Initial response to COVID-19: a mixed-methods analysis of media and school communications to identify pedagogical implications for remote teaching

Lauren Eutsler (Department of Teacher Education and Administration, University of North Texas, Denton, Texas, USA)
Pavlo D. Antonenko (University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida, USA)
Chrystine Mitchell (York College of Pennsylvania, York, Pennsylvania, USA)

Interactive Technology and Smart Education

ISSN: 1741-5659

Article publication date: 4 December 2020

Issue publication date: 22 September 2021

1122

Abstract

Purpose

Immediately following the declaration of the national emergency of the COVID-19 pandemic in the USA, the purpose of this study was to examine one month of social media, news media, school district websites’ continuity plans and educational affiliate organizations, to unveil K-12 stakeholders’ initial response to K-12 remote teaching.

Design/methodology/approach

Framed by connectivism theory, the authors used a mixed-methods sequential explanatory design to conduct a systematic content analysis of 43,870 tweets, news media, school district websites’ continuity plans and educational affiliate organizations.

Findings

Initial responses focused on community lockdown procedures, sustaining education, adapting to a remote lifestyle and political tension. The authors revisited included tweets one week later to measure their connectedness, which revealed that educational organizations, which have the largest number of followers, also have the greatest outreach and visibility.

Practical implications

Based on the collective decision-making of education stakeholders, the authors provide three remote teaching recommendations and pedagogical implications for sustainable remote teaching practices.

Originality/value

The authors construct a blueprint from some of the largest school districts, and consequently the COVID-19 hotspots, to broadly examine emergency preparedness and remote instruction plans.

Keywords

Citation

Eutsler, L., Antonenko, P.D. and Mitchell, C. (2021), "Initial response to COVID-19: a mixed-methods analysis of media and school communications to identify pedagogical implications for remote teaching", Interactive Technology and Smart Education, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 227-245. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITSE-08-2020-0159

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


On March 13, 2020, a national emergency was declared in the USA (White House, 2020), quickly garnering the attention of schools. As COVID-19 silently and voraciously spread, “Panic-gogy” (Kamenetz, 2020) set in among educators. Fear and uncertainty led universities and K-12 districts to extend spring break, and eventually close their brick and mortar campuses, requiring educators to teach remotely. Education conferences were cancelled, and affiliate groups scrambled to find alternate means of connecting professionals (e.g. Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education). Shortly thereafter, state-mandated assessments were cancelled (Gaudiano, 2020). As learning moved to “remote instruction” (Hodges et al., 2020, p. 3), educators found themselves scrambling to locate digital tools and provide their students with effective and meaningful learning experiences. These changes have a direct impact on learner engagement and classroom climate (Fraser, 2012).

To better understand remote instruction, more research on technology and teacher education is needed that is centered around the pandemic events, specifically as it relates to understanding the educational contexts within social and news media, and within each unique community space. Therefore, to examine the education concerns in these various spaces, the purpose of this study is to analyze the initial response to the world health crisis through an examination of social media, news media and school districts’ response. Based on the collective empirical findings, we provide remote teaching suggestions to these concerns. A literature review of K-12 online instruction, education disaster plans and the influence of connectivism via social and news media help to grasp the complexities of the urgent transition to remote instruction.

Literature review

One of the earliest responses to the world health crisis called upon educational researchers and practitioners to create a book entitled, Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field. A collection of the most prevalent issues, this book focuses on strategies to improve online pedagogical strategies, community and collaboration, alternative field experiences in preservice teacher education, preservice teacher education methods and pedagogy, K-16 educator professional development, digital tools and equity issues (Ferdig et al., 2020). This study builds on these recommendations by extracting data from the initial response to COVID-19.

In the following literature review, we demonstrate that learning situated within an online space requires the consideration of many influential factors, such as student motivation and engagement, impact of individual differences on learning, collaboration among students, parents and educators and best practices of distance learning and instruction. Additionally, we address an added layer of educational complexity, education disaster plans, to show how educators attempted to prepare for emergency situations. A connectivism lens provides a pathway to understanding how the media and social networks inform pedagogical and strategic learning decisions.

K-12 online instruction

Though not identical, K-12 online, commonly referred to as virtual instruction, has many shared characteristics with remote instruction, and virtual instruction has been an option for teachers, students and parents since the mid-1990s. The foundation of online learning launched in 1996 with the Florida Virtual School (formerly “Web School”), followed by the Virtual High School in 1997 (Watson and Murin, 2014). The definition of a virtual school is most commonly associated with secondary education, with the most widely accepted definition of a virtual school being that “a virtual school is an entity, which has been approved or accredited by a state or governing body within the state, that offers secondary-level courses through distance delivery – most commonly using the Internet” (Barbour and Reeves, 2009, p. 412). Though the majority of students in state-supported virtual schools in the USA are high schoolers (e.g. about 78% in Michigan; Freidhoff, 2019), virtual schools can also include elementary and middle-school student populations.

Similar to traditional face-to-face instruction, there are many factors that educators should consider that influence student achievement in distance education environments. For example, factors that impede learning include students’ motivation, engagement, self-regulatory learning skills and individual differences, such as reading ability or working memory capacity (Authors, 2020). Perceptions of students, parents and educators all provide an additional important perspective on the challenges and concerns of remote learning and teaching. Established best practices for effective online education (Moore, 2018) offer useful guidelines to model effective remote instruction. Even in the time of a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic, educational organizations serve as ongoing resources and professional development for educators and parents.

Student motivation and engagement.

