UNT researcher studies state of education as COVID-19 prompts shift to remote learning

Thursday, March 18, 2021 - 08:57

A University of North Texas researcher studies how teachers are handling the new world of education after a shift to remote instruction due to COVID-19 restrictions and offers suggestions for moving forward.

College of Education Assistant Professor Lauren Eutsler notes in her published research, with researchers Pavlo D. Antonenko from the University of Florida and Chrystine Mitchell from York College of Pennsylvania, that priorities have shifted since remote learning.

While individual safety and well-being were the priority when everyone first went into lockdown in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, self-care is often stressed as a priority after a year of socially distanced living, isolation and quarantine.

“We hope that educators and community stakeholders recognize and respond to the individual needs and experiences of each student, teacher and their families during this unfathomable phase of education,” Eutsler said. “The pandemic and need for social distancing brought with it a new way of teaching – remote learning.”

Remote learning includes traditional strategies for classroom management, grouping strategies and differentiating instruction to meet learners at their level, but also requires teachers to consider new concerns like screen time limits and balancing it with more traditional, off-screen and print-based activities. Teachers also have to employ new strategies to encompass online small group instruction (i.e., breakout rooms in Zoom) and support active student engagement (e.g., Zoom polling, synchronous Google docs, Flipgrid, NearPod).

“This new era of teaching requires K-16 educators to be flexible and adapt to the current demands of teaching and learning,” Eutsler said. “My research on an individual’s acceptance to educational technology has repeatedly found that learning to use innovative technology requires the individual to enter a state of vulnerability. For many of us who have ‘been doing this for years,’ it can be difficult to admit the need to change and learn new skills.”

She said that while mistakes will be made, they are part of learning.

“Learning to use new technology is messy,” Eutsler said. “I’ve lost count of how many times a day I Google something or ask Alexa a question. There is nothing wrong with searching for answers to what is unfamiliar; it really is no different from perusing your encyclopedia collection back in the 1990’s to learn about a topic of interest. Admit to your students you are learning something new, and they will respect you and be willing to help you or learn alongside you.”

Her research offers three recommendations to help teachers:

  • Develop an easy-to-use metacognitive scaffold, such as a checklist, that could provide highly needed structure for students navigating schoolwork related to a variety of classes at home.
  • Scaffold student-to-student interaction to allow students to engage in collaborative forms of learning to brainstorm, discuss content and provide peer feedback.
  • Streamline the remote teaching process by adopting one reliable technology platform that offers the most useful tools for the instructional process and reflects the needs and prior experiences of student and parent users of this technology.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that educators and students will not always have a choice between face-to-face or distance learning environments,” she said. “Instead, an emergency response to the health crisis has illuminated the need to focus on humanizing remote instruction. With administrator support, teachers need to adapt their teaching practices, respond to the individual needs of their student populations and tailor instruction around their students’ access to technology, while carefully considering the emotional well-being of all.”

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