- Research article
- Open access
- Published: 21 December 2020
Transitioning to the “new normal” of learning in unpredictable times: pedagogical practices and learning performance in fully online flipped classrooms
- Khe Foon Hew ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4149-533X 1 ,
- Chengyuan Jia 1 ,
- Donn Emmanuel Gonda 1 &
- Shurui Bai 1
International Journal of Educational Technology in Higher Education volume 17 , Article number: 57 ( 2020 ) Cite this article
The COVID-19 outbreak has compelled many universities to immediately switch to the online delivery of lessons. Many instructors, however, have found developing effective online lessons in a very short period of time very stressful and difficult. This study describes how we successfully addressed this crisis by transforming two conventional flipped classes into fully online flipped classes with the help of a cloud-based video conferencing app. As in a conventional flipped course, in a fully online flipped course students are encouraged to complete online pre-class work. But unlike in the conventional flipped approach, students do not subsequently meet face-to-face in physical classrooms, but rather online. This study examines the effect of fully online flipped classrooms on student learning performance in two stages. In Stage One, we explain how we drew on the 5E framework to design two conventional flipped classes. The 5E framework consists of five phases—Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. In Stage Two, we describe how we transformed the two conventional flipped classes into fully online flipped classes. Quantitative analyses of students’ final course marks reveal that the participants in the fully online flipped classes performed as effectively as participants in the conventional flipped learning classes. Our qualitative analyses of student and staff reflection data identify seven good practices for videoconferencing - assisted online flipped classrooms.
“It’s now painfully clear that schools ought to have had more robust disaster-preparedness plans in place in the event of interruptions in their campus operations. But because many schools did not have such plans in place…online learning is about to get a bad reputation at many campuses, I suspect.” Michael Horn, cited in Lederman ( 2020 ), ‘Inside Higher Ed’.
In early January 2020, scientists identified a new infectious disease caused by a novel coronavirus. Since then, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused widespread disruptions to schools and universities. According to UNESCO, as of April 10, 2020, more than 188 countries had implemented nationwide school and university closures, impacting over 91% of the world’s student population (UNESCO n.d.).
During these school closures, all face-to-face lessons were cancelled, compelling many institutions, including our own university, to immediately transition from face-to-face in-person learning to completely online lessons. The abrupt switch to fully online learning has been particularly stressful for many instructors and students who prefer in-person instruction. Online learning is often stigmatized as a weaker option that provides a lower quality education than in-person face-to-face learning (Hodges et al. 2020 ). Indeed, such negative attitudes to fully online learning were revealed by a large EDUCAUSE survey (Pomerantz and Brooks 2017 ). The survey of 11,141 faculty members from 131 U.S. institutions found that only 9% of faculty prefer to teach a fully online course. In other words, a whopping 91% of faculty do not wish to teach in a completely online environment. Students’ opinions of fully online courses are not much better; a recent student survey by EDUCAUSE of more than 40,000 students across 118 American universities revealed that as many as 70% of the respondents mostly or completely prefer face-to-face learning environments (Gierdowski 2019 ).
Clearly, many faculty members and students do not see the value of fully online learning, despite the fact that online learning has been around for many decades. During the current health crisis, many instructors have had to improvise quick online learning solutions (Hodges et al. 2020 ). For example, in our own university, there are anecdotal reports of a myriad of emergency online methods. Some instructors, for example, merely uploaded their PowerPoint slides or papers onto a learning management system such as Moodle and asked students to read them on their own. Any questions were asked asynchronously on the Moodle forum. Other instructors recorded their own lectures (usually at least one hour long) and asked students to asynchronously watch the video lectures and then ask individual questions later. Still others talked for more than two hours via synchronous video platforms watched by students in their own homes. Although these online methods may be an efficient method of delivering content, they are not particularly effective in promoting active learning and interest (Bates and Galloway 2012 ). As one student remarked, “Sitting in front of my computer to watch a 2-h live lecture without any active learning activities such as group work is pretty boring!” Indeed, without any active learning activities such as peer interaction, a fully online course will feel more like an interactive book than a classroom (Sutterlin 2018 ).
Well-planned active online learning lessons are markedly different from the emergency online teaching offered in response to a crisis (Hodges et al. 2020 ). One promising strategy for promoting online active learning is the fully online flipped classroom pedagogical approach, hereafter referred to as the online flipped classroom approach. An online flipped classroom is a variant of the conventional flipped model. A conventional flipped classroom model consists of online learning of basic concepts before class, followed by face-to-face learning activities (Bishop and Verleger 2013 ). The conventional flipped model has become very popular in recent years due to its association with active learning, which emphasizes students’ active learning (Xiu and Thompson 2020 ). Active learning activities such as peer discussions can help students construct better understandings of the subject material (Deslauriers et al. 2019 ). Recent meta-analyses have provided consistent overall support for the superiority of the conventional flipped classroom approach over traditional learning for enhancing student learning (e.g., Låg and Sæle 2019 ; Lo and Hew 2019 ; Shi et al. 2019 ; van Alten et al. 2019 ).
The online flipped classroom is similar to the conventional flipped classroom model in that students are encouraged to prepare for class by completing some pre-class activities (e.g., watching video lectures, completing quizzes). However, unlike the conventional flipped classroom approach, students in online flipped classrooms do not meet face-to-face, but online (Stohr et al. 2020 ). Although the online flipped classroom appears to be gathering momentum in higher education, very few studies have examined its effectiveness (for an exception, see Stohr et al. 2020 , who compared the online flipped classroom format with a conventional non-flipped teaching format). So far, we are not cognizant of any research that evaluated the efficacy of the fully online flipped classroom relative to the conventional flipped classroom. Establishing the effectiveness of online flipped classrooms is important, as practitioners need to know whether this active learning approach can be used during prolonged school closures.
Against this backdrop, this study compares the effects of online flipped classrooms versus conventional flipped classrooms on student learning outcomes. To this end, two conventional flipped classes in the Faculty of Education are transformed into online flipped classrooms. Students in both the online and flipped classes participated in the online pre-class activity asynchronously using a learning management system. However, students in the online flipped classes joined the online in-class learning synchronously using a video conferencing app whereas their counterparts in the conventional flipped classes attended face-to-face classes. The online flipped courses were designed using the 5E conceptual framework and used a cloud-based video conferencing app. We used the Zoom application after careful consideration of many different videoconferencing platforms. Our reasons for doing so are given in the Section of “Stage Two: Transforming conventional flipped classes into online flipped classes”.
The 5E framework consists of five phases—Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate (Bybee et al. 2006 ).
Engage—The first phase aims to engage students in the learning process. Methods to engage students usually include using a real-world scenario, or problem, asking students questions that allow them to brainstorm or think critically, and helping them to create connections to their past experiences.
Explore—In the exploration phase, the teacher, who works as a facilitator or coach, gives the students time and opportunity to explore the content and construct their own understanding of the topic at hand.
Explain—This phase starts with students attempting to explain specific aspects of the engagement and exploration experiences. Based on these explanations, the teacher introduces terminology in a direct and explicit manner to facilitate concept building.
Elaborate—In this phase, the teacher provided more detailed information about the subject content through the use of mini lectures and/or whole class discussions. Students are also given the opportunity to apply what they have learned and receive feedback from the teacher and their peers.
Evaluate—Formative assessments (e.g., quizzes) can be used to evaluate students’ mastery of the subject material at the beginning and throughout the 5E phases, and teachers can complete a summative assessment after the elaboration phase (e.g., final exams).
We adopted the 5E framework for the following reasons. First, the 5E framework, which is based on various educational theories and models (e.g., Herbart’s instructional model, Dewey’s instructional model, Atkin-Karplus Learning Cycle) (Bybee et al. 2006 ), provides a sound instructional sequence for designing a course and planning activities. The 5E framework can help instructors organize and integrate both the in-class and out-of-class learning activities (Lo 2017 ).
Second, previous research has shown the positive effect of the 5E framework on student achievement. These positive effects were initially established in science education (e.g., Akar 2005 ; Boddy et al. 2003 ). Recently, the 5E model has yielded positive results when applied to various subject areas and when used to design inquiry- and interaction-based learning activities. Mullins ( 2017 ), for example, found that undergraduate students in a 5E-supported class outperformed their peers in a traditional lecture setting. Hew et al. ( 2018 ) designed two postgraduate courses based on the 5E model in order to foster students’ active learning. Ninety-two percent of the participants agreed that the 5E supported courses were more engaging than traditional classroom instruction.
The rest of this paper is structured as follows. First, we describe our study design and methodology. This is followed by a description of our two stages of research. In Stage One, we explain how we use the 5E framework to design our two conventional flipped classes; In Stage Two, we describe how we transformed the two conventional flipped classes into fully online flipped classes, using a cloud-based video conferencing app. We describe the various pedagogical practices that Zoom videoconferencing can facilitate before and during online flipped classes. In this paper, we use the term “pedagogical practices” to refer to specific activities that are used to structure teaching and learning. This study is guided by the following two questions.
What effect does the change from a conventional flipped classroom format to an online flipped format have on student learning performance?
What are the good practices for videoconferencing - assisted online flipped classrooms, as perceived by students and/or teaching staff?
This study was conducted in a large public Asian university. Four classes were involved: (a) conventional flipped Course 1, (b) conventional flipped Course 2, (c) online flipped Course 1, and (d) online flipped Course 2. Conventional flipped Courses 1 and 2 were the control group. Online flipped Courses 1 and 2 were the experimental group. To avoid any potential instructor confounding bias, the same professor and teaching assistants (TAs) taught the conventional and online flipped formats of each class. Ethical approval to conduct the study was obtained from the Institutional Review Board at the University of Hong Kong and consent forms from all participants in the study were collected.
Data collection and analysis
To reiterate, this study had two purposes: (a) to determine the effect of an online flipped classroom on student learning performance as determined by student final course marks, and (b) to determine good practices for videoconferencing - assisted online flipped classrooms, as perceived by the participants (students and teaching staff). We adopted a mixed methods involving quantitative and qualitative approaches to provide a deeper understanding of the research problem (Ivankova et al. 2006 ).
The data collection spanned across two semesters, which corresponded to the aforementioned two stages of the research. The conventional flipped classes were implemented in conventional flipped Courses 1 and 2 during the semester of 2019 Fall before the pandemic (Stage One). Due to the outbreak of Covid-19, all courses were required to be delivered online in our university in the 2020 Spring semester. Therefore, the online flipped classes were conducted in online flipped Courses 1 and 2 during the pandemic in 2020 Spring (Stage Two). Students’ knowledge and skills of the course content were checked at the beginning of the each course. Students final course marks in each course were collected and used as measure of the student learning outcomes at the end of the semester (See Fig. 1 for the research timeline).
Timeline of data collection: 2019 Fall (before the pandemic), 2020 Spring (during the pandemic)
To address the first purpose, we compared the students’ final course marks in the online flipped classrooms and conventional flipped classrooms. Quantitative data from 99 students were collected (see Table 1 ). We used the students’ final course marks to measure performance.
To identify the perceived good practices for videoconferencing - assisted online flipped classrooms, we invited students and the teaching staff to complete a self-reflection exercise based on the following question: “What do you perceive as good practices in a videoconferencing-supported online flipped classroom?” The qualitative data collected from students and instructors were analyzed as follows. The first step was an initial reading of all of the response data to obtain an overall impression. The first author then applied the grounded approach (Strauss and Corbin 1990 ) to the qualitative data to generate relevant codes. Similar codes were organized into themes. In order to increase the consistency of coding, several exemplary quotes that clearly illustrated each constructed theme were identified. We also allowed new themes (if any) to emerge inductively during the coding process. The second author coded the data. There was perfect agreement with the coding. Table 2 summarizes how the data for each research question were collected and analyzed.
