In a few short weeks, students of all ages, throughout the US, are planning to return to school. But the coronavirus pandemic is causing education to look very different this year, including some classes, especially those in higher education, being moved online. After classes were forced online earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at Indiana University’s eLearning Research and Practice Lab surveyed students and faculty to learn more about the impact the move had and provide actionable insights to help improve instruction during future semesters. Based on a full-census survey of all undergraduates and instructors across all IU campuses, the researchers learned that students missed having close contact with their instructors and classmates during the sudden shift to online. As fall semester approaches, researchers said faculty will need to work hard to establish strong learning communities, build opportunities for collaboration and camaraderie among students, and ensure a strong sense of instructor presence in class. The researchers recommended faculty assign classwork in alignment with clear learning goals. Faculty also should create opportunities for student-instructor communication, especially for first- and second-year students, and facilitate student success and foster a sense of virtual community through student-to-student communication. Finally, researchers recommend faculty collaborate with their peers by sharing materials as well as successes and providing opportunities for others to do the same. Researchers will keep digging into the data to help faculty and students continue to adjust to an ever-changing education landscape.
As teachers prepare to help students adjust to a new normal, they are under more pressure than ever. Elisheva Cohen, an education researcher at Indiana University, says as educational leaders scramble to plan models of remote, socially distanced, and hybrid learning for the fall, their planning must also prioritize caring for teachers. Through her research, Cohen has found there are four ways educational leaders can support teachers going forward. First, equip teachers to quickly connect families to the systems, resources and supports available in their community, including social workers, nutritional support, school counselors, health care providers and others. Second, offer social-emotional and mental-health support to teachers, not just students and families. It is important, Cohen says, that teachers return to schools with compassionate leadership offering clear, supportive, and affirming messaging about the valuable work teachers are doing to navigate the crisis. Third, teachers need to be given robust professional support systems and time to plan. Teachers need dedicated time to assess what did or didn’t work well, collaborate, learn from each other, and create more sustainable, effective, and flexible instructional practices and models. Finally, Cohen says leaders should put clear supports in place for teachers who fall ill with coronavirus. Teachers need to know that they can care for themselves without risking their livelihoods. In the weeks ahead, as educational leaders plan for the fall, Cohen says prioritizing caring for teachers is a worthy investment in the future for us all.