Student motivation and engagement during remote teaching and learning is a focal point for educators. For example, there is a need to create a support network to sustain student-centered, active pedagogy (Williams et al., 2020) and focus on best practices to teach kindergarteners during remote learning (Vu et al., 2020). An investigation into adolescent students’ attitudes toward virtual learning reveals that a motivation to learn is connected to their commitment to education, in addition to whether students receive appropriate support and guidance from their teacher (Weiner, 2003). A variable more difficult to gauge is teachers’ knowledge and use of digital technology applications (e.g. Padlet and Flipgrid), which influences to what extent students engage socially in lectures and discussion (Frangou and Keskitalo, 2020). Engagement can also vary by learner, which has been noted when secondary students used technology to enhance their learning. Students identified as higher performing were able to concentrate and focus on their digital work compared to lower performing students, who were otherwise distracted by social media and streaming media (Bergdahl et al., 2020). Inequitable engagement opportunities are an even larger concern since the pandemic, which has revealed greater disparities among students’ individual access to digital technologies and the internet (Carey et al., 2020; Plante and Palmer, 2020).

Impact of individual differences on learning.

Additionally, virtual school populations tend to differ from traditional schools, and for this reason, virtual school students tend to have different needs. These differences have direct implications on instruction. For example, socio-economic status impacts student achievement. In Michigan, 66% of virtual school students live in poverty, of which only 49% pass, compared to a 69% pass rate for students not living in poverty (Freidhoff, 2019). Educators emphasize the importance of understanding the virtual school population, possessing technical expertise and providing regular feedback and clear expectations for students (Oliver et al., 2010). Achievement is also affected by students’ self-efficacy – higher-performing students tend to have higher self-efficacy and a greater effort regulation, which lead to increased achievement (Kim et al., 2015). The most important factor shown to impact student achievement is directly related to students’ time spent in the learning management system, or what is often referred to as behavioral engagement (Liu and Cavanaugh, 2011, 2012). A study of 802 high school students enrolled in 14 online courses found females actively participated more than males and that a higher degree of online activity and discussion forum viewing and posting was associated with improved final grades (Lowes et al., 2016).

Collaboration among students, parents and educators.

Because parents provide instructional support in a virtual setting, the parental role is a vital factor to support student learning (Borup et al., 2014). A study of 24 African-American and 16 Hispanic students identified factors that led to achievement: collaborative learning activities, access to resources, time convenience, student–teacher interactions and student–student interactions (Kumi–Yeboah et al., 2018). Students emphasized the need for parental support to enhance online learning experiences and students’ academic self-concept, and remarked that virtual learning lacked a social presence and lack of cultural inclusion in course content (Kumi–Yeboah et al., 2018). Individual parent interviews also relayed considerations for educators, students and parents. For example, educators should support families through effective communication, transparency to use tools and individualizing instruction (Curtis and Werth, 2015). Parents added that students should be self-motivated, engaged, participate actively and accountable for their own learning; however, parents should be available to monitor, mentor and motivate students (Curtis and Werth, 2015). As a result of limited interactions because of significant structural institutional barriers (e.g. large class sizes, rolling enrollment, the profession and the independent-study model adopted by the school), educators caution a sense of disconnectedness among students and their peers (Hawkins et al., 2012).

Best practices of distance learning and instruction.

Best practices of effective online teaching, which we extend to our current remote teaching scenario, are derived from educational organizations such as: American Distance Education Consortium: Guiding Principles for Distance Teaching and Learning; American Federation of Teachers: Distance Education Guidelines for Good Practice; and National Education Association: Guide to Teaching Online Courses (Ferdig et al., 2009). Broad in nature to address instructional design and systemic processes, for the purpose of this study, we focus on K-12 educator stakeholder recommendations. Summarized by Ferdig et al. (2009), educators should consider these six best practices:

  1. personal (e.g. compliance with licensing, standards and credentials, use of technology to deliver content, reflective and involvement in the profession);

  2. communication (e.g. shares student progress, multiple opportunities for communication and quick and meaningful responses);

  3. programmatic (e.g. ability to modify content and delivery, maintain student records and knowledge of students’ background knowledge);

  4. pedagogy (e.g. develops critical thinking skills, accommodates for students’ differences, fosters participation and collaboration to establish community, provides engaging content, knowledge of content and pedagogy and team teach);

  5. classroom management (e.g. outlines materials and reminds students of deadlines, communicates technical support, supports time management skills, enforces academic conduct/honesty, monitors student interactions, models and participates in student discussions and balances structure and flexibility); and

  6. course management (e.g. course requirements and timetable, ability to provide tech support, evaluates and assesses students including students’ self-assessment and ensures course is up-to-date).

While these best practices for virtual instruction provide some guidance, the National Standards for Quality Online Courses developed in 2007 updated their statement in response to COVID-19, which also serves to provide educators with research supported instructional benchmarks, revised guidelines and resources to helpful teaching organizations, standards, legal guidelines and teaching frameworks (Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance and Quality Matters, 2019).

Education disaster plans

Best practice guidelines are limited by previous experiences and an ability to plan for emergency situations. Nearly every school district in the nation has a plan in the event of a disaster, typically called an all-hazards plan or an emergency operations plan (Pigozzi, 1999). These plans include guidelines for reunification and responses to a school shooting, student death, death of a faculty member, evacuation, hazardous spills, lockdown and lockouts (Appendix A). Some plans also include procedures for a school response during a pandemic, with most preparations in response to an illness such as the flu (Rebmann et al., 2016). As part of the planning process, schools describe disaster prevention and mitigation, a community resource list, school preparedness for different types of disasters and disaster response and recovery. These checklists outline the type of disaster and school district expectations to minimize the impact on staff, students and greater community.

However, it was not until COVID-19 that the term “remote instruction” (Hodges et al., 2020, p. 3) was introduced by educators, to describe a more synchronous approach to teaching and learning from home. An analysis of schools’ disaster plans across the USA revealed “state requirements that school districts plan for disasters varied greatly as did the resulting school disaster plans” (Burling and Hyle, 1997). Thus, emergency preparedness plans lacked a strategic response to remote learning. With the exception of individuals who had a personal experience with a school disaster, school leaders admit the importance of revising disaster plans, emergency response training, availability of equipment and supplies and implementation of the plan (Kano et al., 2007).