Stage one: designing conventional flipped classes using the 5E framework
In this section, we first describe how we use the 5E framework to design our two conventional flipped classes (Course 1: E-Learning Strategies , and Course 2: Engaging Adult Learners ). In the next section, we describe how we transform these two conventional flipped classes into fully online flipped classes. Figure 2 shows the 5E framework that guided our design of the conventional flipped classes. Table 3 shows some of the teaching and learning activities used in each of the 5E phases.
5E framework used to design the two conventional flipped classes
Conventional flipped course 1: E-learning strategies
This course discussed the various e-learning strategies that can be employed to foster six types of learning, including problem-solving, attitude learning, factual learning, concept learning, procedural learning, and principle learning. There were eight sessions in the course. The first seven sessions were flipped—each consisting of an online pre-class learning component and a 3-h face-to-face in-class component. The last session was devoted to students’ presentations. Figure 3 shows an example of how the 5E framework was used in Course 1.
Example of a pre-class activity in Course 1
For instance, in the pre-class phase of Session 2: Instructional Design—Part 1 , we posted a video that posed the question “What do we mean by ‘understand’”. This video engaged students’ curiosity about the importance of writing clear and measurable learning objectives. The instructor in the video highlighted the pitfalls of using vague words such as “know” and “understand” when writing learning objectives. Students then explored and explained their own individual learning objectives using the ABCD model (audience, behavior, condition, degree). Students were able to use a mobile instant messaging (MIM) app such as WeChat to ask questions of their peers or instructor. When a message arrived, a notification appeared on the receiver’s phone screen, encouraging timely feedback and frequent interaction (Rosenfeld et al. 2018 ).
During the face-to-face in-class session, the instructor re-engaged students’ attention by discussing basic instructional design issues such as “How do we write good lesson objectives?” The instructor conducted short debriefing sessions to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of students’ pre-class work. The instructor also facilitated class or small group discussions to build students’ understanding of how to write measurable lesson objectives that help students to achieve specific learning outcomes (e.g., factual learning). These discussions allowed students to elaborate on good lesson objectives practices. To evaluate the students’ understanding, the instructor asked them to work in groups of four on an instructional design scenario (e.g., teaching participants how to deal with angry customers), and then write a learning objective for the lesson in an online forum; their peers then commented on the posted learning objectives (Fig. 4 ).
Example of an in-class activity in Course 1
Conventional flipped course 2: engaging adult learners
This course discussed the key principles of adult learning, as well as strategies used in adult education (e.g., transformational learning theory). There were eight sessions in the course, each session lasted three hours. An example of how the 5E instructional model was used is shown in Fig. 5 .
Example of a pre-class activity in Course 2
For example, in the pre-class session for Session 3: Motivation, we uploaded a four-minute video that briefly described the concepts of reinforcement and punishment. The aim of the video was to engage students’ attention on the focal topic. To help students explore the topic in further, they were asked to respond to the following question: “After watching the video, can you think of other positive reinforcers, negative reinforcers, and punishment methods?” Students posted their opinions ( explained ) on a discussion forum. Students also used the WeChat app to ask questions of their peers or instructor.
During the subsequent face-to-face lesson (Fig. 6 ), the instructor facilitated whole class discussions using relevant questions to elaborate on the topics covered in the pre-class video. An example of a question used was ‘When should we employ positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, or punishment?’ Based on the students’ responses, the instructor was able to provide more in-depth explanation of the subject matter, or correct any student misunderstanding. This will help enhance students’ comprehension of the subject content. The instructor also discussed the notion of intrinsic motivation (e.g., the self-determination theory). In addition to elaborating on the content, the instructor also evaluated the students’ understanding by asking students to complete small group discussion activities. An example of a small group discussion activity was ‘Did you have any experience where you did not like learning a subject or doing an activity? How would you motivate yourself in that situation? Please try to use a mixture of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation factors.’ Upon completion of the small group activity, students from each group presented their views to the whole class. The instructor, as well as the rest of the classmates provided feedback.
Example of an in-class activity in Course 2
Stage two: transforming conventional flipped classes into online flipped classes
The outbreak of COVID-19 inspired us to transform the two conventional flipped classes discussed above into fully online flipped classes. After careful consideration, the Zoom videoconferencing app was used for the synchronized online meetings (see Table 4 ). The whole transformation process took about one week with the bulk of the time was spent on exploring and testing the features of Zoom.
Zoom is a Web videoconferencing service that allows users to communicate online with individuals in real time via computer, tablet, or mobile device. We chose Zoom because of its ease of use (Kim 2017 ; Sutterlin 2018 ), its lower bandwidth requirements (Sutterlin 2018 ), and its ability to record and store sessions without recourse to third-party software (Archibald et al. 2019 ). More importantly, Zoom was chosen because its functions could easily support the implementation of our online flipped classroom. For instance, it allows instructors to easily create breakout rooms for group discussions. It also makes team-teaching possible by allowing more than one host and giving all of the hosts administrative capabilities such as sharing screens and remote control over shared screens (Johnston 2020 ).
To keep our online meetings secure, we activated the “ only authenticated users can join ” option. Specifically, we only allowed participants using our own university’s email domain to join the online meetings. In addition, we enabled the “ waiting room ” feature so that we could screen all of participants in the “ waiting room ” and admit only students officially enrolled in our classes into the online meeting. After all of the participants had entered, we then locked the meeting using the “ Lock the meeting ” feature. Once we had locked a meeting, no new participants could join.
The same learning materials used in the conventional flipped classes were used in the online flipped classes. Table 4 shows some of the teaching and learning activities. Students in the online flipped classes completed pre-class activities that were similar to those used in the conventional flipped classes, but these were not followed by face-to-face meetings, but by online meetings conducted on the Zoom videoconferencing app.
Online flipped course 1: E-learning strategies
Like the conventional flipped course, the online flipped Course 1 consisted of eight sessions. The first seven sessions were flipped—students were encouraged to complete a set of pre-class sessions asynchronously (similar to Fig. 3 ). Students also used the WeChat MIM app to ask questions of their peers or instructors. However, unlike the conventional flipped approach, the “in-class” session for the online flipped students was conducted completely online through Zoom videoconferencing. In the final session (Session 8), the online flipped students also presented their work on Zoom. Each online “in-class” session lasted three hours—similar in duration to the in-class component of the conventional flipped format.
In the online synchronous “in-class” sessions, the instructor started by reminding students to switch on their webcams and to mute their microphones when not speaking. Next, the instructor lead a short class debriefing session to elaborate on the materials covered in the pre-class session. This was similar to the structure of the conventional flipped class format. For example, the instructor might discuss the students’ completed pre-class work and highlight the overall strengths and weaknesses. The main purpose of these short debriefing sessions was to clarify students’ initial doubts or misconceptions. Following the debriefing sessions, the instructor facilitated class discussions that delved deeper into the subject content. To evaluate students’ understanding of the materials, students were asked to work individually or participate in small group discussions on specific questions similar to those used in the conventional flipped classes. Students then presented their work online to the whole class, and received peer and instructor feedback.
To engage the participants, the instructor used a number of features of the Zoom videoconferencing system. For example, the instructor posed questions during the whole class discussion and used the polling feature to rapidly collect and analyze student responses. The polling feature provided a function similar to a clicker or student response system. Based on the poll results, the instructor then addressed students’ misunderstandings. To enable small group discussions, the instructor used the breakout rooms feature of Zoom . Each student was assigned to one of several groups. Each group consisted of four to five students. Other students could not “drop” into other groups, but the instructor could drop into any group and participate in the discussions. When it was time for the small groups to return to the whole class, students would receive a time indicator reminding them that they were rejoining the whole class. Table 5 shows how the specific features of Zoom helped support the online “in-class” teaching and learning activities. Figure 7 illustrates some of the Zoom features used in the course.
Examples of Zoom features used in Course 1
Online flipped course 2: engaging adult learners
Similar to the conventional flipped course, the online flipped course had eight sessions. The pre-class and in-class activities used in the conventional flipped course were also used in the online flipped course (see Fig. 5 for an example of a pre-class activity). Students also used the WeChat MIM app to ask questions of their peers or instructors. The last three sessions were used for students’ online presentations via videoconferencing. Each online “in-class” session lasted three hours—similar in duration to the in-class component of the conventional flipped class. In the online synchronous “in-class” sessions, the instructor reminded students to switch on their webcams and to mute their microphones when not speaking. The instructor used the features of the Zoom videoconferencing system shown in Table 5 and Fig. 7 .
Results and discussion
Conventional flipped versus online flipped course 1: e-learning strategies.
To address Research Question 1, the learning outcomes of students in the conventional flipped Course 1 and the online flipped Course 1 were measured and compared. The main purpose of both courses was to teach students the skills needed to create an e-learning storyboard and to develop a fully online course based on the 5E framework on Moodle. At the beginning of both the conventional flipped and online flipped classes, students were surveyed if they had any experience creating storyboards or fully online courses. None of the students had any such prior experience. Therefore, we assumed that both groups of students had similar levels of prior knowledge/skill. Next, we used both groups of students’ final course marks as a measure of the student learning outcomes. The maximum final marks in the final assessment was 100.
We first checked the normality of the final course marks data. If there were a significant deviation from normality, the Mann–Whitney U would be the most appropriate test for comparing the groups; otherwise, an independent samples t -test would be appropriate. The results showed that the course marks for both the conventional flipped ( W (23) = 0.920, p = 0.068) and online flipped classes ( W (26) = 0.964, p = 0.479) were normally distributed, as assessed by the Shapiro–Wilk’s test. There was also homogeneity in the variances for the course marks, as assessed by Levene’s test for equality of variances ( p = 0.652). In addition, there were no outliers in the data, as assessed by an inspection of the boxplots (Fig. 8 ).
The boxplots of final marks in Course 1 for conventional flipped class and online flipped class
An independent-samples t -test was therefore conducted to determine if there were differences in the final marks of the conventional flipped and online flipped classes. The results suggested that online flipped participants ( M = 66.00, SD = 11.63) performed as effectively as participants in the conventional flipped learning format ( M = 65.04, SD = 11.80), t (47) = 0.285, p = 0.777.
Conventional flipped versus online flipped course 2: engaging adult learners
The main purpose of both the conventional flipped and online flipped Engaging Adult Learners courses was to introduce students to the key characteristics of adult learners, the key principles of adult learning, and strategies for adult education. First, to test if there were any initial differences in students’ prior knowledge of the course content, a short quiz was administered to both groups at the start of the semester. The Mann–Whitney U test found no significant initial differences between the conventional flipped group ( Mdn = 0) and the online flipped group ( Mdn = 0.5), U = 218.5, p = 0.06.
Next, we used the students’ final course marks as a measure of the student learning outcomes. The final assessment included individual written reflections on course topics and relevant articles, and a group demonstration of an adult-teaching strategy. The maximum final marks for the final assessment was 100. As in the above analysis, we first checked the normality of the final course mark data. The course marks for both the conventional flipped and online flipped classes were normally distributed, as assessed by Shapiro–Wilk’s test: W (25) = 0.963, p = 0.470 for the conventional flipped course and W (24) = 0.930, p = 0.096 for the online flipped course. There was also a homogeneity of variances, as assessed by Levene’s test for equality of variances ( p = 0.304). In addition, there were no outliers in the data, as assessed by an inspection of the boxplots (Fig. 9 ).
The boxplots of final marks in Course 2 for conventional flipped class and online flipped class
We subsequently carried out an independent-samples t-test to examine if there was any significant difference in the final course marks of the conventional flipped and online flipped classes. The results suggested that online flipped learning participants ( M = 83.25, SD = 4.56) performed as effectively as participants in the conventional flipped learning classes ( M = 83.40, SD = 5.51), t (47) = 0.104, p = 0.918.
