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date: 03 December 2022

Teaching and Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Outlook for the Futurefree

Teaching and Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic and Outlook for the Futurefree

  • Adam StefanileAdam StefanileDepartment of Education and Human Development, Saint Joseph's University

Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused, and continues to cause, major disruptions that affect the state of K–12 and college education. More than 290 million students worldwide have experienced learning regressions, anxiety, social isolation, depression, and academic failure. Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations to cancel formal classroom learning in an attempt to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the efficacy of traditional teaching and learning models consisting of person-to-person education has been compromised. This has left educators and parents confounded with the uncertainty of the trajectory of their students’ education. Discourse and critical reflection on the status of education and learning has escalated due to the adjustments required by the 2020–2022 paradigm shifts—virtual, hybrid, and asynchronous learning—which have presented adaptation challenges for a myriad of students and teachers. However, from a more positive point of view, it has been argued that adjusting to new learning and teaching styles encourages and challenges students and teachers to expand their learning capabilities. The full extent of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in K–12 and college education is still uncertain. However, the paradigm shifts that are manifested from this situation should serve as an opportunity to motivate all educational domains to consider more fully utilizing innovative technology for teaching and learning, improvising pedagogy, and rethinking the way educators prepare students for academic engagement.

Subjects

  • Education and Society

Introduction

When the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic in March 2020, online teaching, online learning, social distancing, social isolation, and parents working from home became part of everyday life. Distance teaching and learning, incorporating all aspects of education and facilitated by teachers, replaced formal, face-to-face classes. Parents, students, school administrators, and politicians argued for opening and closing of schools for the “best interests” of students at all educational levels (D’Orville, 2020; Rapanta et al., 2020; Wagner, 2020). Substantial uncertainty occurred each week about when to transition students back into school and what protocols needed to be implemented (masks, vaccination, etc.) when doing so. While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought some adverse educational changes and adverse health consequences for K–12 students and undergraduates, researchers continue to monitor the possible impacts that the pandemic has had on student learning and achievement gaps and inequalities (Donnelly & Patrinos, 2021; Hammerstein et al., 2021). Additionally, researchers are also examining how the educational paradigm shifts have affected students’ mental, physical, and social well-being; and how to better prepare the educational sector for any future pandemics (Daniel, 2020; Donnelly & Patrinos, 2021; Kang, 2021).

Since the inception of the COVID-19 pandemic, formal, face-to-face pedagogy was limited and educators at all levels of K–12 and undergraduate were challenged to identify and implement novel methods of instruction (Daniel, 2020; Kang, 2021). Students experienced challenges as they witnessed their teachers learning how to teach virtually on a whim, and as a result of improvising new pedagogical methodologies—which was arduous, to say the least—it was especially difficult for teachers to engage students with low interests in studying online (Ma et al., 2021). Teachers consistently indicated they were not prepared to teach online (Babinčáková & Bernard, 2020; Misirli & Ergulec, 2021) and that a significant number of students exhibited learning regression (Hammerstein et al., 2021).

Additionally, the socioeconomic impact of the pandemic throughout the world’s education system has polarized schools, leading to increasing academic gaps, learning regression, and struggling with online learning (Friedman et al., 2021. Some schools with an abundance of academic resources were able to assist their student population to avoid, as best as possible, learning regression. Other, less fortunate schools lacked adequate funding and resources and were not able to support the needs of economically disadvantaged students (D’Orville, 2020; Wagner, 2020).

K–12 Education Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

K–12 schools have been affected in almost every aspect of education from the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes not taking mandated state tests, not participating in athletic events, not taking college visits (for secondary school students), and not increasing their content knowledge that complements their overall education (Hammerstein et al., 2021; Lambert et al., 2020). Formal education is a quintessential source for K–12 students’ acquiring content knowledge, developing responsibilities, and becoming emotionally and socially aware of their personality, and it is a basis for their physical well-being (Donnelly & Patrinos, 2021; Jones et al., 2021). Furthermore, K–12 students who have access and exposure to formal education are more productive, are socially and academically engaged, and achieve greater success in school.

Researchers around the world have examined K–12 students’ academic concerns in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, Van Lancker and Parolin (2020) reported children in Europe “live in homes in which they have no suitable place to do homework (5%) or have no access to the internet” (p. 243). Donnelly and Patrinos (2021) reported the average student suffered from academic learning-loss between March 1, 2020, and March 18, 2021, which is equivalate to one-third of a year to a full year’s worth of learning.