Theoretical framework

As K-12 educators design, test and implement strategies for emergency response teaching, they turn to social media outlets such as Twitter, for brainstorming, feedback and professional development (Carey et al., 2020). Similarly, policymakers, state and federal agencies and school district leaders use social media to rapidly disseminate new guidance, resources and opportunities (Hulon et al., 2020). Insights regarding how educators, leaders, students, parents and other relevant stakeholders negotiate strategies to respond to the challenges of emergency remote teaching can be gleaned through the theoretical lens of connectivism (Siemens, 2005, 2014).

Connectivism is a theoretical framework useful for understanding the nuances of the nature and dynamics of distributed knowledge in online communities of practice, such as K-12 teacher groups (nodes), part of a larger network of educators who use social media (Downes, 2008). Knowledge is distributed in the sense that it is generated and transformed by the various nodes of the network, with learning as the dynamic process of traversing the ever-changing conceptual landscape within the nodes and networks that create and connect units of information. Connectivism is useful for understanding knowledge generation in a digital, global society that is characterized by rapid changes. Today’s social groups are more connected and diverse (demographically, geographically, disciplinarily and generationally), with interactions constantly mediated by the progress between information and communication technologies. A diversity of opinions has become the primary driver of ways of knowing on social media. Thus, a core skill set for today’s connected learners is information literacy – identifying connections between information sources, filtering information and providing validation – to facilitate continual learning. Personal knowledge consists of a system of networks, and learners can stay current on any topic through the connections they have created (Duke et al., 2013).

Connectivist learning is supported by social media. Twitter specifically has a whole set of connectivism affordances to support individuals to self-organize into nodes and networks (e.g. by creating a personal network of individuals and groups to “follow” and via Twitter lists); information to be shared and rapidly transformed within and across nodes and networks (via just-in-time and relevant notifications based on the user’s Twitter activity); new node connections to be rapidly formed using Twitter hashtags; and trends to be analyzed by examining the currently trending hashtags. Connectivist learning among self-organizing and dynamic communities of practice on Twitter relies on the currency of information, diversity of opinions, ability to experience multiple perspectives, recognition of patterns within the information that is actively transformed by the community into knowledge and ongoing professional development.

Research questions and significance

Despite earlier research on distanced learning and emergency preparedness plans, additional research is needed that examines how educators, schools and community spaces responded to the US declaration of the COVID-19 health crisis. These findings can inform future educators’ pedagogical response, adaptability and preparedness for emergency remote instruction:

  • As evidenced in social media, news media, school district continuity plans and educational affiliate organizations, what is the initial response to the mandate to transition to emergency remote instruction?

  • Based on this collective empirical evidence, what pedagogical strategies do teachers use to facilitate remote instruction?

Method

This study implemented a mixed-methods sequential explanatory design (Creswell and Creswell, 2018) to investigate social media, news media, school district websites’ continuity plans and educational affiliate organization approaches to support remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. A content analysis (Neuendorf, 2002) of relevant news media and social media communications (i.e. Twitter) provides empirical data to investigate the study’s research questions. We support descriptive findings with qualitative data to provide evidence to substantiate education stakeholders’ decision-making.

Participants

Participants include 12,970 education stakeholders engaged in discussing COVID-19 imposed remote learning from around the world on Twitter. Additional data were obtained from major news media sources, educational organizations (e.g. Common Sense Media) and 15 school districts across the USA.

Data collection procedures

Immediately following the declaration of the national emergency in the USA, we implemented a Twitter Scraper add-on tool in Google sheets to systematically (up to 100/h) scrape 43,870 tweets between March 12 and 30, 2020 that included #COVID19 or #Coronavirus. By March 30, saturation on the immediate response was achieved. This initial time period was selected to measure how different education stakeholders initially responded to the remote learning mandate, to reveal a level of preparedness and provide pedagogical recommendations for remote learning.

To narrow the tweets data set, we used the Excel function IF, filtered by keyword (e.g. edtech, school, home, teach and online) to include 12,970 tweets for analysis. For tweet categories greater than 100, we used the Excel function to select 20 tweets at random to analyze those related tweets over time. The decision to select 20 tweets at random was the moment of saturation (Fusch and Ness, 2015) to capture messages from the data. Out of 12,970 tweets, each of the 16 keywords and phrases were systematically analyzed, which left 356 tweets for an in-depth analysis. Each included tweet was only coded once. Of the remaining 30,896 tweets, 100 were selected at random to ensure they were outside of the keywords applied in this study, of which none were relevant.

After one week, to explore the notion of connectivism (Siemens, 2005, 2014) and investigate whose voices were acknowledged and shared, we revisited the 356 included tweets to closely examine the connections among each tweet. We investigated whether the tweet originated as a retweet, counted whether it was retweeted, tallied its number of likes and number of comments and identified the individual according to their Twitter profile biography.

Qualitative data were obtained from the tweets, news media, school district websites’ continuity plans and educational organizations, to provide a deeper understanding and improved contextual understanding of the Twitter analysis. The researchers in the study collated these resources, sent to them by educational organizations where they were a member or subscribed to (e.g. Common Sense Media). A thorough Web search included keywords such as “remote teaching plan,” “remote learning plan,” “remote instruction,” “educator response” and “teacher response.” Emergency teaching plans were obtained from some of the largest 15 school districts and those identified as COVID-19 hot spots, where the virus was spreading more rapidly.

Data analysis

Neuendorf’s (2002) six-step process to conduct a content analysis was applied to analyze stakeholder responses from social and news media and school district education plans. Our analysis closely adhered to the process, with reliance on the scientific method, message as the unit of analysis, counting key categories, summarizing, applicability to all contexts and analysis of message characteristics.