What are the good practices for videoconferencing-assisted online flipped classrooms, as perceived by students and/or teaching staff?
The analyses of the participants’ comments identified the following seven good practices for videoconferencing-assisted online flipped classrooms.
Remind participants to mute their microphones when not speaking to eliminate undesirable background noise . According to Gazzillo ( 2018 ), muting participants’ microphones allows the speaker to have center stage while eliminating the distraction of audio feedback. As one teaching staff member said, .
It’s a good practice at the beginning to mute all of the participants by selecting the “Mute All” button at the bottom of the participants panel. This will eliminate all background noise (e.g., television sounds, audio feedback). I will then ask the participants to turn their audio back on if they wish to talk
In terms of Zoom functionality, by pressing and holding the “space bar” allows the participants to temporarily switch on their microphone. We also ask the participants to install an AI-enabled application called “Krisp” to minimize the background noise of the participants.
Remind participants before the online “in-class” session begins to switch on their webcams . Webcams show a person’s face to other people on the video call, which can help to increase online social presence among classmates (Conrad and Donaldson 2011 ). Online social presence is positively correlated with student satisfaction and student perceived learning (Richardson et al. 2017 ). The participants also strongly prefer to see a face during instruction as it is perceived as more educational (Kizilcec et al. 2014 ). Students’ facial expressions are also a valuable source of feedback for the instructor to know whether the students could understand the subject matter (Sathik and Jonathan 2013 ). An instructor can use students’ facial expressions to determine whether to speed up, or slow down, or provide further elaborations. Feedback from the teaching staff included the following comments.
It is important to ask students to turn on their cameras. Students will be more focused and interactive and teaching will be better when teachers can see students’ responses.
As an instructor, I do not feel as if I’m talking to a wall when I can see some actual faces. Students also feel they are talking to someone rather than to an empty black screen. But it’s important to inform the students in advance to switch on their webcams so that they can do their hair properly or put on makeup beforehand—this was what some students actually told me!
During teaching, seeing your students' faces will give you another form of feedback. For example, when they look confused or nod their heads, it allows me to fine-tune the delivery of the content. These reactions give me visual feedback on whether I need further explanations or examples to elaborate on the topic.
Feedback from the students included the following comments.
Showing our faces is really helpful as we can see our classmates’ faces and remember them. Also, it makes the class more alive because we can see their expressions. Showing our faces is very helpful! It can make me feel like I’m in a real class! I enjoy the feeling of having a class with my classmates.
Turning on the camera helps us be more attentive in the online class.
To avoid showing any undesirable background objects (e.g., a messy bedroom) during the video meeting, participants can choose to replace their actual background with a virtual background. The participants can easily do this using the Zoom virtual background feature.
Manage the transition to the online flipped classroom approach for students . Not every student will be familiar with the videoconferencing app or the flipped classroom approach. Therefore, to promote student buy-in of this new pedagogical approach, it is important for the staff to directly address two main issues: (a) the structure and activities of the online flipped course, and (b) the functions of the video conferencing app. Feedback from the students included the following comments.
If teachers would like to use some functions in Zoom, they need to first help students get familiar with it. A brief introduction to Zoom at the beginning of the class is helpful.
First, I informed the students that these two courses would have two components: a pre-class session and an online “in-class” session. This helped students understand the flipped approach better. Next, my teaching assistant and I conducted a short introduction to using Zoom online before the class began. This helped students get familiar with the features we would be using in Zoom.
Constant fine-tuning is also a key element in managing the transition to the online flipped classroom. Asking the students what works and what doesn’t have become our practice every after the lesson. These comments allow us to rethink and re-plan for the next online synchronous session.
Feedback from the teaching staff included the following comments.
Having a technical-related orientation session before the actual class starts helps a lot for students who are not familiar with the videoconferencing tool.
Instructors should use dual monitors to simulate, as close as possible, the look and feel of a face-to-face class—one monitor to view all the participants in “gallery view,” and the other to view the presentation material . It is very useful for instructors and teaching assistants to use the dual-monitor display function, which allows the video layout and screen share content to be presented on two separate monitors. One monitor can be used to view the participants (up to 49) in “gallery view,” and the other to display the presentation materials. In the “gallery view,” the instructor can see thumbnail displays of all of the participants in a grid pattern that expands and contracts automatically as participants join and leave the meeting (Zoom Video Communications 2019 ). The use of a dual monitor feature is also useful for PowerPoint presentations and hiding notes from the participants. Feedback from the teaching staff included:
During the preparation for this course, we would like to simulate, as close as possible, the look and feel of a face-to-face class. This thinking brought us to the dual monitor layout for our Zoom sessions. The first monitor is for the teaching assistant; in this case, it acts as a co-host for the Zoom session. The teaching assistant extends the computer screen to a monitor to show the participants’ faces or the “gallery view.” This monitor acts as a “classroom” in the traditional face-to-face class. During the session, this first monitor also serves as a tool for classroom management. This view is where the “chat” and “raise hand” functions can be seen. The second monitor is where the instructor places the presentation materials. This view acts as the projector in the traditional face-to-face class. Occasionally, we added a third screen, which is an iPad to do real-time annotation. This iPad can is a replacement of the conventional “whiteboard” in a face-to-face class.
Activate and evaluate students’ pre-class learning with a short review. At the beginning of the online “in-class” sessions, instructors should use short formative assessment methods (e.g., a quiz) to activate and evaluate students’ understanding of the pre-class activities. The activation of prior learning enhances student learning because it is the foundation for the new material presented in the classroom (Merrill 2002 ). Indeed, recent meta-analyses have suggested that flipped learning is more effective when formative assessments (e.g., quizzes or reviews) are used before and/or during class time (e.g., Hew and Lo 2018 ; Låg and Sæle 2019 ; Lo et al. 2017 ; van Alten et al. 2019 ). Students in this study reported positive benefits of using short formative assessments such as reviews or quizzes. Examples of student feedback include the following comments.
I find the reviews at the beginning of the “in-class” sessions very helpful! It’s good to start from something we are familiar with, and then go to the new materials. The reviewing of pre-class work is great because we can know what points we do not understand well and how we can improve.
The reviews helped me understand the issue more deeply. I could find out what my misunderstandings of the content are.
I find the teachers’ explanation and review of the pre-class work helpful.
Use an MIM app on mobile phones to foster quicker online response times and to communicate with students during their online breakout sessions . Although students can ask questions via discussion forums or email, the asynchronicity of these apps creates a time lag between postings and replies which can discourage students from communicating with each other (Hew et al. 2018 ). In contrast, MIM apps such as WhatsApp and WeChat allow users to engage in quasi synchronous communications on their mobile phones. When communication needs are urgent, many students may only have their phones available. As soon as an MIM message is sent, a notification automatically shows up on the user’s phone screen, which encourages timely response (Hew et al. 2018 ; Rosenfeld et al. 2018 ). In addition, MIM is more popular than voice calls, emails, and even face-to-face communication among young people (Lenhart et al. 2010 ). As of March 2019, more than 41 million mobile instant messages are sent every minute (Clement 2019 ). Student feedback on using MIM in classrooms included the following comments.
I like using MIM such as WeChat because it allows us to communicate with other people immediately.
I enjoy using WeChat to ask questions and get immediate feedback from my classmates and teaching staff.
Use a variety of presentation media as well as a variety of activities to sustain student interest . No matter how interested a learner is in the topic of a presentation or discussion, that interest will wane in the face of monotony (Driscoll 2000 ). Therefore, it is recommended that instructors sustain student interest by varying the use of presentation media. Instructors, for example, can alternate the use of PowerPoint slides with digital handwriting on an iPad. The instructor in this study made the following comments.
I find continual use of PowerPoint slides to be boring. It’s always the same style: a bullet list of information with some animations or pictures. I find it useful to sustain my students’ attention by writing on an iPad.
Comments from the students were also positive.
I find the instructor writing on an iPad helps to focus my attention better than PowerPoint slides.
Writing on the iPad is like writing on a whiteboard in real face-to-face classrooms. It helps me develop a better understanding of the topic.
Digital writing on an iPad can help learners see the progressive development of the subject content (Hulls 2005 ), and follow the instructor’s cognitive process better than pre-prepared PowerPoint presentations (Lee and Lim 2013 ). Writing on an iPad can also enable an instructor to immediately adjust his or her instruction in response to the students’ needs. Using digital writing can significantly improve students’ understanding of conceptual knowledge when compared to PowerPoint-based presentation lectures (Lee and Lim 2013 ).
In addition to varying the presentation media, an instructor should also use different activities, including guest speakers, during the online class session. Feedback from the students included the following comments.
The use of different functions in Zoom, such as breakout rooms for group activities, voting, and raising hands, is useful because they help us to be involved. It helps increase the learner-learner and learner-instructor interaction, which may be lacking in a fully online class.
During the three-hour online class, we had not only the teacher’s explanations, but also had a guest speaker and online group discussions via breakout rooms, which made the class engaging.
In this study, the instructor invited a United Kingdom-based practicing instructional designer as a guest speaker in the two online flipped courses to talk about her experience in developing e-learning courses and engaging adult learners. Guest speakers enhance students’ educational experience by giving them real-world knowledge (Metrejean and Zarzeski 2001 ). Guest speakers can offer students a different point of view, one that students may better understand. Guest speakers can also alleviate the monotony of listening to a single instructor.
Amidst the burgeoning use of online learning during the unpredictable present, this study evaluates the efficacy of a videoconferencing - supported fully online flipped classroom. It compares student outcomes in four higher education classes: conventional flipped Course 1 versus online flipped Course 1, and conventional flipped Course 2 versus online flipped Course 2. Overall, this study makes three contributions to the literature on flipped classrooms. First, it provides a thick description of the development of the conventional flipped classroom approach based on the 5E framework, and the transformation of the conventional flipped classroom into a fully online flipped classroom. A thick description of the development of the flipped classrooms is provided to encourage replication by other researchers and practitioners. Second, our findings reveal that the online flipped classroom approach can be as effective as the conventional flipped classroom. Third, we identify seven good practices for using videoconferencing to support online flipped classrooms. This set of good practices can provide useful guidelines for other instructors who might be interested in implementing an online flipped approach.
One potential limitation of our study is that it was relatively short in duration (8 weeks). However, according to Fraenkel et al. ( 2014 ), some researchers do collect data within a fairly short time. A short-term data collection period enables researchers to collect and analyze data to see if an intervention is workable before committing to a longer study (Creswell 2015 ). We therefore urge future researchers to examine the use of videoconferencing - supported online flipped classrooms over a longer period of time, such as one year or more, to verify the results of this study.
Another interesting area for future work will be examining how instructors can support learners’ self-regulation during online flipped classroom (Cheng et al. 2019 ), as well as what strategies can best motivate students to complete the pre-class work.
Availability of data and materials
The anonymized datasets used and/or analysed during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.
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Hew, K.F., Jia, C., Gonda, D.E. et al. Transitioning to the “new normal” of learning in unpredictable times: pedagogical practices and learning performance in fully online flipped classrooms. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17 , 57 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-020-00234-x
Received : 24 June 2020
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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-020-00234-x
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Online distance learning: the new normal in education.
Readiness: The Key To ODL In The Time Of Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing our lives and bringing a lot of challenges to our era. Aside from being a health crisis, it also caused economic meltdowns across the globe. Companies closed, many people were laid off and unexpectedly became unemployed. The World Health Organization also mentioned that food shortages became a problem during this global lockdown as closures between borders and trade restrictions limited the movement of food supplies from rural to urban areas. COVID-19 is producing profound devastating conditions in our daily lives including in the individual, cultural, public health, and economic dimensions (Ferreira and Serpa, 2021).