Undergraduate Education Challenges During the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020, undergraduate students across the United States faced a major disruption and unprecedented uncertainty associated with their education, as the COVID-19 pandemic began impinging on their lives. The rapid spread of COVID-19 presented colleges and universities throughout the United States with the dilemma of when to bring students back to campus. Undergraduate science and STEM programs faced an even more complex challenge, since these courses have a hands-on laboratory aspect (Seitz & Rediske, 2021). Eventually, undergraduate students and instructors completed the duration of the spring 2020 semester virtually, while prior to the fall 2020 semester, college administrators needed to quickly address the transition from face-to-face teaching to virtual teaching and learning.

This paradigm shift, from formal, face-to-face teaching and learning to virtual or asynchronous (or both) teaching and learning, created challenges to undergraduate learning, challenges to using new technology and educational-based platforms, challenges to collaboration, and challenges with acquiring new content information (Misirli & Ergulec, 2021).

There were also challenges that affected the mental health of undergraduates, as mental health issues are one of the leading barriers to academic success. For example, Son et al. (2020) conducted interview surveys with 195 college students at a public university in Texas (USA) to assess their mental health status as well as how they were coping with the stress associated with the pandemic. The majority of the participants (138 out of 195) indicated increased stress and anxiety due to the pandemic. Kang (2021), who studied Japan’s undergraduate education, concluded that “90% of students had their classes postponed, however, schools that did not postpone their classes started online learning” (p. 26). During the pandemic, Unda-López et al. (2022) explored the correlation between social isolation and academic stress and concluded that academic regression influenced procrastination behaviors. These procrastination behaviors significantly affected students’ performance and caused more mental stress.

K–12 and Undergraduate Pedagogy

When considering the current state of K–12 and undergraduate education, it comes as no surprise that the existing state of learning has been influenced by traditional autocratic pedagogy (Barni et al., 2018). Since the beginning of the millennium, the majority of student learning has been influenced by student-centered, inquiry-based, project-based, computer-based, and collaborative learning to augment the educational experience (Beck et al., 2014; Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Connell et al., 2016). However, these forms of learning have now been challenged like no other time before, especially given the current public health measures being undertaken for the purpose of social distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The World Health Organization and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) have declared that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a major worldwide public health problem that has challenged/affected every aspect of education, resulting in nationwide K-12 school and college/university closures, among other significant alterations in educational venues.

Prior to the pandemic, many educators utilized technology-based learning tools and educational platforms by adapting their professional activities to serve and educate their students more effectively. For example, educational learning management systems (LMS) such as Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, and Moodle are, and continue to be, used in K-12 and higher education worldwide for engaging, learning, collaborating, and communicating educational material/content knowledge. These LMS enhance the effectiveness of virtual teaching and learning by conveying instruction that is available for student learning for the duration of the semester (Foster et al., 2014; Rapanta et al., 2020). While these LMS provide a useful virtual and social channel for K-12 and higher education, they often lack the authenticity and personalized characteristics acquired during formal/face-to-face teaching and learning. It is a widely accepted theory that a formal/face-to-face learning approach will not likely be replaced by virtual and/or asynchronous learning (Kemp & Grieve, 2014; Rapanta et al., 2020).

At the undergraduate level, the acquisition of content knowledge through distance teaching and learning has been transforming college-level courses through hybrid methods such as learning modules, blogs, student collaboration, podcasts, and interactive websites, all of which have been developed by reputable organizations (Daniel, 2020).

COVID-19 Era

The initial timeline of COVID-19, spanning from December 1, 2019 (Allam, 2020), and well through 2022, is a worldwide pandemic that has put a drastic halt on economic activity, increased the rate of unemployment, altered the nature of daily work, and affected the mental health and overall well-being of individuals. Governments throughout the world had to take emergency measures to minimize the risk of acquiring and spreading the COVID-19 virus. This led to a worldwide closure of schools at the K-12 and collegiate level with the assumption that this radical decision may reduce the transmission of COVID-19 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], n.d.). Notwithstanding, that the long-term school closures have substantially disrupted the lives of nearly 55 million K-12 students in the U.S. (Lambert et al., 2020; Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020).

Notwithstanding, the COVID-19 pandemic has placed significant and difficult demands on teachers, students, and parents (Daniel, 2020; Misirli & Ergulec, 2021), the rapid and arbitrary announcements of school closures, that have occurred on such short notice, has had, and continue to have, substantial effects on students’ health and education. According to the UNESCO report (UNESCO, 2020), educational paradigm shifts from traditional/face-to-face teaching to a virtual mode of teaching and learning limited social contact and socialization routines, a central part of students’ daily experience.

