What, why and how are we teaching in the corona situation?

What constitutes teaching practice has been contested by the global pandemic home schooling situation. QUINT researcher Nikolaj Elf is investigating what this means to teaching quality.  

Close up of writing in a diary.

Among other things, Elf is asking teachers to keep diaries about their experiences in order to get more in-depth, first-person perspectives (Illustration photo: Colourbox).

Since the school closures in Denmark began in March 2020, QUINT researcher Nikolaj Elf has been posting updates on LinkedIn reflecting on the situation. Starting from his own experience, both as an education researcher and a parent, he wanted to engage people and find out what the impact of the situation was on teachers and students. His interest has now grown into the beginning of a new international research collaboration that will collect corona diaries from teachers, and compare the experiences across five different countries. 

What constitutes teaching has changed

Elf started with the basic didactic questions: Why, how and what are we teaching in this new situation? Where and when are we teaching? Observing his own children as well as teachers’ spontaneous reports on social media and drawing from previous research, Elf started problematising the things he observed; seeing children being glued to the screen all the time raises didactic questions about the time and place of teaching - where teaching is happening. 

The configurations of these basic aspects of what constitutes teaching practice have been contested and reshuffled by this specific situation, he remarks. Elf is interested in the qualitative perspectives, such as whether teachers were teaching contents related to the corona situation, and whether the situation influenced the teaching and how. 

– We live in a situation where we can ask basic questions that are well known from didactics and curriculum research, but there are also other things that emerge from this particular situation, and we aren’t able to anticipate their significance. 

Hence the focus on qualitative work and adopting more first-person questions to really get behind how people experienced this. The focus will also be subject specific. 

– On one hand it is interesting to ask these broad questions about teaching, but on the other hand I have the assumption that these questions will be answered differently depending on the subject we are talking about.

– There are different implications of the situation to different subjects, for example if we compare teaching mathematics to Physical Education and language arts, Elf comments. 

Creating space for teachers to reflect

Elf is working on a new international collaborative research project, that is born out of the global corona crisis situation and will focus on language arts instruction in Denmark, Sweden, Greece, Australia and Spain. The questions is how do teachers realise teaching under these conditions? 

– We ask teachers to write diaries, among other methods, to see what the teachers’ experiences have been. We are interested in looking at the current situation but also looking forward. Some of the other methods we use to gain more insight into this are teacher interviews, collections of documents and a small survey asking for background information.

The idea of teachers writing diaries was partly born out of the ethical considerations. 

– I would like to interact with teachers’ reflections, Elf says. I would like to establish a space for them to reflect that can facilitate their own experiences of what’s been going on, as some of these experiences can be also quite heavy. 

Illuminates differences and similarities

– This is an extreme case; everyone is being taught the same way all over the world. Even the reopening phases we are moving into now, look similar.

– Everyone is facing the same challenges. We expect that this will make it easier to compare results, as it illuminates similarities as well as specificities of different localities. 

– The differences depend on different histories and contexts, and prior experiences with ICT,  i.e. the differences in accessing technology, and reflections among teachers as to whether they integrate technology in the subject teaching. In Nordic countries the Language arts curriculum includes media perspectives, technology perspectives, and multimodal meaning making, and it has been like that for several decades now. Whereas in other countries it is more narrowly focused on language and literature in the traditional sense. This condition, we assume, co-shapes how language arts teachers handle teaching.

Another assumption is that dialogical teaching is difficult to achieve using an online platform; the subtle dynamics of classroom interaction and dialogue are most likely difficult to implement. We know very little about this, though a survey made by QUINT researcher Ane Qvortrup, Elf's colleague from the University of Southern Denmark, showed that the amount of dialogical teaching in general has diminished. What is more prevalent is the model of giving assignments to students that they submit and receive feedback on. Some modalities have necessarily been foregrounded and some backgrounded due to the situation. The corona diaries will shed light on how the situation has been experienced around the world. 

Insights into teaching quality

Elf concludes the interview by stressing the relevance of such a study for QUINT.

– On a more abstract level, the corona study is likely to illuminate well-established boundaries of Language arts teaching, and quality teaching more broadly. We will get insight about ‘the deep grammar’ of the subject. The deep grammar reflects basic paradigmatic assumptions of ‘good language arts teaching’, that is, quality assumptions of disciplinary teaching.

– So, this unexpected and uncharted corona crisis, which has delayed everybody’s research, including QUINT’s, could, in the longer run, become very useful for the QUINT ambition of understanding teaching quality.

Specifically, it will feed into QUINT projects focusing on language arts, such as the LISA Nordic, Connected Classrooms and QUALE projects.

By Larissa Lily, QUINT/UiO
Published May 15, 2020 9:43 AM - Last modified May 15, 2020 9:44 AM