Beginning with the first phase of Neuendorf’s (2002) content analysis, reliance on the scientific method, we hypothesized schools and teachers would demonstrate uncertainty related to school closures and expectations for teaching, while brainstorming ways to use educational technology to support the transition to remote teaching and learning. To address the message as the unit of analysis, we specifically completed a manifest analysis, to encompass a broad surface structure of multiple news and social media outlets. To count key categories within the data set, we looked for meaning and patterns across institutional announcements and Tweets which used the hashtags #coronavirus and #COVID19, sorted response items by question and finally organized these findings into categories. Finally, we tallied each category within each question to determine salience. To count key categories within the qualitative data set, items were deductively sorted by their source (e.g. Twitter, news media, school district websites’ continuity plans and educational organizations) in an Excel spreadsheet, to provide evidence for the descriptive findings from the content analysis of Tweets. The next phase, summarizing, led us to read through each source to arrive at a comprehensive summary of each data source type’s response to K-12 emergency remote teaching. We then took this summary to assess its applicability to all contexts, such as the influence of the pandemic on education at the local, state, national and international levels. The findings and implications were extracted by conducting an analysis of message characteristics, such that we arrived at themes most salient to stakeholders across these contexts during the USA’s initial response to the pandemic.

Results

Educator responses regarding emergency remote teaching to the virus were publicly available on the internet on social media (e.g. Twitter), news media (e.g. Education Week) school district websites’ continuity plans (e.g. Alachua County Public Schools) and education affiliate organizations (e.g. Common Sense Media).

Social media response

Of the 43,870 tweets, 12,970 met the criteria for analysis, after narrowed by relevant keywords. The most commonly used keywords were home (n = 5,094, 39.28%), lockdown (n = 2,363, 18.22%), “clos” for close/closure (n = 1,693, 13.05%), school (n = 909, 7.01%) and teach (n = 329, 2.54%). Following a systematic approach to random selection, 356 tweets were included for in-depth analysis (refer to Table 1 for tweet examples).

The most frequent tweets include mentions referring to community lockdown procedures (n = 114, 32.02%), with an emphasis on social distancing, closure of public places, lockdown preparation, reported virus cases, precautionary measures, school announcements and one educator obituary in connection to the virus. The topic of sustaining education (n = 76, 21.35%) focused on online teaching pedagogy, homeschool support, online learning, obstacles to remote learning, student and teacher perceptions of online learning, state teaching guidelines and teachers’ perspectives. Experts and researchers in the field of education offered their expertise to educators’ aspiring to learn a new software or technology tool. Concrete examples of instruction and learning with preferred technology tools (e.g. Screen-cast-o-matic, Google Meet, Google Classroom, Kahoot! and Zoom) were recommended with an emphasis on making personal connections with students. An example of a resource sharing to promote online learning:

Join #literacy experts, authors, and experienced virtual educators, Dr. Troy Hicks and Shaelynn Farnsworth, for the webinar on March 25 as they discuss resources and strategies to best support remote teaching and learning. Learn More: https://tryingtogether.org/event/literacy-virtual-learning/… | #edtech #covid19.

Sustaining education focused on pedagogical strategies and not the technology tool itself. The theme of adapting to a remote lifestyle (n = 62, 17.42%) led to sharing community resources, remote work conditions, community support, online shopping, discovering new hobbies and exercising online. Political tension (n = 55, 15.45%) focused on political decisions, impact on the economy, chastising others’ behavior and streaming religious gatherings. Emotional responses (n = 49, 13.76%) were evidenced through satire, gratitude, encouragement, uncertainty, mental health support, anxiety, kindness, hopefulness, analogous comparisons and nostalgia.

To provide a better context and understanding of Twitter conversations in relation to connectivism, we revisited the Tweets one week later. Of the 356 included tweets that were re-examined the week following the initial three-week data collection time period, the repeated analysis identified 335 tweets remained active (i.e. 21 tweets had since been deleted). Of these 335 tweets, 62 (18.51%) were retweets, which had a total of 10,727 likes and 776 comments. Of this active tweet data set, 4,070 tweets had been retweeted. To examine who was addressing these educational issues, 189 (56.42%) were identified as other (e.g. citizen and unknown), 38 (11.34%) from an educational organization, 34 (10.15%) news media, 34 (10.15%) identified as educators and 17 (5.10%) as parents. A deeper analysis revealed that educational organizations had the most likes, retweets and comments, followed by other, news media, educators and parents (Table 2).

News media and school district response

In early March 2020, Alabama, Oklahoma and Virginia schools were first to announce closures for the remainder of the 2019–2020 academic school year (Peele et al., 2020). Other states extended school closures into April and May. New York’s governor announced schools would remain closed until April 1st, and just before the end of March, the closure was extended until mid-April, with intention to reconsider additional extensions (Niedzwiadek and Toure, 2020). Figure 1 displays school closure decisions by state.

School district continuity plans provide at-home teaching resources.

While news media reported school closures, individual school district websites became the primary source for learning plans and resources to help teachers and parents support students with remote learning. From the moment closures were announced, schools worked quickly to develop and disseminate Instructional Continuity Plans (ICPs), a “fluid plan…intended to reduce the disruption for our students by providing alternative print and online assignments to extend learning during a school closure” (Alachua County Public Schools, 2020). Examples of included details of an ICT plan are guided literacy and math instructional activities that parents can complete with their children; for example, the kindergarten plan included 26 pages of lessons intended to last about 2 weeks, with supplemental digital learning resources (e.g. Istation, Discovery Education and TumbleBooks).

We conducted an analysis of some of the 15 largest school districts around the nation, many of which were also located within identified COVID-19 hotspots, to obtain a broad understanding of the characteristics of their remote teaching environments and determine how school ICPs varied (Figure 2). Data were obtained directly from each of the school district websites. With regard to the learning approach and platform, two districts used synchronous instruction (13.33%), four (26.67%) screen-casted their lessons, four (26.67%) used Google Classroom and two (13.33%) used Google Meet. Online lesson plans were made available to parents and students in 5 districts (33.33%), 13 (86.67%) provided parents with supplementary apps and websites, with 8 (53.33%) who disseminated worksheets or packets. Online textbooks were used by six districts (40%), with Chromebooks used by three (20%). In sum, there was very minimal consistency among the school districts featured in this analysis.

