skip to main content

Title: I will teach you here or there, I will try to teach you anywhere: perceived supports and barriers for emergency remote teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic
Abstract Background

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many universities moved to emergency remote teaching (ERT). This allowed institutions to continue their instruction despite not being in person. However, ERT is not without consequences. For example, students may have inadequate technological supports, such as reliable internet and computers. Students may also have poor learning environments at home and may need to find added employment to support their families. In addition, there are consequences to faculty. It has been shown that female instructors are more disproportionately impacted in terms of mental health issues and increased domestic labor. This research aims to investigate instructors’ and students’ perceptions of their transition to ERT. Specifically, during the transition to ERT at a research-intensive, Minority-Serving Institution (MSI), we wanted to: (1) Identify supports and barriers experienced by instructors and students. (2) Compare instructors’ experiences with the students’ experiences. (3) Explore these supports and barriers within the context ofsocial presence,teaching presence, and/orcognitive presenceas well as how these supports and barriers relate toscaffoldingin STEM courses.


Instructors identified twice as many barriers as supports in their teaching during the transition to ERT and identified casual and formal conversations with colleagues as valuable supports. Emerging categories for barriers consisted of academic integrity concerns as well as technological difficulties. Similarly, students identified more barriers than supports in their learning during the transition to ERT. More specifically, students described pre-existing course structure, classroom technology, and community as best supporting their learning. Barriers that challenged student learning included classroom environment, student availability, and student emotion and comfort.


Together, this research will help us understand supports and barriers to teaching and learning during the transition to ERT. This understanding can help us better plan and prepare for future emergencies, particularly at MSIs, where improved communication and increased access to resources for both students and instructors are key.

more » « less
Award ID(s):
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ;
Publisher / Repository:
Springer Science + Business Media
Date Published:
Journal Name:
International Journal of STEM Education
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. null (Ed.)
    This research paper studies the challenges that mathematics faculty and graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) faced when moving active and collaborative calculus courses from in-person to virtual instruction. As part of a larger pedagogical change project (described below), the math department at a public Research-1 university began transitioning pre-calculus and calculus courses to an active and collaborative learning (ACL) format in Fall 2019. The change began with the introduction of collaborative worksheets in recitations which were led by GTAs and supported by undergraduate learning assistants (LAs). Students recitation periods collaboratively solving the worksheet problems on whiteboards. When COVID-19 forced the rapid transition to online teaching, these ACL efforts faced an array of challenges. Faculty and GTA reflections on the changes to teaching and learning provide insight into how instructional staff can be supported in implementing ACL across various modes of instruction. The calculus teaching change efforts discussed in this paper are part of an NSF-supported project that aims to make ACL the default method of instruction in highly enrolled gateway STEM courses across the institution. The theoretical framework for the project builds on existing work on grassroots change in higher education (Kezar and Lester, 2011) to study the effect of communities of practice on changing teaching culture. The project uses course-based communities of practice (Wenger, 1999) that include instructors, GTAs, and LAs working together to design and enact teaching change in the targeted courses alongside ongoing professional development for GTAs and LAs. Six faculty and five GTAs involved in the teaching change effort in mathematics were interviewed after the Spring 2020 semester ended. Interview questions focused on faculty and GTA experiences implementing active learning after the rapid transition to online teaching. A grounded coding scheme was used to identify common themes in the challenges faced by instructors and GTAs as they moved online and in the impacts of technology, LA support, and the department community of practice on the move to online teaching. Technology, including both access and capabilities, emerged as a common barrier to student engagement. A particular barrier was students’ reluctance to share video or participate orally in sessions that were being recorded, making group work more difficult than it had been in a physical classroom. In addition, most students lacked access to a tablet for freehand writing, presenting a significant hurdle for sharing mathematical notation when physical whiteboards were no longer an option. These challenges point to the importance of incorporating flexibility in active learning implementation and in the professional development that supports teaching changes toward active learning, since what is conceived for a collaborative physical classroom may be implemented in a much different environment. The full paper will present a detailed analysis of the data to better understand how faculty and GTA experiences in the transition to online delivery can inform planning and professional development as the larger institutional change effort moves forward both in mathematics and in other STEM fields. 
    more » « less
  2. Abstract Background

    Belonging is a fundamental human motivation associated with a wide range of positive psychological, educational, social, and job outcomes. Frequent and predominantly conflict‐free interactions within a stable, relational framework of caring are required to facilitate belonging.


    The goal of this study was to understand if and how emergency remote teaching (ERT) used during the COVID‐19 pandemic changed the ways in which instructional support and interactions were linked to belonging among engineering students.


    This study used survey data from a cross‐sectional dataset at a single large institution comprised of sophomore to senior‐level students (n = 1485) enrolled in engineering courses between 2016 and 2021. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to study relationships among instructional support, instructor interactions, and belonging.


    HLM models of ERT and traditional learning differed dramatically. In traditional classroom learning, race, interactions with faculty and teaching assistants (TAs), and instructional support were important factors in belonging. In ERT, certain motivations to study engineering (altruism, desire to build things) had nuanced associations with belonging, while race and interactions with faculty and TAs became largely irrelevant. Most concerning, faculty interactions in traditional learning were negatively associated with belonging.