Virtual teaching and online learning is not a new concept; however, for many novice educators as well as novice virtual educators, it is a major paradigm shift away from formal/face-to-face classroom teaching. For example, in 2003, McKimm, Jollie, and Cantillon published ABC of Learning and Teaching Web-Based Learning; in 2004, Cook and Dupras published A Practical Guide to Developing Effective Web-Based Learning; and Teach Genetics, a division of the Genetics Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, developed and designed interactive educational material encompassing genetics, human health, and modern scientific principles for K-12, higher education, and the general public. These educational platforms emphasize the importance of a user-friendly, innovative, and interactive website designed to support integrating online education for learners who are engaged in the content material. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many authors, including Garcia-Vedrenne et al. (2020), Venton and Pompano (2021) published pedagogical strategies for the transition from formal/face-to-face to online learning; citing the importance of providing the learner with a plethora of visualizations, videos, website links, and any multimodal learning opportunities to interact with the content material. These were intended to ensure that learners will be encouraged to excel in, and feel comfortable about, learning the content material at their own pace while obtaining feedback by their instructors.

In the COVID-19 era, the pedagogy, learning, and educational system spanning K-12 to undergraduate institutions have an insuperable problem. For the most part, they are facing challenges of meeting needs of many of the students; and in the worst cases, many have been failing for an entire year! Children, adolescents, teens have been denied their education, for the most part, because educators who are novices in the field of online pedagogy have tried to teach online and/or virtually (Ma et al., 2021; Radu et al., 2020). “Teachers have, almost overnight, been asked to become both designers and tutors, using tools which few have fluently mastered” (Rapanta et al., 2020, p. 926). Educators reported not only being overwhelmed with teaching, but also having limited access to implementing, accessing, and engaging their students with technology (Yates et al., 2021). Many students have not benefited from online learning due to the fact that they have not received adequate guidance from their teachers. This in turn has caused students to develop procrastination behavior, be less engaged, and, to some extent, become bored of learning (Unda-López et al., 2022). As a result, the COVID-19 pandemic, as it relates to education, was fundamentally an arbitrary experiment in mass distance/online learning, that in too many instances brought about major educational regression among students worldwide.

There are urban inequities among different socioeconomic groups, especially lower-income families and those of historically underserved ethnic and racial groups, who do not have access to online resources, or who cannot afford the necessary technology such as desktop or laptop computers required for their children and families to access online lessons (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020; Van Lancker & Parolin, 2020). Moreover, “globally, school closures disproportionately hurt vulnerable and disadvantaged students who rely on schools for a range of social services, including health and nutrition” (D’Orville, 2020, p. 2). The inequities for rural and small-town communities who may not have sufficient resources or technical capacities to mount a de-novo, technological-based, out-of-school learning system, impinges on their ability to further their education. In the United States alone, teachers were not fully prepared to support their students and their needs; this includes, but is not limited to, a broad range of students, whose primary language is not English (English as a Secondary Language: ESL), students with disabilities, and students from lower income families (Lambert et al., 2020). Friedman et al. (2021) reported that “10.1 percent of students participating in online learning nationally did not have adequate access to the Internet and a computer” (p. 1). Vollbrecht et al. (2020) reviewed the experiences of multiple authors in the field of medical science courses. They concluded that the participants’ perception of learning in medical science courses was significantly more challenging and relied heavily on outside resources as opposed to formal/face-to-face instruction courses prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ma et al. (2021) reported the varied challenges for Norwegian educators to address their students’ educational needs (motivation, discipline, collaborating) and coping with changes and challenges with student learning. In this study, teacher self-efficacy was an essential role in overcoming the choices and challenges that were made in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Kang (2021) reported the effect of closing all of Japan’s schools in March 2020, leading to educational inequalities for those who have access to information and communications technology and those who do not.

Notwithstanding a positive aspect relating to education, creativity, and COVID-19, students in Chicago compared the incidence rate (the number of new cases in a specific time frame), prevalence rate (the number of people infected at any one time), and mortality rate (the number of deaths in proportion to a population) of COVID-19 in their neighborhoods with those of other neighborhoods (Ewing & Johnson, 2020).

