Teacher survey reveals lessons learned while teaching from home

8 Jul 2020

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A lack of motivation and limited access to devices have hampered the ability to teach remotely, a survey of Irish secondary-school teachers has found.

Researchers from Trinity College Dublin have published results from a survey detailing how more than 700 secondary-school teachers have found working from home and its effects on their students.

Among the biggest findings was that one-fifth of teachers surveyed said they did not foster collaboration among students during restrictions and more than half of teachers reported a decrease in collaboration since school closures.

This was particularly prevalent in Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS), where teachers were almost three times more likely to report low engagement. This is defined as an average of less than 30pc of students engaging with teachers.

Other issues flagged in the anonymous survey of 723 post-primary school subject teachers from 102 schools showed that more than one-third of teachers rated support from the Department of Education and Skills as either ‘terrible’ or ‘poor’. Teachers who also reported a lack of a dedicated school IT infrastructure were more likely to report low engagement and some expressed concern about students with disabilities.

“I feel the lack of personal connection with students places a barrier in the way of motivation, engagement, collaboration and all else in teaching,” one teacher said.

“Technology has helped me to organise lessons and information, but places a large obstacle  for teaching and learning especially for disadvantaged students.”

Almost one-fifth (18pc) of teachers reported that limited access to devices was a key factor in preventing students from fully engaging with online learning at home. In one case, a teacher reported that some of their students were working off a parent’s phone. Additionally, 13pc of teachers pointed to poor broadband availability as a barrier to student engagement.

In all, 38pc of teachers said they found their ability to motivate uninterested students was ‘much worse’ since school closures. 16pc also said their ability to increase student self-belief was ‘much worse’ and 34pc said it was ‘somewhat worse’.

Mixed response to online tools

However, in-school supports and social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were cited by many as useful sources of information to continue their teaching online and helped other students become more engaged.

Another teacher wrote: “Some students who would really struggle in school have shown themselves to be very creative and talented when given a different medium or more options to express themselves and present their work.”

While some teachers revealed that they were happy to learn new platforms such as Google Classroom, others expressed concern that they were struggling to keep up with new online tools.

Speaking of the survey’s findings, Dr Ann Devitt, director of research at the School of Education and the academic director at The Learnovate Centre, said: “Our findings show that there is a need for teachers to foster relationships with students when they return to the classroom.

“But there is also a need for teachers to be ready in case such a shutdown happens again and we believe continuing professional development is needed for teachers on how to provide collaborative learning online. Given their centrality in engaging and providing continuity of learning for students, it is essential for policy development that the perspectives of teachers are captured, and their experiences of online teaching understood.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic