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Blog post Covid-19, education and educational research

Online teacher education in times of Covid-19

Darío Luis Banegas, University of Strathclyde

Almost all dimensions of human experience have been affected by the Covid-19 outbreak, and governments around the world have adopted stringent measures to stop the spread of the virus. One such measure has been a lockdown or quarantine which has altered, for example, the delivery of formal education. As a teacher educator in an entirely asynchronous online pre-service English language teacher education programme in Argentina, my first assumption was that as our programme had been online before the pandemic we – tutors and student-teachers – would not suffer the consequences of transitioning from face-to-face to online learning at a dramatic speed as reported in the literature (see for example Moorhouse, 2020). However, I was mistaken.

‘As an online teacher education programme, at first I assumed we would not be affected. However, I began to notice student-teachers’ failure to meet deadlines and scant participation in discussion forums.’

The academic year started on 2 March, but on 19 March Argentina enacted its lockdown policy. As we navigated the rest of March and April, I began to notice something uncommon: student-teachers’ failure to meet deadlines, or scant participation in discussion forums. The burgeoning of synchronous sessions around the world via online platforms such as Zoom created an institutional bandwagon effect and, consequently, tutors were encouraged to arrange sessions with the student-teachers. I only offered one session, as less than half the student-teachers showed and some of them could not hide their frustration. Motivated by my experiences of this issue, I conducted a small-scale action research study with 34 student-teachers to understand whether the lockdown was affecting the online learning experience. After having secured ethical approval, I collected the student-teachers’ perceptions through forum discussions and reflective tasks embedded in my module. Their accounts reflect some of the challenges they have faced, and I illustrate them according to six key themes found across most of the 34 participants (pseudonyms have been used).

  • Wellbeing: ‘Even though I’m studying to be a teacher of English, I already work as one at state schools in my city. Now I also do all my teaching online, for which I was never prepared, and it becomes a threat to my wellbeing because now all my work and study, and even socialising, are online, and I can’t cope with so much screen exposure.’ (Analía)
  • Access to resources: ‘I am a mother of two, and there’s only one desktop computer at home. Now, my sons spend a lot of time learning and we need to take turns to use the computer, and of course their education is my priority. Sometimes I try to access the material through my mobile phone but then I can’t type my assignments.’ (Valeria)
  • Loss of self-paced learning: ‘The Zoom sessions were the last straw. I chose this programme because I could manage the time, but this adds another layer and increases the challenges we face on a regular basis.’ (Alan)
  • Anxiety: ‘Before all this I’d read the core and optional reading, now that’s just impossible.’ (Arturo)
  • Home-schooling: ‘I’m divorced and raise my three kids alone. I now have to teach my youngest kid to read and write, so home-schooling is taking up most of my time, and when I have some free time at night I can’t think any more.’ (Renata)
  • Economic instability: ‘I work at a small café, and the owners could pay me March, but they couldn’t pay April, and this situation is just appalling and I don’t have the energy to study because it’s my basic needs which are at stake.’ (Lorena)

The themes show that even programmes that were delivered online before the pandemic have been deeply affected. In response to this dramatic scenario I made some research-informed pedagogical changes such as:

  • flexible deadlines
  • freedom to complete tasks individually or in groups to relieve student-teachers from group meetings
  • not holding synchronous sessions
  • deletion of optional reading to reduce student-teachers’ anxiety
  • change from article-based tasks to short video-based tasks to reduce screen exposure.

While this experience is inevitably context-dependent and atypical, these findings may resonate with other settings. Despite our individual circumstances, teacher education programmes have been affected by a global problem which, as some of these themes illustrate, have made inequity in terms of distribution of resources more visible than ever.


Reference

Moorhouse, B. L. (2020). Adaptations to a face-to-face initial teacher education course ‘forced’ online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of Education for Teaching. https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2020.1755205