Along with all these, schools in most countries were closed to stem the transmission of the virus. Onyema, Eucheria, Obafemi, Sen, Atonye, Sharma, and Alyased (2020) concluded that the pandemic has adverse effects on educational systems including research, academic programs, staff professional development and jobs in the academic sector, etc. These changes were felt not just by schools but also by teachers, students, and even parents. As lockdowns were implemented everywhere, schools were also closed. Educational institutions abandoned face-to-face classes and on-campus activities were halted for the safety of the population (Filho et al., 2021).
To respond to the challenges posed by COVID cases worldwide, schools offered distance learning (DL) as the available learning method in this time of the pandemic. According to Justin Simon (2021), pre-pandemic there were only 6.6 million students enrolled in distance learning but this figure skyrocketed to 400 million due to the spread of COVID-19. Because schools were closed and not allowed to accommodate students in their classrooms, distance learning was offered. DL has now become the new normal in education.
Distance learning is any kind of remote learning in which the student is not physically present in the classroom. The student may be anywhere while learning takes place. Distance learning is educating students online. Over the years, DL has become an alternative mode of teaching and learning (Alsoliman, 2015). It has become another venue for education and instruction.
Though opposed by many, the Philippines’ Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) adopted and implemented a flexible model of blended learning. According to CHED (2020), flexible learning is learning interventions and delivery of programs with the consideration of the learner’s unique needs, that may or may not involve the use of technology. In the Philippines, DL is being offered in two forms: online distance learning (ODL) and modular distance learning (MDL). But most parents and students would prefer ODL, considering and hoping that the interaction between students and the teacher can ensure learning.
DL has become the new normal in education in the country. DepEd (2020), without sacrificing the quality of education, came up with the Learning Continuity Plan (LCP) for the school year 2020–2021. This provides learning interventions that teachers can utilize during the pandemic. This was the jumping board for schools as they offered DL to their stakeholders. However, for this article, we are going to focus only on online distance learning.
This kind of DL can either be synchronous or asynchronous learning. Juliana Scheiderer of Ohio State University simply differentiated the two as follows: synchronous learning is learning from a distance by attending a class virtually on a regular schedule, while asynchronous learning is learning at one’s pace and schedule but within a certain timeframe.
Synchronous learners are advised to attend an online class as if having it face-to-face. They are gathered in a virtual classroom where everybody can interact with their fellow students and their teachers/instructors. Asynchronous learning is different from synchronous learning. Students are given access to a portal where they can retrieve their lessons or instructional materials at any given time of the day. This learning method does not include live video discussion, though recorded videos may be viewed by the learners. However, real-time interaction is not possible.
Though DL has been used for many years already in the education system, its implementation in the time of pandemics may be different and challenging. With the emergence of advanced technology, it is acceptable to say that DL is very promising. However, to fully maximize the potential of this modality, it would be best to identify the experiences of the students, teachers, and stakeholders in this setup, the advantages and disadvantages of this modality in the time of the pandemic, and recommendations to improve the DL offerings of schools. Identifying the experiences of those involved in this modality would allow us to gather the pros and cons of DL. This would allow us to modify our recommendations.
Advantages Of Distance Learning
DL offers a lot of advantages as a mode of teaching and learning. Bijeesh (2021) enumerated some practical advantages of DL such as saving money and time. Most often, the fee for online classes is much lower than for the usual on-campus classes. As students save money because of reduced financial obligations, schools also save money because of less expense in maintaining their facilities. Students can also save time because of shorter travel times. There’s no need to be on the road to beat the traffic just to be inside the classrooms. Study materials are available and just need to be downloaded.
Along with the advantages mentioned above, Oxford Learning College (2015) adds flexibility, comfort, and instant updates to the list. Because DL can be student-centered, the learner can control the schedule within the timeframe given by the teachers. Also, one can learn anywhere and at any time. Online learning can be done in any place, at home wearing comfortable clothes, or somewhere in the rural province, as long as there's an internet connection. And because of technology, the updating of materials and other online resources can be instantaneous. Support is available by online means to answer queries from the learners.
Disadvantages Of Distance Learning
On the other hand, Bijeesh (2021) also mentioned the disadvantages of DL. He first mentioned the tendency for high distraction. Because students are not in the classroom and are in the comfort of their homes, distractions can’t be avoided. They may be torn between classes and the desire to listen to music, sleep, or do something else. This can result in poor performance of the students. This challenges teachers to make their lessons engaging, to motivate their students to focus on the lesson. He also mentioned hidden costs and complicated technology. Yes, online classes may save money because of less transportation and materials expenses, but it can't be denied that there might be hidden costs, like buying software and other computer applications to support the online classes. The technology used may also be complicated. Navigating through the applications used in online classes may also be demanding and time-consuming, especially for younger students and their learning coaches.
In her article on eLearning, Gautam (2020) also mentioned the following as the disadvantages of online learning: technology issues, sense of isolation, teacher training, and managing screen time. When she mentioned technology issues, she meant more than just computer or gadget complexity; she also meant poor internet connection. With the pandemic and DL imposed on all students, the quality of internet connections was tested. Sadly, not all students have access to a strong internet connection. Intermittent connectivity may also lead to poor quality of online learning. This may be detrimental to the teaching and learning process.
Gautam continued by mentioning the sense of isolation. Because of DL, interactions are very minimal. We regard human beings as social beings. Teachers are then challenged to open every possible means of communication with their students to preserve the connection and ensure communication. Teacher training is also on the list of disadvantages mentioned by Gautam. The lockdowns were imposed suddenly and classes migrated online abruptly, but teachers may need additional training to teach online so as to be able to guide their students properly. So to ensure quality education, schools must always offer their teachers technological educational advancement through training and online courses.
Lastly, Gautam mentioned managing screen time as one of the disadvantages. Because students are required to attend their classes online and finish their requirements through their computers or other devices, parents are afraid of this hazard for their children. Thus, teachers must also remind the students to be responsible and mindful of the time they spend in front of their screens and to take breaks. Also, because of the synchronous classes and asynchronous tasks, parents, and teachers as well, are challenged to remind their students to consider physical activities in between, to maintain their health and wellness.
The advantages and disadvantages mentioned above were all based on the experiences of both teachers and students. They were satisfied and at the same time frustrated with DL. But with the data and information gathered, there are many opportunities available to improve this modality taking into consideration that technology is flexible and capable of accommodating changes and improvements. We should also mention the eagerness of teachers to develop their skills because of their untiring dedication to their profession.
Bijeesh, Oxford Learning College, and Gautam were able to mention experiences that are significant as we discuss DL as the new normal in education. They were able to list the advantages and disadvantages of DL being experienced at the time of this pandemic.
To address these issues in online distance learning, what is needed is summed up by the word "readiness." Readiness, in terms of eLearning or learning through technology, may be vague or broad because of its never-ending and fast-paced evolution. In 2015, after analyzing a number of models, Demir and Yurdugül proposed three models of readiness for students, teachers, and institutions.
The Readiness Models
The readiness model for students consists of six components: competency of technology usage, self-directed learning, access to technology, confidence in prerequisite skills and in themselves, motivation, and time management. The model implies that the student must have computer and technology skills prior to eLearning, must have good study habits and independent learning skills, and must be motivated in attending online classes.
Demir and Yurdugül’s readiness model for teachers includes eight components: acceptance, access to technology, motivation, time management, institution and policy, content, pedagogical competency, and competency in technology usage. Basically, teachers must first absorb the nature of their setup, that the learning and teaching process will occur online or in a technology-driven environment. They must also be aware of the content of their lessons, as well as the methods and strategies they may be able to utilize as they teach in DL. Having knowledge about the institution and its policies is also helpful in being prepared. This may include rules regarding the school’s online instruction.
With regard to the institution’s readiness, there are seven components: finance, ICT infrastructure, human resources, management and leadership, content, culture, and lastly, competency in technology usage. The capacity of the institution to invest in the right and appropriate technology is the institution’s primary concern when it comes to learning and teaching with technology, as they need to invest in their ICT infrastructures. The institution must also be concerned with its human resources, management, and leadership for training and updating.
With Demir and Yurdugül’s models, we can justify how readiness can help address the seven disadvantages mentioned above: distractions, costly technology and apps, demanding online classes, isolation, lacking teacher training, managing screen time, and poor internet connection. Distraction may be avoided if students with the right motivation are focused on learning. This can also be avoided if teachers are competent pedagogically and technologically. Teachers' well-prepared lessons with enticing activities will decrease students’ boredom in online distance learning. This also proves that teachers are well-trained and prepared to teach online. With all these considerations, the teachers can now help their students manage their screen time and develop study habits. Eventually, students will not find online classes as demanding if they have developed time management skills. More so, access to technology also means access to communication, thus students will not feel isolated if they have open communication with their teachers and classmates. Lastly, students, teachers, and the institution must invest in proper technology. For DL to be successful and fruitful, technology should not be neglected. This will help avoid problems with a poor internet connection, failing devices, and inappropriate learning apps and tools.
To stem the transmission of the Coronavirus or COVID-19, establishments were closed, including schools. Thus, the education system adapted distance learning. Distance learning or DL is a modality wherein the teaching and learning processes are happening remotely. Despite the positive experiences of teachers and stakeholders regarding this setup, we cannot deny its drawbacks. Studies found that in DL students may encounter
- Costly technology and apps
- Demanding online classes
- Teachers who lack training
- Problems managing screen time
- Poor internet connection compromising the quality of education
In conclusion, to be able to avoid these issues in DL, readiness must be ensured. The students, the teachers, and the administration or the institution must be prepared. The closure of schools may have happened abruptly; however, as the schools continue to offer DL they must prepare. Some components in the models presented by Demir and Yurdugül may help address the issues or disadvantages of the online learning setup.
With this conclusion, distance learning can continue as the new normal in education, especially during a pandemic or if a lockdown must be imposed. In spite of the issues mentioned, there were suggested components that can be done differently to avoid such problems. Education can still continue in spite of the fact that it is done remotely.
In our conclusion, we analyzed the seven advantages that were mentioned and we can justify that readiness is the key to all these. And this readiness is the preparation of the students, the teachers, and the institution (the school administration). Thus, orientation for students, training for teachers, and a needs assessment for the institution is recommended, to prepare those who will be involved in distance learning.
First, orientation for the students is an activity that would give the students an idea of how distance learning would happen. They would be aware of the things that they need to prepare for their DL to be successful and fruitful. The institution, through its teachers, would inform the students of the software, applications, and technology tools they would need. Also, this can serve as an opportunity for students to ask questions or for any clarifications about class schedules and the Learning Management System (LMS) that they will use in their online classes.
Second, training for teachers is necessary. The pandemic happened in the middle of the school year. Most teachers were not ready. However, as the pandemic continues and online classes are still utilized, the institution must provide, and ensure that teachers will undergo, training. In-service training seminars were provided even before the pandemic, thus it is not new to teachers. But with the demand for online learning, teachers must be given updated training especially on conducting online classes. These training sessions may include familiarity with hardware and software. This also guarantees that the teachers are capable of assisting their students during the school year.
Lastly, the institution must undertake a needs assessment. Needs assessment is a business tool that allows the organization to determine the gap between their desired output and their current state. This allows the organization to identify what should be prioritized or improved. For schools, this will allow the administration to name certain aspects in the school system that need to be given attention as they offer online classes. The school will then be able to properly orient their students and also train their teachers with the appropriate programs or tools.
- Advantages & Disadvantages Of Distance Learning
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- A strategic approach to the implementation of quality distance learning in Saudi Arabia: an embedded case study
- Advantages and Disadvantages of Distance Learning
- Demir, Ö., and H. Yurdugül. 2015. The Exploration of models regarding e-learning readiness: Reference model suggestions. International Journal of Progressive Education , 11 (1).
