Coping with Disaster: Perceptions of Faculty about Remote Teaching during the 2020 Pandemic and Lessons Learned
Concurrent Session 1
With the outbreak of Covid-19, institutions scrambled to shift to remote learning. How did faculty cope with this transition? What could your institution have done better? We will share our surveyed faculty perceptions concerning the transition along with lessons learned that will shape future professional development and strategic response.
In spring 2020, the internet and social media were rife with advice for teachers transitioning to online or remote teaching. Teachers at all levels scrambled to support their students in the move to online as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. But what does the research say about this experience? Was it really as simple for teachers and faculty as just opening up a Zoom room and carrying on business as usual? Unfortunately, it’s a bit difficult to find peer-reviewed, scholarly research published on something that began earlier this year. But there are a few sources that share reactions to the entire world of education moving online.
In a nutshell, teachers at all levels felt overwhelmed, and their students shared that reaction. Machado writes, “[T]he title of this text (‘I am having trouble keeping up with virtual teaching activities’) stems from a recurring complaint, and it elicits a deep reflection on whether we, professors and students, are capable of assimilating extensive knowledge in a short period while remodeling the entire education system” (1). Certainly research on cognitive load would inform us that students were not enjoying optimum learning conditions as they dealt with a global crisis and the resulting possible upheaval in their lives plus adjusted their educational experience to online. As a result of this overwhelming situation, both students and teachers experienced their “cognitive system[s] . . . fail[ing] . . . to process necessary information” (Sweller 58). Indeed, a constant refrain during the pandemic has been, “I feel like I am missing something.” As Machado concludes, if this pandemic continues, and education remains online, faculty must have more support:
Analyzing the projections of the transmission dynamics of the novel coronavirus in the absence of effective preventive measures, a recent study predicts the need for prolonged or intermittent isolation and social distancing measures until 2022. We are aware of the expertise of medicine professors. Currently, in order to maintain the quality of online medical education, efforts must be devoted to investing in appropriate equipment and personnel. (1)
While it’s not a peer-reviewed, scholarly source, John Hechinger and Janet Lorin in Bloomberg Businessweek liken the pandemic and its impact on education to Hurricane Katrina and the helping hand that Sloan Consortium (now OLC) and many other institutions provided to students who were displaced by Katrina. In “The Sloan Semester,” George Lorenzo details this heroic effort in fall 2005 to provide courses for students displaced by Katrina: “1,736 students applied to the Sloan Semester and 1,587 were admitted” (21). An entire distance learning network was assembled virtually overnight by Burks Oakley, Bruce Chaloux, and Ray Schroeder and a host of people working with the then Sloan-C. Many professors and students detail the hard work and determination of both faculty and students in making the Sloan Semester work. Like the huge remote learning shift during the Covid-19 pandemic, as Professor Dewayne Dickens’ noted of the Sloan Semester, “A crisis creates a certain situation, but also there is the reality that sometimes you just can’t fix some things,”(24). Dickens is referring to the fact that online learning isn’t the best medium for all students, and in the aftermath of Katrina, sometimes students didn’t have the resources they needed to succeed, and some students just had too much to deal with (loss of home, etc.) to focus and succeed.
Of course, unlike Katrina, the Covid-19 crisis is worldwide. With few exceptions education worldwide has gone online. “America has 1.5 million faculty members, and . . . 70% have never taught a virtual course before, according to education technology researcher Bay View Analytics” (Hechinger and Lorin 12). To manage this huge shift successfully has taken more than a free subscription to Zoom and a few links to best practices in online teaching. How are faculty managing this? That’s what we wish to ascertain and share our results with you, and then learn how you have managed this amazing feat, as well. What do we have in common, and how have we pulled through? What have we all learned?
Our faculty panel is representative from a university in the southeast United States. The university is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country, offers more than 70 online degrees, certifications, and endorsement programs and more than 500 online courses. Additionally, the university has more than 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students representing 142 countries.
This panel is comprised of five college-level online learning coordinators. In our positions, we are tasked with supporting our faculty in online course development and facilitation and in helping department chairs ensure high quality online courses. Therefore, when the pandemic occurred, we were front and center to handle the many challenges faced by our faculty having to move quickly to remote learning.
The purpose of this presentation is to share our findings from a survey about faculty perceptions of support for and transition to remote learning. Additionally, we will share the approaches and strategies used to assist faculty in moving all of their courses online, which can be utilized for future professional development opportunities.
Our survey offered faculty the opportunity to express their experiences with converting a face-to-face course to a remote learning experience for the students. Specifically, we asked faculty about the course delivery (synchronous versus asynchronous), experience with teaching remotely, experience with students achieving the course outcomes, experience teaching online, training sought, percentage of course content moved online, and comfort level with moving course for remote learning. Within our survey, the term "remote learning" and "remote learning class" refer to courses that were scheduled as face-to-face but were then delivered remotely after the campus was closed due to the pandemic.
Many of our faculty shared their discontent with having to move their course(s) online so quickly. Moreover, the impact on student success and achieving course objectives was challenging and sometimes overwhelming.
1. How did you feel when this happened at your institution?
2. Did you feel there was enough support for the transition to remote learning?
Faculty pre-conceived notions about remote learning and teaching online (research review)
Faculty perceptions of support for and transition to remote learning (our survey)
Summary of our current strategies/approaches towards remote learning
1. What was the process involved in moving your courses to remote learning?
2. What are strategies and challenges in supporting faculty teaching remotely?
3. What type of support for remote learning can be transitioned to future professional development opportunities?
The top five ideas that found purchase in each group report out. We will tweet our findings to the conference attendees.
Hechinger, John, and Janet Lorin. “Ready or Not, Colleges Go Online.” Bloomberg Businessweek, no. 4650, Mar. 2020, pp. 12–14. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=bth&AN=142332186&site=eds-live&scope=site. Accessed May 29, 2020.
Lorenzo, George. “The Sloan Semester.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 2: Issue 2. Pp. 1-40. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ837474.pdf. Accessed May 29, 2020.
Machado, R.A., P.R.F. Bonana, D.E.D.C. Perez, D.R.B. Martelli. “I am having trouble keeping up with virtual teaching activities: Reflections in the COVID-19 era.” Clinics 2020, 75:e1945. Scopus. Accessed May 29, 2020.
Sweller, John, et al. Cognitive Load Theory. Springer, 2011. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&AuthType=ip,shib&db=nlebk&AN=371166&site=ehost-live&scope=site. Accessed May 29, 2020.