In the COVID-19 era, the need to utilize and implement interactive and innovative web-based technology into the classroom to capture the attention and enhance student learning is imperative. The majority of schools have improvised using new technologies such as Zoom in place of formal/face-to-face instruction (Jandrić et al., 2020; Rapanta et al., 2020). While these tools provide a useful virtual and social interaction for educators and K-12 and undergraduate students, this is only one modality that addresses content learning, and it lacks the breadth and organization of a formal curriculum. There is a plethora of educational resources that can effectively transform formal/face-to-face learning into online/virtual learning. For example, Southworth et al. (2010) implemented the use of a virtual laboratory environment in place of a traditional hands-on classroom laboratory. By utilizing computer-based learning and digital online resources and programs in the classroom, in place of traditional wet and/or hands-on laboratory assignments, teachers were able to implement technology in their science class and curriculum. Today, (post-COVID-19) students can independently conduct virtual experiments and simulations with educational software applications that are free and available online (Vasiliadou R. (2020); (Kang, 2021).

Pedagogical Innovations in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic

Given the improvements that innovative educators and researchers have suggested and implemented with virtual teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020; Rapanta et al., 2020; Sandars et al., 2020), the following pedagogical skills and strategies have been effective in K-12 and undergraduate classrooms. First, ensure all students have been acclimated to the educational applications. While this may be time-consuming at first, it will assist with the pacing and progression of the course. Second, implement computer-based learning on a daily and/or weekly basis (depending on the duration of the class). Third, engage with students on a weekly basis (office hours) if at the request of the student, and/or if students are regressing. Lastly, refer students and/or acquire assistance from the information technology (IT) department with troubleshooting technical problems, as technological problems can disrupt the pacing of learning (D’Orville, 2020).

Vollbrecht et al. (2020) suggest the following guidelines for educators when planning, supporting, and engaging students:

Consider learners in different time zones: Accommodate students in various time zones by providing them with learning models both synchronously and asynchronously. This provides students with flexibility to finalize coursework in a variety of ways, allowing them to adapt to the new learning environment.

Variability in Internet connections: It is common for students to have difficulties with their Internet because of connection and/or network issues. By implementing asynchronous learning modules, students can fulfill their coursework while their Internet is accessible.

Increase the faculty-to-student ratio for team-based synchronous sessions: While this may not apply to all educators, if you are using multiple instructional modalities, increase the number of staff to assist with breakout rooms, monitoring chats, presentation, and handling student technical problems.

Instructor availability for student questions: Have virtual office hours, either before or after class to ensure that the trajectory of the students’ is in academic good standing.

Everything takes longer online: Class time can be wasted due to technical issues, transitioning from small to large groups, and from sharing the screen. Carefully consider the timing of your events.

How to engage students virtually: Ask students more questions frequently to ensure they are focused with the content and develop assessment tools that allow the instructor to ensure that core concepts are clearly understood before learning new concepts.

Flip the classroom when possible: A large proportion of learning is accomplished by formal/face-to-face pedagogy as the instructor lectures/teaches the students in an autocratic style. Traditional pedagogical methods are definitely basic ways of imparting knowledge. Using a flipped classroom model of instruction involves providing instructional resources for students to use outside the class in order for the instructor to utilize class time for instructional activities.

Maintain reasonable expectations: Educators and students should collaborate on the first day to establish course expectations, assignment extensions, participation, and other guidelines, especially since students are learning remotely.

Progression Post COVID-19

COVID-19 continues to pose challenges to every aspect of human life. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the world of teaching, learning, and education (Gómez-García, et al., 2022). Universities are now provided with opportunities to rethink strategies for novice teachers to enhance their success for teaching (Rapanta et al., 2020). However, the paradigm shifts that have occurred, and continue to occur, “may also teach us about how education needs to change to be able to better prepare young learners for what the future might hold” (D’Orville, 2020, p. 4). Although COVID-19 has resulted in the closure and restructuring of K-12 schools and universities (Jandrić et al., 2020), the development and applications associated with innovative learning technologies and pedagogy has transcended worldwide. As a result, it is imperative that K-12 schools and higher education design and develop flexible models of education that encourage students and educators to adapt to the educational paradigm shifts.

The Next Pandemic Threat: Disease X

Disease X is defined as “a serious international epidemic caused by a pathogen currently unknown to cause human disease.” What is Disease X? A simple answer is, we don’t know, and we won’t until it emerges. Can we predict what it will be? Can we prepare for it if we don’t know what it is? (DeSalle, 2022). Emerging and re-emerging diseases are not an anomaly. In the 20th century alone, the world has been devastated by diseases that include, but are not limited to, the Spanish flu, tuberculosis, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), Ebola, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and the Zika virus. While it took a pandemic (COVID-19) to educate K-12 students on the rudimentary aspects of virology and epidemiology, educational researchers should view the COVID-19 pandemic as a wake-up call for Disease X (Simpson et al., 2020). Scientists have developed “blueprints” for a wide range of diseases that have the potential of becoming an emerging and/or a re-emerging disease. This in turn may cause a future pandemic. The World Health Organization lists the potential pathogens that are used by scientists as a way to identify “blueprint priority diseases.” The blueprint is a plan for detecting, confronting, treating, and potentially curing Disease X (Friedrich, 2018).