- COVID-19 and Social Sciences
- Advantages And Disadvantages Of Online Learning
- Needs Assessment: Definition, Overview and Examples
- COVID-19: the impact of a global crisis on sustainable development teaching
- Impact of Coronavirus Pandemic on Education
- What's the Difference Between Asynchronous and Synchronous Learning?
- What is Distance Learning? The Complete Guide (2021)
- Impact of COVID-19 on people's livelihoods, their health and our food systems
- The Differences Between eLearning Αnd Distance Learning
- The Benefits Of Distance Learning With LMS
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- Published: 24 November 2020
The “new normal” in education
- José Augusto Pacheco ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4623-6898 1
PROSPECTS volume 51 , pages 3–14 ( 2021 ) Cite this article
Effects rippling from the Covid 19 emergency include changes in the personal, social, and economic spheres. Are there continuities as well? Based on a literature review (primarily of UNESCO and OECD publications and their critics), the following question is posed: How can one resist the slide into passive technologization and seize the possibility of achieving a responsive, ethical, humane, and international-transformational approach to education? Technologization, while an ongoing and evidently ever-intensifying tendency, is not without its critics, especially those associated with the humanistic tradition in education. This is more apparent now that curriculum is being conceived as a complicated conversation. In a complex and unequal world, the well-being of students requires diverse and even conflicting visions of the world, its problems, and the forms of knowledge we study to address them.
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From the past, we might find our way to a future unforeclosed by the present (Pinar 2019 , p. 12)
Texts regarding this pandemic’s consequences are appearing at an accelerating pace, with constant coverage by news outlets, as well as philosophical, historical, and sociological reflections by public intellectuals worldwide. Ripples from the current emergency have spread into the personal, social, and economic spheres. But are there continuities as well? Is the pandemic creating a “new normal” in education or simply accenting what has already become normal—an accelerating tendency toward technologization? This tendency presents an important challenge for education, requiring a critical vision of post-Covid-19 curriculum. One must pose an additional question: How can one resist the slide into passive technologization and seize the possibility of achieving a responsive, ethical, humane, and international-transformational approach to education?
The ongoing present
Unpredicted except through science fiction, movie scripts, and novels, the Covid-19 pandemic has changed everyday life, caused wide-scale illness and death, and provoked preventive measures like social distancing, confinement, and school closures. It has struck disproportionately at those who provide essential services and those unable to work remotely; in an already precarious marketplace, unemployment is having terrible consequences. The pandemic is now the chief sign of both globalization and deglobalization, as nations close borders and airports sit empty. There are no departures, no delays. Everything has changed, and no one was prepared. The pandemic has disrupted the flow of time and unraveled what was normal. It is the emergence of an event (think of Badiou 2009 ) that restarts time, creates radical ruptures and imbalances, and brings about a contingency that becomes a new necessity (Žižek 2020 ). Such events question the ongoing present.
The pandemic has reshuffled our needs, which are now based on a new order. Whether of short or medium duration, will it end in a return to the “normal” or move us into an unknown future? Žižek contends that “there is no return to normal, the new ‘normal’ will have to be constructed on the ruins of our old lives, or we will find ourselves in a new barbarism whose signs are already clearly discernible” (Žižek 2020 , p. 3).
Despite public health measures, Gil ( 2020 ) observes that the pandemic has so far generated no physical or spiritual upheaval and no universal awareness of the need to change how we live. Techno-capitalism continues to work, though perhaps not as before. Online sales increase and professionals work from home, thereby creating new digital subjectivities and economies. We will not escape the pull of self-preservation, self-regeneration, and the metamorphosis of capitalism, which will continue its permanent revolution (Wells 2020 ). In adapting subjectivities to the recent demands of digital capitalism, the pandemic can catapult us into an even more thoroughly digitalized space, a trend that artificial intelligence will accelerate. These new subjectivities will exhibit increased capacities for voluntary obedience and programmable functioning abilities, leading to a “new normal” benefiting those who are savvy in software-structured social relationships.
The Covid-19 pandemic has submerged us all in the tsunami-like economies of the Cloud. There is an intensification of the allegro rhythm of adaptation to the Internet of Things (Davies, Beauchamp, Davies, and Price 2019 ). For Latour ( 2020 ), the pandemic has become internalized as an ongoing state of emergency preparing us for the next crisis—climate change—for which we will see just how (un)prepared we are. Along with inequality, climate is one of the most pressing issues of our time (OECD 2019a , 2019b ) and therefore its representation in the curriculum is of public, not just private, interest.
Education both reflects what is now and anticipates what is next, recoding private and public responses to crises. Žižek ( 2020 , p. 117) suggests in this regard that “values and beliefs should not be simply ignored: they play an important role and should be treated as a specific mode of assemblage”. As such, education is (post)human and has its (over)determination by beliefs and values, themselves encoded in technology.
Will the pandemic detoxify our addiction to technology, or will it cement that addiction? Pinar ( 2019 , pp. 14–15) suggests that “this idea—that technological advance can overcome cultural, economic, educational crises—has faded into the background. It is our assumption. Our faith prompts the purchase of new technology and assures we can cure climate change”. While waiting for technology to rescue us, we might also remember to look at ourselves. In this way, the pandemic could be a starting point for a more sustainable environment. An intelligent response to climate change, reactivating the humanistic tradition in education, would reaffirm the right to such an education as a global common good (UNESCO 2015a , p. 10):
This approach emphasizes the inclusion of people who are often subject to discrimination – women and girls, indigenous people, persons with disabilities, migrants, the elderly and people living in countries affected by conflict. It requires an open and flexible approach to learning that is both lifelong and life-wide: an approach that provides the opportunity for all to realize their potential for a sustainable future and a life of dignity”.
Pinar ( 2004 , 2009 , 2019 ) concevies of curriculum as a complicated conversation. Central to that complicated conversation is climate change, which drives the need for education for sustainable development and the grooming of new global citizens with sustainable lifestyles and exemplary environmental custodianship (Marope 2017 ).
The new normal
The pandemic ushers in a “new” normal, in which digitization enforces ways of working and learning. It forces education further into technologization, a development already well underway, fueled by commercialism and the reigning market ideology. Daniel ( 2020 , p. 1) notes that “many institutions had plans to make greater use of technology in teaching, but the outbreak of Covid-19 has meant that changes intended to occur over months or years had to be implemented in a few days”.
Is this “new normal” really new or is it a reiteration of the old?
Digital technologies are the visible face of the immediate changes taking place in society—the commercial society—and schools. The immediate solution to the closure of schools is distance learning, with platforms proliferating and knowledge demoted to information to be exchanged (Koopman 2019 ), like a product, a phenomenon predicted decades ago by Lyotard ( 1984 , pp. 4-5):
Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valued in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its use-value.
Digital technologies and economic rationality based on performance are significant determinants of the commercialization of learning. Moving from physical face-to-face presence to virtual contact (synchronous and asynchronous), the learning space becomes disembodied, virtual not actual, impacting both student learning and the organization of schools, which are no longer buildings but websites. Such change is not only coterminous with the pandemic, as the Education 2030 Agenda (UNESCO 2015b ) testified; preceding that was the Delors Report (Delors 1996 ), which recoded education as lifelong learning that included learning to know, learning to do, learning to be, and learning to live together.
Transnational organizations have specified competences for the 21st century and, in the process, have defined disciplinary and interdisciplinary knowledge that encourages global citizenship, through “the supra curriculum at the global, regional, or international comparative level” (Marope 2017 , p. 10). According to UNESCO ( 2017 ):
While the world may be increasingly interconnected, human rights violations, inequality and poverty still threaten peace and sustainability. Global Citizenship Education (GCED) is UNESCO’s response to these challenges. It works by empowering learners of all ages to understand that these are global, not local issues and to become active promoters of more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, secure and sustainable societies.
These transnational initiatives have not only acknowledged traditional school subjects but have also shifted the curriculum toward timely topics dedicated to understanding the emergencies of the day (Spiller 2017 ). However, for the OECD ( 2019a ), the “new normal” accentuates two ideas: competence-based education, which includes the knowledges identified in the Delors Report , and a new learning framework structured by digital technologies. The Covid-19 pandemic does not change this logic. Indeed, the interdisciplinary skills framework, content and standardized testing associated with the Programme for International Student Assessment of the OECD has become the most powerful tool for prescribing the curriculum. Educationally, “the universal homogenous ‘state’ exists already. Globalization of standardized testing—the most prominent instance of threatening to restructure schools into technological sites of political socialization, conditioning children for compliance to a universal homogeneous state of mind” (Pinar 2019 , p. 2).
In addition to cognitive and practical skills, this “homogenous state of mind” rests on so-called social and emotional skills in the service of learning to live together, affirming global citizenship, and presumably returning agency to students and teachers (OECD 2019a ). According to Marope ( 2017 , p. 22), “this calls for higher flexibility in curriculum development, and for the need to leave space for curricula interpretation, contextualization, and creativity at the micro level of teachers and classrooms”. Heterogeneity is thus enlisted in the service of both economic homogeneity and disciplinary knowledge. Disciplinary knowledge is presented as universal and endowed with social, moral, and cognitive authority. Operational and effective knowledge becomes central, due to the influence of financial lobbies, thereby ensuring that the logic of the market is brought into the practices of schools. As Pestre ( 2013 , p. 21) observed, “the nature of this knowledge is new: what matters is that it makes hic et nunc the action, its effect and not its understanding”. Its functionality follows (presumably) data and evidence-based management.
A new language is thus imposed on education and the curriculum. Such enforced installation of performative language and Big Data lead to effective and profitable operations in a vast market concerned with competence in operational skills (Lyotard 1984 ). This “new normal” curriculum is said to be more horizontal and less hierarchical and radically polycentric with problem-solving produced through social networks, NGOs, transnational organizations, and think tanks (Pestre 2013 ; Williamson 2013 , 2017 ). Untouched by the pandemic, the “new (old) normal” remains based on disciplinary knowledge and enmeshed in the discourse of standards and accountability in education.
Such enforced commercialism reflects and reinforces economic globalization. Pinar ( 2011 , p. 30) worries that “the globalization of instrumental rationality in education threatens the very existence of education itself”. In his theory, commercialism and the technical instrumentality by which homogenization advances erase education as an embodied experience and the curriculum as a humanistic project. It is a time in which the humanities are devalued as well, as acknowledged by Pinar ( 2019 , p. 19): “In the United States [and in the world] not only does economics replace education—STEM replace the liberal arts as central to the curriculum—there are even politicians who attack the liberal arts as subversive and irrelevant…it can be more precisely characterized as reckless rhetoric of a know-nothing populism”. Replacing in-person dialogical encounters and the educational cultivation of the person (via Bildung and currere ), digital technologies are creating uniformity of learning spaces, in spite of their individualistic tendencies. Of course, education occurs outside schools—and on occasion in schools—but this causal displacement of the centrality of the school implies a devaluation of academic knowledge in the name of diversification of learning spaces.
In society, education, and specifically in the curriculum, the pandemic has brought nothing new but rather has accelerated already existing trends that can be summarized as technologization. Those who can work “remotely” exercise their privilege, since they can exploit an increasingly digital society. They themselves are changed in the process, as their own subjectivities are digitalized, thus predisposing them to a “curriculum of things” (a term coined by Laist ( 2016 ) to describe an object-oriented pedagogical approach), which is organized not around knowledge but information (Koopman 2019 ; Couldry and Mejias 2019 ). This (old) “new normal” was advanced by the OECD, among other international organizations, thus precipitating what some see as “a dynamic and transformative articulation of collective expectations of the purpose, quality, and relevance of education and learning to holistic, inclusive, just, peaceful, and sustainable development, and to the well-being and fulfilment of current and future generations” (Marope 2017 , p. 13). Covid-19, illiberal democracy, economic nationalism, and inaction on climate change, all upend this promise.