Educational organization response

Organizational responses provide professional development support, which appears to be linked to the members or employees within those affiliate groups. Educational groups include but are not limited to: Association for Educational and Communications Technology, International Society for Technology in Education, International Literacy Association (ILA), National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Science Teachers’ Association (NSTA), Common Sense Media and Colorín Colorado. ILA has made keynote speeches from the most recent conference freely available, NCTE and Common Sense Media offer live Zoom chat sessions (Figure 3), and NCTE started a hashtag, #ImWithMyStudents. NSTA is offering a free 30-day membership, to give people access to more than 12,000 digital professional learning resources and tools. Meanwhile, Colorín Colorado (2020) added a multitude of multilingual resources for schools, including resources in Chinese and Spanish with fact sheets and infographics in their “Coronavirus research center.” Similarly, CRE HUB has included resources for educators to maintain a culturally sustaining environment while teaching remotely, providing resources and family engagement materials (NYU Metro Center, 2020). These educational organizations can continue to serve as ongoing resources as teachers, students and parents navigate and close educational gaps as a result of remote learning.

Parents and teachers scrambled to provide meaningful instruction and learning support materials, and inquired about how to quickly and easily locate high-quality resources. Within days, resource hubs were created and shared (Schaffhauser, 2020) and Common Sense Media curated a hub of resources to help engage children in live music and art classes, among other related education resources (Ucciferri, 2020). A brief two weeks later, Common Sense Media developed and introduced Wide Open School on April 1, 2020 to support families and educators in transition to remote learning (Common Sense Media, 2020). Resources were curated to support students’ academic, emotional and physical well-being. Led by the experts at Common Sense, Wide Open School is the result of collaboration among leading publishers, nonprofit organizations and education and technology companies. Wide Open School features a free collection of high-quality learning experiences and activities for kids, organized by grade-level band and subject. There are also daily schedules with creative breaks and recommendations to keep kids engaged and exploring, 1 day (or 1 h) at a time.

Discussion

Social media response focused on students and families remaining in the home and adhering to safety precautions, as disseminated by government officials. Even though our systematic search targeted K-12 education stakeholder responses specifically, the community lockdown procedure was the most dominant theme in the Twitter analysis, followed by discussions of how to sustain K-12 education. Data from the school district continuity plans indicated that previous emergency plans were inadequate to respond to emergency remote teaching. Therefore, the district response varied immensely from one to another, which likely led to an increase of frustration and uncertainty. Additionally, resources to support students’ cognitive and emotional needs were more prevalent in parent-supported spaces, such as Common Sense Media (2020). Collectively, the results from this study indicate less attention to pedagogical approaches to sustain education, but rather education stakeholders emphasized the well-being and safety of one another.

Despite the overall presence of social and news media content focused on strategies and resources for sustaining education, our analysis revealed a lack of attention to instructional scaffolds that could assist others with the self-regulation of learning and engagement (Williams et al., 2020), and establishing expectations for new daily routines, such as weekly checklists prioritizing daily tasks and processes that students and their parents can follow at home.

Recommendation 1: Develop an easy-to-use metacognitive scaffold (Azevedo, 2015), such as a checklist, that could provide highly needed structure for students navigating schoolwork related to a variety of classes at home. This recommendation has been recently shared by a number of experts in educational technology (McCarthy and Wolfe, 2020; Moore and Hodges, 2020) and should be a key consideration for all educators establishing new teaching and learning routines.

Additionally, our analysis showed the primary focus of the discussions to implement emergency remote teaching centered on supporting student-content interactions (what students are expected to read, videos requested to view and assignments to complete), and to a lesser extent, a focus on student–teacher interactions (e.g. scheduling synchronous class sessions or check-in meetings using tools such as Zoom or Google Meet). Student-content and student–teacher interaction, however, reflect only two core aspects of effective facilitation of online learning. At least two major theories of online learning design – transactional distance theory (Moore, 2018) and community of inquiry model (Cleveland-Innes et al., 2018) – posit that effective online learning environments must also support student–student interactions. We acknowledge that supporting student–student interactions in synchronous environments, such as Zoom or Google Meet, is far more challenging because of the need to educate students to exercise proper netiquette, increased bandwidth requirements to support multiple audio and video streams and managing remote working households.

Recommendation 2: Scaffold student–student interaction to allow students to engage in collaborative forms of learning to brainstorm, discuss content and provide peer feedback. It is also important to provide opportunities for informal student–student interactions that are presented and highly valued in the K-12 traditional school environment. For example, some remote teaching educators today are implementing “virtual recess” to allow students to interact with each other on non-academic topics shortly before or after the lunch break. Synchronous tools that offer the affordance of virtual breakout rooms may help address the important internet bandwidth issue. Alternatively, educators may use asynchronous discussions that allow students to reflect on their responses prior to posting them (Nandi et al., 2012). Asynchronous student–student interaction can afford students to be more reflective learners (Dennen, 2005) but will take away the dynamic nature of just-in-time spontaneous synchronous conversations. We advise educators to implement an array of learning opportunities for students that foster peer–peer interaction and consider the needs of each learner (Curtis and Werth, 2015).

Next, our data demonstrates that educators appreciate when their schools offer some flexibility regarding the kinds of technological tools and platforms teachers may choose to use during emergency remote instruction. And while it is true that no one technology can provide an acceptable “one-size-fits-all” solution for engaging teaching and learning, it is also problematic when different teachers at the same school ask students (and, by proxy, their parents) to become comfortable with a range of educational technologies. In other words, the freedom for each teacher to define what tools they want to use with their students may indeed facilitate instructional design and implementation for individual teachers, but it may come at a cost of high levels of anxiety for their students and parents who must rapidly become informed users of these various technologies.