    Rather than returning to pre‐pandemic traditional learning, a hybrid model that offers a more level playing field for marginalized students to find belonging in the classroom is recommended. In developing such models, faculty must take special care to avoid having a potentially negative impact on student belonging.

    more » « less
  3. Abstract Background

    The first day of class helps students learn about what to expect from their instructors and courses. Messaging used by instructors, which varies in content and approach on the first day, shapes classroom social dynamics and can affect subsequent learning in a course. Prior work established the non-content Instructor Talk Framework to describe the language that instructors use to create learning environments, but little is known about the extent to which students detect those messages. In this study, we paired first day classroom observation data with results from student surveys to measure how readily students in introductory STEM courses detect non-content Instructor Talk.


    To learn more about the instructor and student first day experiences, we studied 11 introductory STEM courses at two different institutions. The classroom observation data were used to characterize course structure and use of non-content Instructor Talk. The data revealed that all instructors spent time discussing their instructional practices, building instructor/student relationships, and sharing strategies for success with their students. After class, we surveyed students about the messages their instructors shared during the first day of class and determined that the majority of students from within each course detected messaging that occurred at a higher frequency. For lower frequency messaging, we identified nuances in what students detected that may help instructors as they plan their first day of class.


    For instructors who dedicate the first day of class to establishing positive learning environments, these findings provide support that students are detecting the messages. Additionally, this study highlights the importance of instructors prioritizing the messages they deem most important and giving them adequate attention to more effectively reach students. Setting a positive classroom environment on the first day may lead to long-term impacts on student motivation and course retention. These outcomes are relevant for all students, but in particular for students in introductory STEM courses which are often critical prerequisites for being in a major.

    more » « less
  4. Abstract Background

    STEM instructors who leverage student thinking can positively influence student outcomes and build their own teaching expertise. Leveraging student thinking involves using the substance of student thinking to inform instruction. The ways in which instructors leverage student thinking in undergraduate STEM contexts, and what enables them to do so effectively, remains largely unexplored. We investigated how undergraduate STEM faculty leverage student thinking in their teaching, focusing on faculty who engage students in work during class.


    From analyzing interviews and video of a class lesson for eight undergraduate STEM instructors, we identified a group of instructors who exhibited high levels of leveraging student thinking (high-leveragers) and a group of instructors who exhibited low levels of leveraging student thinking (low-leveragers). High-leveragers behaved as if student thinking was central to their instruction. We saw this in how they accessed student thinking, worked to interpret it, and responded in the moment and after class. High-leveragers spent about twice as much class time getting access to detailed information about student thinking compared to low-leveragers. High-leveragers then altered instructional plans from lesson to lesson and during a lesson based on their interpretation of student thinking. Critically, high-leveragers also drew on much more extensive knowledge of student thinking, a component of pedagogical content knowledge, than did low-leveragers. High-leveragers used knowledge of student thinking to create access to more substantive student thinking, shape real-time interpretations, and inform how and when to respond. In contrast, low-leveragers accessed student thinking less frequently, interpreted student thinking superficially or not at all, and never discussed adjusting the content or problems for the following lesson.


    This study revealed that not all undergraduate STEM instructors who actively engage students in work during class are also leveraging student thinking. In other words, not all student-centered instruction is student-thinking-centered instruction. We discuss possible explanations for why some STEM instructors are leveraging student thinking and others are not. In order to realize the benefits of student-centered instruction for undergraduates, we may need to support undergraduate STEM instructors in learning how to learn from their teaching experiences by leveraging student thinking.

    more » « less
  5. Abstract

    Due to the Covid‐19 pandemic, the education system worldwide faced sudden and unforeseen challenges. Many academic institutions closed their doors, forcing both educators and students to transition to Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) for the remainder of the semester. This transition eliminated hands‐on experiences, increased workload, and altered curricula. However, these aspects, as well as students' perceptions, study habits, and performance in response to ERT remain poorly documented. This contribution describes changes in the curriculum of an undergraduate cadaver‐based laboratory, and explores students' performance, self‐perceived learning, and overall satisfaction during this educational crisis. Online content delivery for this course included both asynchronous instruction and synchronous discussion sessions. While formative assessments remained the same, online spotter examinations included short answer, multiple choice, multiple answer, ordering, and true and false questions. Despite examination grades improving 20% during ERT, students reported lower levels of learning, confidence, and engagement with the course materials when compared to the face‐to‐face portion of the class. The most prevalent challenges identified by students were those related to the loss of access to cadaver‐based learning, including difficulty identifying and visualizing structures in three dimensions, and the loss of context and sensorial cues. Flexibility in taking examinations and learning the material at their own pace were recognized as positive outcomes of the ERT transition. While the resulting student perceptions and performances are unsurprising, they offer insight into the challenges of fostering a productive learning environment in a future threatened by epidemic outbreak and economic uncertainty.

    more » « less