Distance Education and COVID-19: A Case Study of Public K-8 Education in A Rural Canadian School District
The SARS-CoV-2 pandemic wreaked havoc on a number of US systems. K-12 Education was not exempt. This project was created to explore how students interacted with distance learning during the pandemic.
Our Principal Investigator, Joseph Hunter, had a marked interest in pre-pandemic distance learning. As a professor of Education Administration, he often worked with adult professionals who were also students and found it difficult to juggle a schedule that required them to make multiple commutes. This interest developed when the coronavirus pandemic broke in the United States in March of 2020; the rapid shift to distance learning offered a particularly unique set of circumstances as well as, very quickly, a suddenly larger group of students and educators who were experiencing distance learning for the first time.
This research sought to explore the experience of teachers and parents who were experiencing the often-haphazard quick change to elearning. Many districts were unprepared for students to start learning through online platforms, and this unsteadiness contributed to education inequity that was already present and documented in American public schools. Additionally, teachers were suddenly saddled with additional duties because of the pandemic: extra planning during distance learning and learning new programs, the new expectation to police students’ COVID mitigation measures like masking and social distancing, and concerns about health risks with face-to-face instruction. Together, these issues contributed to a set of circumstances that burdened public schools, contributing to teacher stress and learning loss. This project sought to understand how these issues were affecting local schools through surveys borrowed from the national think tank the RAND corporation, with the express goal of offering professional development to educators and to parents based on the answers participants gave describing their own experience with coronavirus pandemic learning.
Joseph Hunter, Principal Investigator, Western Washington University and the Developing Successful People Foundation
Rhiannon Joker, Research Assistant, Western Washington University and the Developing Successful People Foundation
Hars Virk, Research Assistant, Western Washington University and Abbottsford Middle School
Ian Levings, Principal, Abbottsford Middle School
Duane Penner, Principal, Poplar Elementary School
Jaskiran Dhaliwal, Teacher, Abbottsford Middle School
Jasbir Singh, Principal, Eugene Reimer Middle School
Graeme Kemp, Vice Principal, Eugene Reimer Middle School
Explanation of the Survey We Used
Each calendar year, the RAND corporation conducts a national survey of the state of issues in public education in the United States. Their survey includes a large body of questions that explore the state of education, including the most pressing challenges teachers are facing, where their students are falling behind, and wants or needs they have for the future. The survey for the 2019-2020 school year offered an especially unique look at K-12 school challenges as it served the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
Participants were recruited through email to schools in the Abbotsford school district in Abbotsford, British Columbia. The initial surveys were distributed to educators within Abbotsford schools to compare their answers against the national RAND study in order to give them resources and opportunities for professional development based on their answers, which would offer them tailor-made solutions to the problems they outlined in the initial surveys.
The preliminary project proposal also included a second stage for teacher and administrator participants to request their own professional development, provided by the Developing Successful People Foundation through independent contractors, based on their survey responses and the district’s highest need. Initial project plans also included surveys for parents of students who attend schools within the Abbotsford School District. The surveys for parents were similar to those administered to educators: they asked parents for information on how they interacted with pandemic learning, where they needed more support, and how they believed it affected their students’ schooling.
The survey we used, pulled from the RAND annual educator panels, explored what difficulties teachers were facing while they implemented pandemic learning. Results from our survey mirrored those of the national surveys, showing that teachers had particular difficulty with keeping students on-task and engaged while they were learning from home.
Explanation of Conference Presentations
The results of this research were presented at two conferences in 2022, both hosted by the National Social Science Association. In March, initial findings of a preliminary literature review were presented alongside one-to-one testimonies of school administrators. Each of these presentations laid the stage for the proposed research to come: out of the first conference presentation, we were able to write a larger literature review manuscript as well as a manuscript addressing the causes and effects of teacher stress during the coronavirus pandemic. These are currently under review to be published in the NSSA’s conference proceedings journals.
As has been stated above, the COVID-19 pandemic brought an exceptional amount of stress to both schools and individuals. We were able to make contact with educators from three schools in British Columbia – Abbotsford Middle School, Eugene Reimer Middle School, and Poplar Elementary School – but because of the stress, turmoil, and lack of infrastructure that resulted from the pandemic, the schools could not or did not want to move forward with professional trainings offered by this project. Also because of these reasons, we were unable to maintain the original schedule, meaning the data obtained is surveys from teachers only, rather than from teachers and parents. Despite these setbacks, we were able to gain valuable information about how schools are dealing with the past three years of disrupted learning, as well as a unique and personal interaction with the way stress and burnout from the pandemic is affecting educators.
This project has allowed us to explore the most pressing issues that classrooms are facing as a result of COVID-19 disruptions. Future projects build upon the information gathered here to support teachers as their classrooms continue to recover.
The pandemic has created disruption for students and for teachers, and neither have been adequately supported, nor is there long-term systematic plans for supports to help the teachers and students recover.