In their study involving the transmission and acquisition of infectious diseases, Van Seventer and Hochberg (2017) elaborated on the mechanisms of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases. In their research, they highlighted the correlation between human/host factors including susceptibility of an exposed individual to resist infection, environmental factors that expediate the transmission of certain infectious diseases, and “genetic factors and acquired factors such as the specific immunity that develops following exposure or vaccination” (p. 23), all of which contributed to the causation of an epidemic. Similarly, Simpson et al. (2020) studied the effect of implementing modern biotechnology applications to diagnose and develop vaccines for identifying Disease X.

Relatedly, while emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are a threat that needs to be monitored, the next pandemic and/or major threat may be genetic/genomic. Since designer babies, personalized medicine, gene therapy, and gene editing involve the use and misuse of biotechnology, the next wave of a pandemic may occur due to the choices individuals make.

In light of COVID-19, it is essential that we prepare for Disease X with the most sensible and most in-depth science we can develop.

Concluding Comments

COVID-19 has had profound effects on the nature, balance, and progression of K-12 and undergraduate education. The paradigm shift from face-to-face learning to distance teaching and learning has led students, educators, and administrators to transform their specific roles in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Just as COVID-19 has stimulated significant pedagogical and technological paradigm shifts as well as innovative improvisions, it has also presented significant opportunities for the education, business, government, and research sectors to understand their organizational models in response to a crisis. A dramatic increase in the number of public policies affecting people’s work, lifestyle, and daily living have been subjected to social restrictions, social distancing, and wearing a mask globally from 2020 through the latter part of 2022. For example, most of the world’s population has been subjected to some form of social restrictions, from school closures and industry shutdown to stay-at-home orders. In New York and California, it was prohibited to evict tenants of residential and commercial property (Wagner, 2020). The broader global economic impacts of COVID-19 have led to significant and altering lifestyle changes that continue to disrupt the normal day-to-day. Exploring innovative and effective methods to create and establish day-to-day working, leadership, work attitudes and beliefs, and evaluating one’s level of work may be the new model for effective productivity in today’s modern world.

Sandars et al. (2020) highlights the primary challenges among educators and students to adapt and embrace new technology and new pedagogy. Student feedback could provide important information for the evaluation of distance learning to improve future learning strategies. With COVID-19 adding to the existing challenges of formal/face-to-face teaching, the need for research in virtual, hybrid, and asynchronous teaching and learning, and in computer-based learning, cannot be overemphasized. The pedagogical paradigm shifts, and educational platforms have significantly reshaped, innovated, and modified how educators teach and engage our students amid COVID-19. It should be noted that virtual, hybrid, and asynchronous teaching and learning does not replace the need for formal/face-to-face teaching and learning; rather, it is an improvision that may complement the current COVID-19 teaching and learning existing models.

Overall, undergraduate students to some extent were better prepared for the transition shift to online learning, particularly because of their age, cognitive abilities, and organization skills that the majority have acquired post-secondary school (Hammerstein et al., 2021). K-12 distance teaching and learning experienced the antithesis of undergraduate distance teaching and learning! In fact, as authors including Misirli and Ergulec (2021), Ma et al. (2021), and Lambert et al. (2020) so aptly emphasized, the transition to online teaching and learning significantly impacted K-12 students, causing stress, anxiety, and mental illness; forced students to learn in an extremely different pedagogical method than previously experienced; and resulted in increased learning regression due to the lack of access and exposure to educational materials and resources, which are utilized as a hands-on approach. In 2020, Babinčáková and Bernard stated that secondary school students criticized that they “have problems with understanding material during online classes and that teachers run classes too quickly, without enough time for asking questions, discussion, and taking notes” (p. 3298).

Educators, educational researchers, and government officials have been presented with one of the biggest challenges of their careers in the 21st century. Even in 2022, many unknowns remain within the education milieu. The majority of schools worldwide plan for progressing post COVID-19 and anticipate contingency strategies in case that is not possible, or if another pandemic occurs. However, through consistent collaboration, the knowledge, skills, and strategies that each of the educators, educational researchers, and government officials contributes to the educational sector may ensure that adequate decisions will reflect the benefit of all teachers and students equitably.

Further Reading

References