Understanding the psychological and cultural complexity of the curriculum is crucial. Without appreciating the infinity of responses students have to what they study, one cannot engage in the complicated conversation that is the curriculum. There must be an affirmation of “not only the individualism of a person’s experience but [of what is] underlining the significance of a person’s response to a course of study that has been designed to ignore individuality in order to buttress nation, religion, ethnicity, family, and gender” (Grumet 2017 , p. 77). Rather than promoting neuroscience as the answer to the problems of curriculum and pedagogy, it is long-past time for rethinking curriculum development and addressing the canonical curriculum question: What knowledge is of most worth from a humanistic perspective that is structured by complicated conversation (UNESCO 2015a ; Pinar 2004 , 2019 )? It promotes respect for diversity and rejection of all forms of (cultural) hegemony, stereotypes, and biases (Pacheco 2009 , 2017 ).
Revisiting the curriculum in the Covid-19 era then expresses the fallacy of the “new normal” but also represents a particular opportunity to promote a different path forward.
Looking to the post-Covid-19 curriculum
Based on the notion of curriculum as a complicated conversation, as proposed by Pinar ( 2004 ), the post-Covid-19 curriculum can seize the possibility of achieving a responsive, ethical, humane education, one which requires a humanistic and internationally aware reconceptualization of curriculum.
While beliefs and values are anchored in social and individual practices (Pinar 2019 , p. 15), education extracts them for critique and reconsideration. For example, freedom and tolerance are not neutral but normative practices, however ideology-free policymakers imagine them to be.
That same sleight-of-hand—value neutrality in the service of a certain normativity—is evident in a digital concept of society as a relationship between humans and non-humans (or posthumans), a relationship not only mediated by but encapsulated within technology: machines interfacing with other machines. This is not merely a technological change, as if it were a quarantined domain severed from society. Technologization is a totalizing digitalization of human experience that includes the structures of society. It is less social than economic, with social bonds now recoded as financial transactions sutured by software. Now that subjectivity is digitalized, the human face has become an exclusively economic one that fabricates the fantasy of rational and free agents—always self-interested—operating in supposedly free markets. Oddly enough, there is no place for a vision of humanistic and internationally aware change. The technological dimension of curriculum is assumed to be the primary area of change, which has been deeply and totally imposed by global standards. The worldwide pandemic supports arguments for imposing forms of control (Žižek 2020 ), including the geolocation of infected people and the suspension—in a state of exception—of civil liberties.
By destroying democracy, the technology of control leads to totalitarianism and barbarism, ending tolerance, difference, and diversity. Remembrance and memory are needed so that historical fascisms (Eley 2020 ) are not repeated, albeit in new disguises (Adorno 2011 ). Technologized education enhances efficiency and ensures uniformity, while presuming objectivity to the detriment of human reflection and singularity. It imposes the running data of the Curriculum of Things and eschews intellectual endeavor, critical attitude, and self-reflexivity.
For those who advocate the primacy of technology and the so-called “free market”, the pandemic represents opportunities not only for profit but also for confirmation of the pervasiveness of human error and proof of the efficiency of the non-human, i.e., the inhuman technology. What may possibly protect children from this inhumanity and their commodification, as human capital, is a humane or humanistic education that contradicts their commodification.
The decontextualized technical vocabulary in use in a market society produces an undifferentiated image in which people are blinded to nuance, distinction, and subtlety. For Pestre, concepts associated with efficiency convey the primacy of economic activity to the exclusion, for instance, of ethics, since those concepts devalue historic (if unrealized) commitments to equality and fraternity by instead emphasizing economic freedom and the autonomy of self-interested individuals. Constructing education as solely economic and technological constitutes a movement toward total efficiency through the installation of uniformity of behavior, devaluing diversity and human creativity.
Erased from the screen is any image of public education as a space of freedom, or as Macdonald ( 1995 , p. 38) holds, any image or concept of “the dignity and integrity of each human”. Instead, what we face is the post-human and the undisputed reign of instrumental reality, where the ends justify the means and human realization is reduced to the consumption of goods and experiences. As Pinar ( 2019 , p. 7) observes: “In the private sphere…. freedom is recast as a choice of consumer goods; in the public sphere, it converts to control and the demand that freedom flourish, so that whatever is profitable can be pursued”. Such “negative” freedom—freedom from constraint—ignores “positive” freedom, which requires us to contemplate—in ethical and spiritual terms—what that freedom is for. To contemplate what freedom is for requires “critical and comprehensive knowledge” (Pestre 2013 , p. 39) not only instrumental and technical knowledge. The humanities and the arts would reoccupy the center of such a curriculum and not be related to its margins (Westbury 2008 ), acknowledging that what is studied within schools is a complicated conversation among those present—including oneself, one’s ancestors, and those yet to be born (Pinar 2004 ).
In an era of unconstrained technologization, the challenge facing the curriculum is coding and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), with technology dislodging those subjects related to the human. This is not a classical curriculum (although it could be) but one focused on the emergencies of the moment–namely, climate change, the pandemic, mass migration, right-wing populism, and economic inequality. These timely topics, which in secondary school could be taught as short courses and at the elementary level as thematic units, would be informed by the traditional school subjects (yes, including STEM). Such a reorganization of the curriculum would allow students to see how academic knowledge enables them to understand what is happening to them and their parents in their own regions and globally. Such a cosmopolitan curriculum would prepare children to become citizens not only of their own nations but of the world. This citizenship would simultaneously be subjective and social, singular and universal (Marope 2020 ). Pinar ( 2019 , p. 5) reminds us that “the division between private and public was first blurred then erased by technology”:
No longer public, let alone sacred, morality becomes a matter of privately held values, sometimes monetized as commodities, statements of personal preference, often ornamental, sometimes self-servingly instrumental. Whatever their function, values were to be confined to the private sphere. The public sphere was no longer the civic square but rather, the marketplace, the site where one purchased whatever one valued.
New technological spaces are the universal center for (in)human values. The civic square is now Amazon, Alibaba, Twitter, WeChat, and other global online corporations. The facts of our human condition—a century-old phrase uncanny in its echoes today—can be studied in schools as an interdisciplinary complicated conversation about public issues that eclipse private ones (Pinar 2019 ), including social injustice, inequality, democracy, climate change, refugees, immigrants, and minority groups. Understood as a responsive, ethical, humane and transformational international educational approach, such a post-Covid-19 curriculum could be a “force for social equity, justice, cohesion, stability, and peace” (Marope 2017 , p. 32). “Unchosen” is certainly the adjective describing our obligations now, as we are surrounded by death and dying and threatened by privation or even starvation, as economies collapse and food-supply chains are broken. The pandemic may not mean deglobalization, but it surely accentuates it, as national borders are closed, international travel is suspended, and international trade is impacted by the accompanying economic crisis. On the other hand, economic globalization could return even stronger, as could the globalization of education systems. The “new normal” in education is the technological order—a passive technologization—and its expansion continues uncontested and even accelerated by the pandemic.
Two Greek concepts, kronos and kairos , allow a discussion of contrasts between the quantitative and the qualitative in education. Echoing the ancient notion of kronos are the technologically structured curriculum values of quantity and performance, which are always assessed by a standardized accountability system enforcing an “ideology of achievement”. “While kronos refers to chronological or sequential time, kairos refers to time that might require waiting patiently for a long time or immediate and rapid action; which course of action one chooses will depend on the particular situation” (Lahtinen 2009 , p. 252).
For Macdonald ( 1995 , p. 51), “the central ideology of the schools is the ideology of achievement …[It] is a quantitative ideology, for even to attempt to assess quality must be quantified under this ideology, and the educational process is perceived as a technically monitored quality control process”.
Self-evaluation subjectively internalizes what is useful and in conformity with the techno-economy and its so-called standards, increasingly enforcing technical (software) forms. If recoded as the Internet of Things, this remains a curriculum in allegiance with “order and control” (Doll 2013 , p. 314) School knowledge is reduced to an instrument for economic success, employing compulsory collaboration to ensure group think and conformity. Intertwined with the Internet of Things, technological subjectivity becomes embedded in software, redesigned for effectiveness, i.e., or use-value (as Lyotard predicted).
The Curriculum of Things dominates the Internet, which is simultaneously an object and a thing (see Heidegger 1967 , 1971 , 1977 ), a powerful “technological tool for the process of knowledge building” (Means 2008 , p. 137). Online learning occupies the subjective zone between the “curriculum-as-planned” and the “curriculum-as-lived” (Pinar 2019 , p. 23). The world of the curriculum-as-lived fades, as the screen shifts and children are enmeshed in an ocularcentric system of accountability and instrumentality.
In contrast to kronos , the Greek concept of kairos implies lived time or even slow time (Koepnick 2014 ), time that is “self-reflective” (Macdonald 1995 , p. 103) and autobiographical (Pinar 2009 , 2004), thus inspiring “curriculum improvisation” (Aoki 2011 , p. 375), while emphasizing “the plurality of subjectivities” (Grumet 2017 , p. 80). Kairos emphasizes singularity and acknowledges particularities; it is skeptical of similarities. For Shew ( 2013 , p. 48), “ kairos is that which opens an originary experience—of the divine, perhaps, but also of life or being. Thought as such, kairos as a formative happening—an opportune moment, crisis, circumstance, event—imposes its own sense of measure on time”. So conceived, curriculum can become a complicated conversation that occurs not in chronological time but in its own time. Such dialogue is not neutral, apolitical, or timeless. It focuses on the present and is intrinsically subjective, even in public space, as Pinar ( 2019 , p. 12) writes: “its site is subjectivity as one attunes oneself to what one is experiencing, yes to its immediacy and specificity but also to its situatedness, relatedness, including to what lies beyond it and not only spatially but temporally”.
Kairos is, then, the uniqueness of time that converts curriculum into a complicated conversation, one that includes the subjective reconstruction of learning as a consciousness of everyday life, encouraging the inner activism of quietude and disquietude. Writing about eternity, as an orientation towards the future, Pinar ( 2019 , p. 2) argues that “the second side [the first is contemplation] of such consciousness is immersion in daily life, the activism of quietude – for example, ethical engagement with others”. We add disquietude now, following the work of the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Disquietude is a moment of eternity: “Sometimes I think I’ll never leave ‘Douradores’ Street. And having written this, it seems to me eternity. Neither pleasure, nor glory, nor power. Freedom, only freedom” (Pesssoa 1991 ).
The disquietude conversation is simultaneously individual and public. It establishes an international space both deglobalized and autonomous, a source of responsive, ethical, and humane encounter. No longer entranced by the distracting dynamic stasis of image-after-image on the screen, the student can face what is his or her emplacement in the physical and natural world, as well as the technological world. The student can become present as a person, here and now, simultaneously historical and timeless.
Slow down and linger should be our motto now. A slogan yes, but it also represents a political, as well as a psychological resistance to the acceleration of time (Berg and Seeber 2016 )—an acceleration that the pandemic has intensified. Covid-19 has moved curriculum online, forcing children physically apart from each other and from their teachers and especially from the in-person dialogical encounters that classrooms can provide. The public space disappears into the pre-designed screen space that software allows, and the machine now becomes the material basis for a curriculum of things, not persons. Like the virus, the pandemic curriculum becomes embedded in devices that technologize our children.
Although one hundred years old, the images created in Modern Times by Charlie Chaplin return, less humorous this time than emblematic of our intensifying subjection to technological necessity. It “would seem to leave us as cogs in the machine, ourselves like moving parts, we keep functioning efficiently, increasing productivity calculating the creative destruction of what is, the human now materialized (de)vices ensnaring us in convenience, connectivity, calculation” (Pinar 2019 , p. 9). Post-human, as many would say.
