions on work stress and burnout symptoms”. In Vandenberghe, R. and A. M. Huberman (Eds.). Understanding and Preventing Teacher Burnout: A Sourcebook of International Research and Practice. Cambridge: CUP. Doolanby, K. (2020). Student life in the EHEA during the Covid-19 pandemic - Preliminary survey results, University of Zadar. Talk presented at the BFUG Meeting 71, June 2020. Available at http://www.ehea.info/Upload/BFUG_HR_UA_71_8_1_Survey_results.pdf Glowacz, F. and Schmits, E. (2020). Uncertainty and Psychological Distress during lockdown during the COVID-19 Pandemic: the young adults most at risk. Psychiatry Research, 293, doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113486 Hasan, N. and Bao, Y. (2020). Impact of “e-Learning crack-up” perception on psychological distress among college students during COVID-19 pandemic: A mediating role of “fear of academic year loss”. Children and Youth Services Review, 118, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105355 Jiang, R. (2020). Knowledge, Attitudes and Mental Health of University Students during the COVID-19 Pandemic in China. Children and Youth Services Review, 119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105494 Kapasia, N. et al. (2020). Impact of lockdown on learning status of undergraduate and postgraduate students during COVID-19 pandemic in West Bengal, India. Children and Youth Services Review, 116, doi: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2020.105194 MacIntyre, P. D., Gregersen, T., & Mercer, S. (2020). Language teachers’ coping strategies during the Covid-19 conversion to online teaching: Correlations with stress, wellbeing and negative emotions. System, 94, 102352. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2020.102352 Martinez, L., Valencia, I. and Trofimoff, V. (2020). Subjective wellbeing and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic: Data from three population groups in Colombia. Data in Brief, 32, doi: 10.1016/j.dib.2020.106287 Minello, A. (2020). The pandemic and the female academic. Nature. Retrieved 30th January 2021 from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01135-9 McStravock, K. (2020). USI Covid-19 Survey: Emerging from the Pandemic: Lessons Learned. Talk at IUA/EDTL Webinar: Planning for effective remote teaching during Covid-19, 24 June 2020. Available at https://www.iua.ie/events/iua-edtl-webinar-planning-for-effective-remote-teaching-during-covid-19-24th-june-12-30-13-30/ Rokeach, M. (1968). Beliefs, Attitudes and Values: A Theory of Organisation and Change, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Seligman, M. 2011. Flourish. London: Nicholas Brealey. Watermeyer, R., Crick, T., Knight, C. et al. COVID-19 and digital disruption in UK universities: afflictions and affordances of emergency online migration. High Education, 81: 623-641. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10734-020-00561-y
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