About Three-quarters of Teachers Who Previously Used No Online Resources Now Harness Them
Experts at the HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education have come up with findings from a large-scale survey they have conducted in association with the HSE Institute of Education, which aimed to gauge how well school teachers have been able to transition online amid Covid-19 directives that have temporarily shut down conventional learning. In all, 22,600 teachers from 73 Russian regions have been interviewed. The results propose that the overall assessment of how comfortable the Russian teacher corps have found themselves taking instruction to the digital dimension is more optimistic than what was first thought back to when schools had just set about moving online.
Using Online Platforms
Researchers found that, even before switching to distance learning, 64% of the teachers surveyed had used online educational platforms regularly or occasionally, mainly for covering complex topics in their subject or for homework.
When schools switched to distance learning, the share of those using online resources during lessons increased from 64% to 85%. In addition, 74% of teachers who had never used any online educational resources whatsoever began employing them. Of those, 47% said they would probably continue using such resources in their work in the future.
The most popular platforms that schools currently use are Uchi.ru, Russian Electronic School (RESH), YaKlass, and Education.Yandex.ru. Interestingly, Uchi.ru is the most popular among small cities and rural towns, while RESH leads the cities with a population of one million people or more.
In most cases, teachers choose the online platforms they find most convenient for themselves and their students, or else schools choose one or several platforms for the whole school to use.
Some teachers who still do not use distance learning tools explain that this is due to technical problems their students have. ‘Most of the students in my class do not even have Internet connections through their phones, much less high-speed connections, and only three of them own computers,’ one respondent said. Some teachers from this group said they do not have the necessary equipment themselves. ‘I have one laptop at home that my son who is in his senior year of high school uses,’ said one teacher, ‘and when he is done, another son who is in the ninth grade uses it.’
Teachers who regularly conduct lessons remotely listed several main problems they encounter. These include difficulty connecting all the children to the video broadcast, connection failures in the video platform due to heavy traffic, and the children’s inability to connect to the online broadcasts without help from someone else.
The residents of cities with a population of 250k people or more are most likely to use the popular video communication platforms, whereas rural schools located in small and medium-sized towns were at risk. There, teachers reported fewer opportunities for remote learning, with only 8% of students equipped to study online.
The study found that teachers and students in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) are significantly better equipped than those in other regions of the country. A total of 61% of teachers in Yakutia conduct lessons remotely, as compared to a national average of 25%.
Workload Has Increased
According to the study, 84% of teachers say their workload has increased with the transition to distance learning and 59% say the burden on students has also grown.
This is primarily because teachers have to master new teaching formats that, among other things, involve the methods and modes of preparation that are essentially different from what they are accustomed to when getting ready for in-person classes. Second, few teachers know how to best harness the many opportunities that online educational platforms afford.
For example, only 13% of teachers know that the online educational platforms can check homework automatically and 75% of the respondents said they had not conducted video lessons at all as part of distance learning.
Lack of Mastery and Infrastructural Downsides
Many teachers said they make use of online resources, but few of them were aware of all of the functions they offer.
‘Many teachers report that they post homework assignments online and students study the lesson independently. Then they submit their completed homework by post, email, or a mobile messenger service that their parents use. Teachers also consider this method a form of distance learning,’ the experts comment.
The problem with this method is that students receive no feedback and that parents end up explaining the lessons to their children all on their own. But it is difficult to blame teachers for not conducting lessons or interacting with students online.
As the researchers note, many regions, and rural areas in particular, still have no adequate technical infrastructure in place: the Internet connections are unstable and run at speeds that are too slow for smooth video conferencing to be arranged, and the necessary IT equipment is still lacking in many households.
Yet, as many as 84% of teachers report that they have the necessary technical equipment to work on educational platforms and 22% said they use their school computers to conduct classes online.
According to teachers, students are much more poorly equipped, with only 38% able to complete homework assignments using online educational platforms.
Other Problems that Teachers Point to
In addition to technical difficulties, teachers were unclear on how to hold remote lessons in art, music and physical education, or how students could engage with psychologists and speech therapists. Some schools have cancelled lessons in these subjects while distance learning is in place, and those teachers are worried about retaining their salaries. Teachers also noted that there were no easy-to-use distance learning platforms for working with children with disabilities.
Children living in rural areas and families with many children face the greatest hurdles. The quality of distance learning varies markedly by Russian region, but this is largely akin to disparities that are now observed in other countries.
‘The HSE Institute of Education is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of how learning is organized and unfolds during the pandemic,’ Head of the IOE Center for General and Extracurricular Education, Sergey Kosaretsky said. ‘We have been able to confirm the data obtained by the HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education as well as inputs from other sources.’
‘I hope that having shown that people are facing similar problems, effective solutions will be devised and disseminated more rapidly,’ Kosaretsky said. ‘These may include, for example, providing free gadgets and other specific types of support, including counseling, to low-income families and other vulnerable cohorts that have been affected the most by the e-learning disruption.’
Head of the IOE Center for General and Extracurricular Education