Technology supports standardized testing and enforces software-designed conformity and never-ending self-evaluation, while all the time erasing lived, embodied experience and intellectual independence. Ignoring the evidence, others are sure that technology can function differently: “Given the potential of information and communication technologies, the teacher should now be a guide who enables learners, from early childhood throughout their learning trajectories, to develop and advance through the constantly expanding maze of knowledge” (UNESCO 2015a , p. 51). Would that it were so.
The canonical question—What knowledge is of most worth?—is open-ended and contentious. In a technologized world, providing for the well-being of children is not obvious, as well-being is embedded in ancient, non-neoliberal visions of the world. “Education is everybody’s business”, Pinar ( 2019 , p. 2) points out, as it fosters “responsible citizenship and solidarity in a global world” (UNESCO 2015a , p. 66), resisting inequality and the exclusion, for example, of migrant groups, refugees, and even those who live below or on the edge of poverty.
In this fast-moving digital world, education needs to be inclusive but not conformist. As the United Nations ( 2015 ) declares, education should ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all. “The coming years will be a vital period to save the planet and to achieve sustainable, inclusive human development” (United Nations 2019 , p. 64). Is such sustainable, inclusive human development achievable through technologization? Can technology succeed where religion has failed?
Despite its contradictions and economic emphases, public education has one clear obligation—to create embodied encounters of learning through curriculum conceived as a complicated conversation. Such a conception acknowledges the worldliness of a cosmopolitan curriculum as it affirms the personification of the individual (Pinar 2011 ). As noted by Grumet ( 2017 , p. 89), “as a form of ethics, there is a responsibility to participate in conversation”. Certainly, it is necessary to ask over and over again the canonical curriculum question: What knowledge is of most worth?
If time, technology and teaching are moving images of eternity, curriculum and pedagogy are also, both ‘moving’ and ‘images’ but not an explicit, empirical, or exact representation of eternity…if reality is an endless series of ‘moving images’, the canonical curriculum question—What knowledge is of most worth?—cannot be settled for all time by declaring one set of subjects eternally important” (Pinar 2019 , p. 12).
In a complicated conversation, the curriculum is not a fixed image sliding into a passive technologization. As a “moving image”, the curriculum constitutes a politics of presence, an ongoing expression of subjectivity (Grumet 2017 ) that affirms the infinity of reality: “Shifting one’s attitude from ‘reducing’ complexity to ‘embracing’ what is always already present in relations and interactions may lead to thinking complexly, abiding happily with mystery” (Doll 2012 , p. 172). Describing the dialogical encounter characterizing conceived curriculum, as a complicated conversation, Pinar explains that this moment of dialogue “is not only place-sensitive (perhaps classroom centered) but also within oneself”, because “the educational significance of subject matter is that it enables the student to learn from actual embodied experience, an outcome that cannot always be engineered” (Pinar 2019 , pp. 12–13). Lived experience is not technological. So, “the curriculum of the future is not just a matter of defining content and official knowledge. It is about creating, sculpting, and finessing minds, mentalities, and identities, promoting style of thought about humans, or ‘mashing up’ and ‘making up’ the future of people” (Williamson 2013 , p. 113).
Yes, we need to linger and take time to contemplate the curriculum question. Only in this way will we share what is common and distinctive in our experience of the current pandemic by changing our time and our learning to foreclose on our future. Curriculum conceived as a complicated conversation restarts historical not screen time; it enacts the private and public as distinguishable, not fused in a computer screen. That is the “new normal”.
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My thanks to William F. Pinar. Friendship is another moving image of eternity. I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer. This work is financed by national funds through the FCT - Foundation for Science and Technology, under the project PTDC / CED-EDG / 30410/2017, Centre for Research in Education, Institute of Education, University of Minho.
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Pacheco, J.A. The “new normal” in education. Prospects 51 , 3–14 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09521-x
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DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s11125-020-09521-x
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Original research article, learning curves in covid-19: student strategies in the ‘new normal’.
- Auckland University of Technology, School of Sport and Recreation, Auckland, New Zealand
In New Zealand, similar to the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented disruption to higher education, with a rapid transition to mass online teaching. The 1st year (and 1st semester in particular) of any University degree presents unique challenges for students. Literature suggests these students have significant learning concerns as they adjust to University teaching and assessment requirements. These challenges may be exacerbated with the rapid introduction of online learning environments as they are increasingly disconnected from their peers, and, at a greater risk of struggling with web-based learning technologies.
This study investigated online learning strategies employed by 1st year students and examined the association between these strategies and student achievement. The University’s learning management system (LMS; Blackboard) was used to collect deidentified data related to students’ engagement with online content. The number of times content was clicked was recorded each day for the student’s three courses. These data were collected over a nine-week period for all students ( N = 170) enrolled in the 1st semester of their degree. This nine-week period spanned from the commencement of COVID-19 online learning to the week of final assessments. The relationship between assessment date and online engagement was investigated and linear mixed models were used to determine if engagement with online learning was associated with final course grades.
The results suggested that students adopted a learning strategy that coordinated their online LMS engagement with course assessment due date. Students had a 388% (SD 58%) greater specific engagement with the LMS on the assessment due date and the day prior, than throughout the remainder of their course. A further trend was observed whereby when an assessment was due in one course the students used an ‘online bundle learning’ strategy of increased engagement with the two other courses which has positive practical implications for the timing of uploading new teaching material. Finally, a clear relationship between the level of student LMS engagement and student course grade existed. For every additional week of zero LMS engagement, the odds of a student achieving. a grade lower than B were 1.67 times higher (95% CI 1.24, 2.26; p < 0.001), regardless of the course.
The rapid transition to online learning, as a consequence of COVID-19, has highlighted the risks of student disengagement, and the subsequent impact on lower student achievement across multiple courses. In addition, the authors investigated an ‘online learning bundling’ strategy that emerged; where students engaged more with a course when they were online submitting an assessment in a different course. These results emphasize the need for a university to implement greater cross-faculty coordination with reference to course design, uploading of information to LMS and timing of assessments. Improved coordination would provide a more effective online learning environment that maximizes student engagement and therefore achievement.
The transition to higher education (HE) is often a complicated and difficult time for students ( Kember, 2001 ). Many new HE students have moved directly from secondary education to HE and are not used to the typical HE environment. This is characterized by less structured class time per week, less direct contact with peers and teachers, and a greater expectation for independent learning. New HE students need to adjust quickly to these different styles of teaching and assessments, while adapting to the demands of a self-directed and independent approach to their academic work. Successfully adjusting to this increased level of independence in the first year is important, as it has a strong influence on total student effort and level of achievement, as well as increasing the likelihood of the student completing the whole course ( Krause, 2001 , 2005 ). Ultimately, it is each students’ ability to adjust and engage in the HE environment that becomes a strong determinant of their level of engagement and achievement.
The HE environment has several non-academic factors that are related to student's success, time management, engagement and participation. Students must learn to cope with the new and often competing demands of the HE environment. For example, the juggle between work-life balance, and the peaks and troughs of workload. Research by Scherer et al. (2017) found that effective time management was a significant predictor of tertiary academic outcomes, as those with poor time management found it hard to plan and were often rushed at the end of a course or at assessment time. Literature highlights that in HE, there is a significantly positive relationship between students with who do manage their time effectively and academic performance ( Khan et al. (2020) ).
Snyder (1971) often referred to the concept of students understanding the ‘hidden curriculum’ (i.e., students knowing which key assessment points they need to attend and when, in order to achieve). This concept is important when trying to understand how students best strategize or allocate their attention and their time and has been discussed as a potential time-management issue ( Miller and Parlett, 1974 ). However, the concept that is under-researched is the balance between strategic use of time and potentially a miss-management of time, especially for 1st year HE students.
The second non-academic factor associated with academic success is student engagement, which is defined as ‘the quality of effort devoted to educationally purposeful activities that contribute directly to desired outcomes’ ( Chickering and Gamson, 1987 ). One way to consider engagement is that it is a gauge of the strength of the relationship between students and their HE institution. The HE institutions aim is to create an environment that affords learning to happen, but ultimately the final act of engagement lies with the student actions. Understanding and measuring student engagement in HE is a challenge, as it has multi-dimensional mechanisms, such as educational challenge, active learning, student-staff interaction, and support on campus, to name a few.
One weakness of traditionally measuring engagement in HE has been the lack of tools to objectively understand student engagement. The most commonly used tool is the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) which relies on self-reporting survey data. However, ‘active learning’ (i.e., frequency of class participation; Carini et al., 2006 ) has been used in previous research to provide an understanding of HE engagement level. Traditionally, this has been recorded during face-to-face HE program delivered on-campus that typically feature content taught in a classroom at a prescribed time, and supplemented with prescribed readings and assessment ( Broadbent, 2017 ). One of the more recent advancements in trying understanding student's interaction with the virtual environment in is the evolving area of HE is learning analytics (LA). In particular the use of large scale educational data about learners and their contexts. In this area, researchers have presented information about learners and their environment, with an attempt to provide models for future behavior ( Ranjeeth et al., 2020 ). However, it appears that with advances in LA there is still little recorded improvement to student learning, or learning support for students (e.g., Viberg et al., 2018 ). This raises the question about how insights from LA can help facilitate the transfer into learning and teaching practices.
Understanding engagement in online HE learning environments has shown mixed results when compared to face-to-face measures. Research has shown that students that have chosen their University course specifically because it is online are likely to be have been attracted by the high level of flexibility and independence it offers ( Bernard et al., 2004 ). They are confident they have the skills to excel, they enjoy the learning style and have the time management skills required to succeed in the online environment. Indeed, HE students have reported that time management and regular interaction with content and other students were the top skills needed to be successful with online learning ( Roper, 2007 ).
The impact of COVID-19 led to a rapid transition for most HE institutions from face-to-face teaching to online learning environments. While a few HE institutions had online courses or blended courses in place, the majority were not prepared for this rapid change to online delivery and therefore had minimal time to re-design course delivery for this new environment. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research examining engagement with online learning tools, particularly for those who, due to COVID-19, are suddenly forced to transition from a face-to-face to online environment which was not their initial learning style choice. Many HE institutions use Learning Management Systems (LMS) and this provides an opportunity to explore student engagement via their online learning behaviors. While there are many inter-related factors that influence student engagement, the authors have attempted to respond to the call from Viberg et al. (2018) of combing the science of learning analytics with pedagogical knowledge. Therefore, in order to better support student achievement and enhance the understanding of student engagement behaviors the aims of this study are to; (1) to understand the online learning strategy of 1st year HE students (forced) into an online environment, and (2) to examine how the strategy adopted influences student achievement.
Materials and Methods
One hundred and seventy students who were enrolled in three courses as part of the first semester of their undergraduate degree participated in this study. As a response to COVID-19 these students, that were originally enrolled in face-to-face courses, were transferred to online delivery from week three.
Two courses had two assessment points across the semester; one mid-term assessment, and one assessment at the end of semester. While the third course had three assessments. For each course the structure included live online lectures, pre-recorded video content, and weekly online tutorials. The online delivery for the three courses was completed over nine-week period.
Online engagement and activity was defined as the log data collected by the LMS, e.g., time spent or number of interactions students had with the LMS ( Henrie et al., 2018 ). In this study online engagement was defined as the number of clicks per student recorded on the LMS. For each course online engagement data were extracted from the Blackboard Learning Management System using the in-built reporting feature. For each student, every time content was clicked (e.g., announcements, course materials, assessments) this information was recorded and stored within the LMS. While some engagement research uses log data of time spent logged into a page (e.g., Henrie et al., 2018 ), the authors found that this measure can give a false reading if a page was left open and not attended; thus giving the impression of a very long ‘engagement’ time with the LMS. Retrospective data covering the nine-week period were exported to an Excel spreadsheet, for each of the three courses separately. These data contained a daily breakdown of engagement information for each student (total number of clicks each day), for each of the three courses, across the nine-week period.
