For the last seven months of 2020, school districts have gone through extreme changes regarding how learning is happening in pandemic-induced hybrid and digital learning environments.
In a recent edWeb edLeader Panel sponsored by Project Tomorrow, Dr. Julie Evans, CEO of Project Tomorrow, and Christina Fleming, Vice President of Blackboard K12, presented the Speak Up 2019-2020 National Findings titled Digital Learning During the Pandemic: Emerging Evidence of an Education Transformation.
The research surveyed more than 136,000 K-12 students, teachers, and parents, focused on what digital learning looked like during the pandemic, and revealed potential emerging transformation evidence.
Digital learning during the pandemic
The Speak Up data revealed an increase in students’ access to mobile devices, tablets, laptops, and Chromebooks. The largest increases seen were where schools and districts invested in Chromebooks as their students’ home devices. It was also evident in the research that teachers were using more digital content than before. There was a weekly increase of 41 percent in online animated movies and smaller, but still significant, increases in simulations, online curriculum use, mobile apps for learning, and cloud-based collaboration tools.
As a result of increased access and increased use, there was a noticeable shift in teachers’ interest in the professional development types they needed. Data precisely from teachers during the school closure period reflected their desire to understand how to implement new learning environments due to their experience. There was a 120 percent increase in teachers saying they want to learn how to teach an online class as well as increased interest in the use of social media to communicate with parents and students, how to create videos, and facilitate an online discussion forum or a blended or flipped classroom.
Students, teachers, and parents all agreed communication between students and teachers in grades 6 -12 increased significantly–an outcome of school closures and digital tools outside of school.
Emerging education transformation
Some interesting perspectives from teachers and parents became apparent during the Speak Up research project.
Whereas many teachers had previously thought of technology exclusively as a tool for student engagement, there was evidence that with the sudden shift to digital learning, technology was the learning platform.
As a result of the teachers’ increased experience using technology, mainly digital content, they become better informed about what constitutes high quality in that digital content and what they wanted to see in the products for use in the classroom. Digital tools added value for both teachers and parents as the tools facilitated more student-centered learning focused on individual student’s strengths and support needs. It led to another key finding from the Speak Up research this year: parents are much more supportive of the value of effective technology use in supporting their child’s future success.
What remained consistent before school closures and after school closures was student perspectives on online and virtual learning environments. Forty-nine percent of students surveyed agreed that their best learning experiences involve solving real-world, hands-on, project-based learning. They also felt that online gaming gave them opportunities to problem solve, collaborate, and use critical-thinking skills. Fifty percent of students in grades 6-12 stated that digital tools help them develop a greater sense of personal ownership of the learning process.
The research conducted by Dr. Evans and Project Tomorrow plays a vital role in uncovering growth and opportunity in K-12 education, underscored Fleming. The information provided in the Speak Up National Findings will support district and state leaders to make policy decisions “that will share the future of our educational system, and by virtue, shape the future of our children.”