Recommendation 3: Streamline the remote teaching process by adopting one reliable technology platform that offers the most useful affordances for the instructional process, and reflects the needs and prior experiences of student and parent users of this technology. As part of this decision to streamline the remote teaching process, we recommend school districts revisit and revise their education disaster plans. Disaster plans should consider the unique needs of the community, such as whether students’ homes have internet capable of sustaining video streaming and devices for each student (Carey et al., 2020; Plante and Palmer, 2020).

Adoption of new technology is known to be a major contributor to the self-efficacy of both students and teachers (Hodges, 2018), and thus it is important to avoid the unintended consequence of increased anxiety when selecting the number and nature of technological tools to be used with students. In consideration of students’ individual experiences, we advise educators to implement inclusive assignments that their students can successfully complete (Kumi–Yeboah et al., 2018).

Limitations

This study contains some limitations. One limitation of this study is that the data set includes publicly available data on the internet. We did not conduct individual interviews or survey any participants, primarily because at the onset of the emergency, most educators appeared to be focused on seeking counsel on how to negotiate an emergency response and convert face-to-face instruction to remote instruction. Another limitation is that the findings of this study cannot be generalized to the broader population of K-12 educators and their students. However, in future research, a more representative study that allows for open participation might otherwise reduce this limitation.

Future research recommendations

Future research considerations aim to improve remote teaching practices and school district preparedness to address pedagogical strategies within future emergency teaching scenarios. First, to address the need for a social-emotional connection, researchers might consider examining how current technology tools foster student–student interactions. Additional research might deepen this by investigating student–teacher interactions with a comparison of learning management systems, or other connected-learning platforms.

Related research might explore how to scaffold student–student interactions to allow students to engage in collaborative forms of learning to brainstorm, discuss content and provide peer feedback. This could reveal how students apply critical thinking skills within a remote learning environment. Moreover, what are the characteristics of these learning platforms that students and teachers find particularly helpful? Perhaps these learning platforms have perceived barriers that could be improved? With further regard to teaching, researchers might examine strategies to implement remote teaching in different content areas, such as the difference between teaching in the arts and teaching science. Relatedly, more research is needed to make learning more culturally relevant and explore accessible learning strategies for students from exceptional populations who have 504 and individualized education plans.

We recognize that our data set contains only public data, and future researchers should make concerted attempts to address the concerns of teachers, parents and students within the community, particularly those who do not engage with social and news media, whether because of a personal choice or insufficient access. With clear disparities among access to individual technology devices and the internet (Carey et al., 2020; Plante and Palmer, 2020), it is critical to explore strategies to engage all learners in the remote or hybrid learning environment. Schools might consider the need to lend more devices, setup mobile hotspots, provide a safe and secure socially distanced part-time learning environment, while supporting students with a virtual teacher on demand who can provide educational support to remote learners.

Other researchers might consider exploring educators’ longitudinal emergency response to remote teaching, which could reveal how educators change and adapt their remote teaching strategies over time. This research could inform the development of improved 21st century education disaster plans (e.g. consider new technology tools, access and equity). To extend this, future research could gather parent and student perceptions of emergency remote instruction and the impact on the immediate and distant future of remote learning.

Conclusion

To better understand stakeholders’ initial response to “remote instruction” (Hodges et al., 2020, p. 3) and improve remote learning pedagogical practices, the purpose of this study was to examine publicly available data on social media, news media, school district websites and educational affiliations immediately following the declaration of the USA’s COVID-19 national emergency. We identified key areas of concern as evidenced by our data set. We found that these digital spaces are flooded with instructional plans that teachers curated to meet the needs of their students, and our analysis identifies key stakeholders and apparent effective strategies for remote teaching during a time of crisis. We acknowledged K-12 remote instructional practices and we emphasize the need for educators to streamline instructional expectations and foster students’ emotional sensitivity. The collaboration and connectivity among schools, teachers, parents and students is evidence that remote teaching is a high priority, while a sense of well-being is of utmost importance. We urge the key stakeholders investigated in this study to consider our data-driven and theory-aligned recommendations as educators continue to provide remote instruction. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that educators and students will not always have a choice between face-to-face or distance learning environments. Instead, an emergency response to the health crisis has illuminated the need to focus on humanizing remote instruction. With administrator support, teachers need to adapt their pedagogical practices, respond to the individual needs of their student population and tailor instruction around their students’ access to technology, while carefully considering the emotional well-being of all.

Figures

Education week report of US school closures

Figure 1.

Education week report of US school closures

K-12 instructional continuity plan analysis

Figure 2.

K-12 instructional continuity plan analysis

Live Zoom chat for teachers and parents, discussing remote teaching and learning strategies

Figure 3.

Live Zoom chat for teachers and parents, discussing remote teaching and learning strategies

Codebook, definitions and tweet example (n = 356)