Student achievement was measured using the final course grades that students received at the end of semester. The grading system ranged from 0 to 9, where 9 represented an ‘A+’ grade, 8 represented an ‘A’ grade, and 7 represented an ‘A−’. The lowest passing grade is 1 which represented a ‘C−’, while a 0 was a failure to pass. The final course grade was calculated by averaging the mid-term and final assessment grades.
In the first instance, student online engagement with each of the three courses were summarized using descriptive statistics (mean ± SD). The descriptive analysis was stratified by assessment days, non-assessment days, and the day prior to assessment day. The relationship between an assessment due date and change in online engagement in other courses was examined by calculating the difference between engagement on the due date and the days prior. These differences were presented as Cohen’s D effect sizes with the following thresholds: 0.2 = small effect, 0.5 = medium effect, 0.8 = large effect ( Cohen, 1988 ). All achievement and engagement data was de-identified in order that appropriate ethical standards were maintained.
Lastly, generalized linear mixed models were used to examine if the level of engagement with online content was associated with final course grades. The final grades were dichotomized into ‘B grade or higher’ and ‘Lower than a B grade’ (B grade = 5), as this was the middle grade. This was treated as the outcome variable. Student engagement data was summarized for each student as the number of weeks throughout the nine-week period where students recorded no engagement with the online LMS. This variable, along with the course (three levels) were added as fixed effects, while each student was added as a random effect to account for the repeated measures. These models were specified with a binomial distribution and logit link function and were fit in R software (v 4.0.0) using the lme4 package.
The results section present data to answer the two research aims; (1) To understand the 1st year student’s online learning strategy and engagement and, (2) to examine how the strategy adopted influences student achievement.
The mean number of online interactions per day, along with the assessment dates for each course, is shown below in Figure 1 . The spikes in student online engagement generally coincide with either the actual course assessment date ( Figure 1 , black vertical lines) or the uploading of key information related to an assessment onto the LMS ( Figure 1 , course 1(red) early June and course 2 (green) mid-May).
FIGURE 1 . The distribution of online engagement across the semester, for each course. The black vertical bars represent the assessment dates for each course.
The values in Table 1 represent student engagement strategy through the mean number of interactions with the LMS per student per day per course and course grades.
TABLE 1 . LMS use on assessment and non-assessment days for 3 courses.
The strategy showed the use of a low level of mean daily engagement during the semester (i.e., 3.11–3.94) with relatively high levels of engagement when an assessment was due (i.e., 10.5–15.6). There was a large difference between engagement levels on assessment due dates and ‘day-proceeding assessment due date’ compared to non-assessment days. Student strategy led to 312 and 453% more online interactions when assessments were due. Interactions with the LMS were higher around assessment due dates, however, it is also worth noting that a small part of this increase was caused by students submitting assessment; i.e., on average 3–4 interactions per course to submit an assessment. It is worth noting that each week included online lectures, workshops, discussion boards and readings, so to have a daily use of only 2–3 interactions per day would be considered quite low in relation to the staff expectations of the course demands.
A key part of this study was to understand the learning curves of students in a COVID-19 environment and the link to achievement. It is important to consider the potential achievement implications for the students that adopted a ‘low or no online engagement’ strategy, as across the nine weeks of the three courses, approximately 34% ( n = 53) of all students had two weeks of zero engagement with all of their three courses.
The relationship between final course grades and the number of weeks with no online engagement is presented in Figure 2 below. All three courses displayed a similar trend; as the number of weeks with no online engagement increased, the probability of achieving a B grade or higher significantly decreased. On average, for every additional week of no online engagement, the odds of achieving a B grade or better were 0.60 (95% CI 0.44, 0.81; p < 0.001), regardless of course. The inverse of this ratio can be interpreted as: the odds of achieving a grade lower than B are 1.67 times higher for every additional week of no online engagement.
FIGURE 2 . Relationship between student achievement and the number of weeks with no online engagement. Estimates obtained from a generalized linear mixed model (binomial distribution, logit link). The shaded regions represent 95% confidence intervals.
The final data presented in this study explored learning curves of students online engagement during COVID-19 when an assessment was due in one of the three courses. Table 2 below demonstrates the effect size differences between the online LMS engagement level in one course, coinciding with an assessment due in another course. This measure was determined by comparing the LMS values (mean and SD) on the day of assessment in one course to LMS values of the day before in another course. Findings showed that when an assessment was due in one course, for 80% of the time the students subsequent online engagement increased in one or both of the other two courses, despite those other two courses not having assessments due at that time. For the majority of the cases there were small to moderate effect size differences between an assessment due date and an increase in online engagement in the other courses. This strategy could be described as a ‘bundling effect’ of cross-course online engagement occurring due to assessment deadlines. The two exceptions to the ‘bundling effect’ were, (1) at the start of the semester, when online use was high across all courses as students were adjusting to a new online environment and (2) when an assessment in another course had occurred two days earlier.
TABLE 2 . Effect sizes difference of online engagement in one course, when an assessment is due in another.
This study aimed to understand the student learning curves of 1st semester, 1st year HE students in a COVID-19 enforced online environment, and the relationship with achievement. In order to explore these topical questions, a mixed method modeling was used of daily engagement data from the University LMS and end of semester grades. The clear result from this study has been gaining an understanding of the student engagement strategy and it’s significant connection with the timing of assessments. Specifically, student online engagement displayed large peaks and troughs that correlated with assessment due dates. For many students, they had prolonged periods of little or no engagement with an online course, until close to an assessment due date. The ‘heart-beat’ graphic of Figure 1 that represented the level of online engagement with the LMS during the 56 days of the course, and the assessment due dates for the 3 analyzed courses demonstrated a clear interrelatedness between student online engagement and assessment due dates. This strategy of selective interrelated behavior of ‘when to engage’ online can be in part explained by Snyder (1971) and Miller and Parlett (1974) research of the ‘hidden curriculum’. ‘Hidden curriculum’ research demonstrated that students can be strategic about their use of time and energy in relation to course work and to assessment, and the study approaches in this paper supports this i.e., students spent more effort on tasks relating to assessment. What is uniquely demonstrated in Figure 1 , is just how selective and strong the student behavior is toward assessment timing, but also worryingly the low levels of engagement between assessment dates, in particular the 53 students who had two weeks of no online engagement with their three courses.
Most HE literature links sustained effort and engagement to students’ success. However, this is strategy has not been demonstrated by the students in this study, where students were forced (quickly) to move to the online learning style. Figure 1 , highlighted student engagement was low between assessment due dates, and thus not sustained evenly over the course. Table 1 also showed that the level of daily engagement on the day of and including the day before an assessment was due, was on average 388% (SD 58%) higher than the average of all the other days during the semester. These numbers clearly represent a learning curve strategy where students have focused their engagement with the LMS predominately toward assessment dates; consequently, creating a peaks and troughs approach. This strategy appears to be contrary to HE literature that demonstrates higher engagement, i.e., sustained, and more dedicate time to a subject, the more success a student has ( Carini et al., 2006 ). Having high levels of engagement in learning, but also sustained effort has strong links to building the foundation of skills needed not only for success in HE, but also post HE ( Kuh, 2003 ). In an online learning environment, where a lack of face-face interaction occurs, exceptional online engagement is needed in order to be successful ( Bryson, 2014 ).
While one view of the results in Table 1 and Figure 1 , might support a selective approach to the use of time engaged with the LMS in relation to assessments: a contrasting view of potential concern, for these students in these trough periods. In this study, the authors investigated the peaks and troughs approach, to see if low levels of LMS engagement was a disadvantage for students. The results shown in Figure 2 demonstrated that it was a disadvantage, and that for every additional week of no LMS engagement, the odds of achieving a grade lower than B were almost twice as high. This result unfortunately illustrated that students who implemented a strategy of no LMS engagement for a period, such as a week or more, had a strong negative impact on their final grade. This finding is in line with literature, which links sustained effort and engagement, to a student's success ( Chickering, and Gamson, 1987 ), instead of a peaks and troughs engagement approach as highlighted in this study.
An unexpected result to arise from the analysis of LMS interactions with this research was presented in Table 2 . Here the authors identified that the act of working on one course for a student assessment coincided with increasing engagement in one or both other courses. That is, when a student was online working on one course assessment, they also appeared to use that opportunity to bundle their LMS time and log on and to another course. This could be considered an ‘online bundle learning’ strategy. This strategy has been evidenced in other online environments, for example when the viewing or the sale of one product is bundled to that of another, in order to get greater sales and/or views ( Jiang et al., 2018 ). The results in Table 2 showed effect size differences and ‘online bundle learning’ occurred 80% of the time a student was online for a course with an assessment due, they also had increased levels of LMS engagement in one or both of their other courses. The implications for the HE course leaders is to recognize the positive engagement ‘bundle’ effect when they plan the time to upload new material to their online course so that the engagement of the students is maximised.
A concluding point from Figure 1 is the impact on engagement of the timing of the final course assessments in relation to each other. While the timing of assessments is a challenge in HE, with multiple courses all needing to schedule assessments, having a short space between assessments due dates, may put substantiable pressure on students to complete these assessments. The timing of assessments is a key topic that students in HE cite as a major source of stress ( Divaris, et al., 2008 ). The timing of assessments is an area where there needs to be greater cross faculty integration, to assist with student stress management and well-being ( Divaris et al., 2008 ). Especially with 1st year students, where most courses are the same for students, there is the opportunity for faculty staff to work together and space the assessments more.
In summary, this research aimed to firstly understand the student learning strategy in the enforced COVID-19 environment and the learning curves used by 1st year students. This large cohort of students was a particularly important group to understand, as the strategies developed in the 1st semester of a degree can have an impact on overall HE achievement ( Khan et al.. (2020) . This study revealed that during COVID-19 student online learning engagement followed a strong pattern of peaks and troughs, where their engagement was almost 400% greater when an assessment was due, compared to other times during the semester.
The second research question considered the influence of learning strategy on achievement. The results indicated that if students implemented a compounding none-engagement strategy with a course, then their grades significantly decrease. Success in HE is traditionally linked to sustained engagement, in a course of study, but the learning curves observed did not support this traditional strategy. An alternative ‘online bundle learning’ strategy emerged that occurred across multiple courses. Recognition of this ‘bundle strategy’ in cross faculty communication is an area that needs future investigation. Not only to improve the timing of assessments for students, but to also upload material online to all courses at a time when a student is likely to be submitting an assessment in another course as the student is likely to engage more with the uploaded material at this time.
Data Availability Statement
The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.
This article has been written by the four authors listed. The first two authors have contributed equally to this work and share the first authorship. The third and fourth authors were primarily focused on the data collection and analysis and editing, while the first two authors wrote the 1st draft and final edits.
Conflict of Interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.
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Keywords: online bundle learning, engagment, higher education, COVID-19, Learning Management Systems
Citation: Millar S-K, Spencer K, Stewart T and Dong M (2021) Learning Curves in COVID-19: Student Strategies in the ‘new normal’?. Front. Educ. 6:641262. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2021.641262
Received: 13 December 2020; Accepted: 16 February 2021; Published: 19 March 2021.
Copyright © 2021 Millar, Spencer, Stewart and Dong. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.
*Correspondence: Sarah-Kate Millar, [email protected]
This article is part of the Research Topic
Covid-19 and Beyond: From (Forced) Remote Teaching and Learning to ‘The New Normal’ in Higher Education