Theme Definition n Tweet example(s)
Community lockdown procedures
Emphasize social distancing 47
Closure of public places 34
Lockdown preparation 22
Reported cases 6
Precautionary measures 3
COVID educator obituary 1
School announcements 1
114
Sustaining education
Online teaching pedagogy 34 So, You Have to Move Your Classes Online. Now What? #education #COVID19 #edtech
Stay #connected with your #students during the #coronavirus #pandemic and use our #free #app @ClassUpdatesApp #edtech #education #technology #remotelearning #distancelearning #onlineclasses #COVID19
Homeschool support 21
Online learning 8
Obstacles to learning 5
Student perceptions of online learning 3
Teacher perceptions of online learning 3
State teaching guidelines 1
Teacher perspectives 1
76
Adapting to a remote lifestyle
Sharing community resources 39 Attention #SaratogaCounty residents: I’m writing a profile on Saratoga’s Broadway Deli, who announced several days ago that they’ll offer free lunch to kids who depend on school lunch programs. I want to hear your reactions. Open DMs or email: smidani@syr.edu #COVID19
Remote work 14
Community support 4
Discovering new hobbies 2
Online shopping 2
Online exercise 1
62
Political tension
Impact on economy 20 1st @nytimes editor @MaraGay cannot do basic arithmetic in prepared tv slide, now education beat reporter opposes basic health measures during #Covid19 pandemic and these are ppl opposing #GiftedAndTalented schools? These ppl should not have any say in DOE policy whatsoever #edchat RT @elizashapiro: Crucial point from pediatrician Aaron Carr: it’s not just students who would have to self-isolate under closures. If parents aren’t allowed to stay home from work, we could have a “worst case scenario” of children being passed onto elderly grandparents for emergency childcare
Political decisions 20
Chastising others behavior 12
Streaming religious gatherings 3
55
Emotional response
Satire 13 This virus knocked us out of our comfort zone. Time to come back better than ever! #teacher #educator #teacherlife #education #teachertwitter #edchat #educhat #edutwitter #teacherchat #distantlearning #teacherstrong #resilience #bounceback #coronavirus
Gratitude 11
Encouragement 10
Uncertainty 4
Mental health support 3
Anxiety 2
Hopefulness 2
Kindness 2
Analogous comparisons 1
Nostalgia 1
49

Analysis of revisited tweets one month later

Author Comments Likes Initial retweet Retweeted (1 month)
Educational organization 152 3,161 2 1,147
Other 74 954 32 364
News media 14 510 2 109
Educator 14 119 5 33
Parent 22 112 9 25
Note:

* Written permission obtained from all video participants

References

Alachua County Public Schools. (2020). Instructional continuity plan, available at: www.sbac.edu/domain/9720

Authors. (2020). Student learning factors.

Azevedo, R. (2015). Defining and measuring engagement and learning in science: Conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and analytical issues. Educational Psychologist, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 84- 94.

Barbour, M. K. and Reeves, T. C. (2009). The reality of virtual schools: A review of the literature. Computers and Education, Vol. 52 No. 2, pp. 402-416.

Bergdahl, N., Nouri, J. and Fors, U. (2020). Disengagement, engagement and digital skills in technology-enhanced learning. Education and Information Technologies, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 957-983.

Borup, J., West, R. E., Graham, C. R. and Davies, R. S. (2014). The adolescent community of engagement framework: A lens for research on K-12 online learning. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 107-129.

Burling, W. K. and Hyle, A. E. (1997). Disaster preparedness planning: policy and leadership issues. Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal., 6, 4

Carey, L.B., Sadera, W.A., Qijie, C. and Filipiak, S. (2020), “Creating a community of practice for educators forced to transition to remote teaching”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 251-256.

Cleveland-Innes, M., Garrison, D.R. and Vaughan, N. (2018), “The community of inquiry theoretical framework: Implications for distance education and beyond”, in Moore, M.G. and Diehl, W.C. (Eds), Handbook of Distance Education, Routledge, pp. 67-78.

Colorín Colorado. (2020). Coronavirus: Multilingual resources for schools, available at: www.colorincolorado.org/coronavirus

Common Sense Media. (2020). Wide Open School, available at: https://wideopenschool.org/?j=7723549&sfmc_sub=171333445&l=2048712_HTML&u=144169164&mid=6409703&jb=1523&utm_source=WOS_announcement_20200331&utm_medium=email

Creswell, J.W. and Creswell, J.D. (2018), Research Design: Qualitative, Quantitative, and Mixed Methods Approaches, 5th ed., Sage.

Curtis, H. and Werth, L. (2015). Fostering student success and engagement in a K-12 online school. Journal of Online Learning Research, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 163-190.

Dennen, V. P. (2005). From message posting to learning dialogues: Factors affecting learner participation in asynchronous discussion. Distance Education, Vol. 26 No. 1, pp. 127-148.

Downes, S. (2008). Places to go: Connectivism and connective knowledge. Innovate: Journal of Online Education, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 6, available at: https://nsuworks.nova.edu/innovate/vol5/iss1/6

Duke, B., Harper, G. and Johnston, M. (2013). Connectivism as a digital age learning theory. The International HETL Review, 4-13.

Ferdig, F., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (2020), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC.

Ferdig, R. E., Cavanaugh, C., DiPietro, M., Black, E. W. and Dawson, K. (2009). Virtual schooling standards and best practices for teacher education. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, Vol. 17 No. 4, pp. 479-503.

Frangou, S.M. and Keskitalo, P. (2020), “Enhancing social learning with digital applications: Life stance education and sámi pedagogy move to synchronous distance learning in teacher education”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 23-26.

Fraser, B.J. (2012), Classroom Environment, Routledge, 10.4324/9780203125885.

Freidhoff, J. R. (2019). Michigan’s k-12 virtual learning effectiveness report 2017-18, available at: https://mvlri.org/research/publications/michigans-k-12-virtual-learning-effectiveness-report-2017-18/

Fusch, P. I. and Ness, L. R. (2015). Are we there yet? Data saturation in qualitative research. The Qualitative Report, Vol. 20 No. 9, pp. 1408-1416.

Gaudiano, N. (2020). Coronavirus: The lost year, available at: www.politico.com/news/2020/03/19/school-closing-coronavirus-138111

Hawkins, A., Barbour, M. K. and Graham, C. R. (2012). “Everybody is their own island”: Teacher disconnection in a virtual school. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 124-144.

Hodges, C.B. (Ed.) (2018), Self-Efficacy in Instructional Technology Contexts, Springer.

Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T. and Bond, A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning, EDUCAUSE Review, 3, available at: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teachingand-online-learning

Hulon, S.I., Tucker, M.H. and Green, A.M. (2020), “Virtual professional learning for in-service teachers to support teaching and learning in online environments”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 43-46.

Kamenetz, A. (2020). ‘Panic-gogy’: Teaching online classes during the coronavirus pandemic, available at: www.npr.org/2020/03/19/817885991/panic-gogy-teaching-online-classes-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic

Kano, M., Ramirez, M., Ybarra, W. J., Frias, G. and Bourque, L. B. (2007). Are schools prepared for emergencies? A baseline assessment of emergency preparedness at school sites in three Los Angeles county school districts. Education and Urban Society, Vol. 39 No. 3, pp. 399-422.

Kim, C., Park, S. W., Cozart, J. and Lee, H. (2015). From motivation to engagement: The role of effort regulation of virtual high school students in mathematics courses. Educational Technology and Society, Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 261-272.

Kumi–Yeboah, A., Dogbey, J. and Yuan, G. (2018). Exploring factors that promote online learning experiences and academic self-concept of minority high school students. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, Vol. 50 No. 1, pp. 1-17.

Liu, F. and Cavanaugh, C. (2011). High enrollment course success factors in virtual school: Factors influencing student academic achievement. International Journal on E-Learning, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 393-418.

Liu, F. and Cavanaugh, C. (2012). Success in online high school algebra: Factors influencing student academic performance. Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and e- Learning, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 149-167, doi: 10.1080/02680513.2012.678613.

Lowes, S., Lin, P. and Kinghorn, B. R. (2016). Gender differences in online high school courses, Online Learning, 20(4, pp. 100-117.

McCarthy, J. and Wolfe, Z. (2020), “Engaging parents through school-wise strategies for online instruction”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 7-12.

Moore, M.G. (2018), “The theory of transactional distance”, in. Moore, M.G. and Diehl, W.C. (Eds), Handbook of Distance Education, Routledge, pp. 32-46.

Moore, S. and Hodges, C. B. (2020). So you want to temporarily teach online, available at: www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/11/practical-advice-instructors-faced-abrupt-move-online-teaching-opinion

Nandi, D., Hamilton, M. and Harland, J. (2012). Evaluating the quality of interaction in asynchronous discussion forums in fully online courses. Distance Education, Vol. 33 No. 1, pp. 5-30.

Neuendorf, K.A. (2002), The Content Analysis Guidebook, Sage.

Niedzwiadek, N. and Toure, M. (2020). School closures extended to mid-April, available at: www.politico.com/states/new-york/newsletters/politico-new-york-education/2020/03/30/school-closures-extended-to-mid-april-333705

NYU Metro Center. (2020). Guidance on culturally responsive-sustaining remote education: Centering equity, access, and educational justice, available at: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5bc5da7c3560c36b7dab1922/t/5e7a26b60fdceb59f9749c3c/1585063606912/NYU±Metro±Center±Guidance±on±Culturally±Responsive±Sustaining±Remote±Teaching±and±Learning±%282020%29±%281%29±%281%29.pdf

Oliver, K., Kellogg, S., Townsend, L. and Brady, K. (2010). Needs of elementary and middle school teachers developing online courses for a virtual school. Distance Education, Vol. 31 No. 1, pp. 55-75.

Peele, H., Riser-Kositsky, M. and Kim, Hyon-Young. (2020). Map: Coronavirus and School Closures, updated daily, Education Week, available at: www.edweek.org/ew/section/multimedia/map-coronavirus-and-school-closures.html

Pigozzi, M.J. (1999), Education in Emergencies and for Reconstruction: A Developmental Approach, UNICEF.

Plante, J.D. and Palmer, R. (2020), “Supporting teachers where they are: the community partnership schools™ model”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 203-210.

Rebmann, T., Elliott, M. B., Artman, D., VanNatta, M. and Wakefield, M. (2016). Impact of an education intervention on Missouri K‐12 school disaster and biological event preparedness. Journal of School Health, Vol. 86 No. 11, pp. 794-802.

Schaffhauser, D. (2020). Updated: Free resources for schools during COVID-19 outbreak, available at: https://thejournal.com/Articles/2020/03/13/Free-Resources-Ed-Tech-Companies-Step-Up-During-Coronavirus-Outbreak.aspx?Page=1

Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as network-creation. ASTD Learning News, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 1-28.

Siemens, G. (2014). Connectivism: A learning theory for the digital age, available at: www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Ucciferri, F. (2020). Free online events and activities for kids at home, updated regularly, available at: www.commonsensemedia.org/blog/free-online-events-activities-kids-at-home-coronavirus

Virtual Learning Leadership Alliance and Quality Matters. (2019). The national standards for quality online learning, available at: www.nsqol.org

Vu, P., Meyer, R. and Taubenheim, K. (2020), “Best practice to teach kindergarteners using remote learning strategies”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 141-144.

Watson, J. and Murin, A. (2014), “A history of K-12 online and blended instruction in the United States”, in Ferdig, R.E. and Kennedy, K. (Eds), Handbook of Research on K-12 Online and Blended Learning, ETC Press, pp. 1-23.

Weiner, C. (2003). Key ingredients to online learning: Adolescent students study in cyberspace - the nature of the study. International Journal on E-Learning, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 44-50.

White House. (2020). Proclamation on declaring a national emergency concerning the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, available at: www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-declaring-national-emergency-concerning-novel-coronavirus-disease-covid-19-outbreak/

Williams, M.K., Schroer, J.E., Gull, C., Miller, J.C. and Axelson, S. (2020), “Creating a support network to sustain Student-Centered, active pedagogy in emergency online education”, in Ferdig, R., Baumgartner, E., Kaplan-Rogowski, R. and Mouza, C. (Eds), Teaching, Technology, and Teacher Education during the COVID-19 Pandemic: Stories from the Field, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE), Waynesville, NC, pp. 27-32.

Acknowledgements

Declarations

Funding: Not applicable.

Conflicts of interest/competing interests: The authors declare they have no potential conflicts of interest.

The authors would like to thank Merve Lapus, Steve Zanotti and Bill Selak for permission to use the image from the emergency transition to remote teaching and learning seminar.

Corresponding author

Lauren Eutsler can be contacted at: lauren.eutsler@unt.edu

Related articles