Evidence Review: Digital technologies in education during the COVID-19 pandemic

Issue: Volume 101, Number 4

Posted: 6 April 2022
Reference #: 1HATeC

A report recently released draws on over 40 New Zealand and international research reports and articles about the experiences of learners, teachers, schools, families and systems during and after the initial COVID-19 pandemic response.

digital technologyThe report was commissioned to contribute to a refresh of an Education System Digital and Data Strategy, being led by the cross-agency Education Digital and Data Board. The focus of the Evidence Review is to examine the role and use of digital technologies during Covid-19 lockdowns.

The lockdowns that occurred meant that schools were often faced with only a few days to implement alternative teaching and learning that could be conducted at home. The research found that jurisdictions that had well embedded, integrated systems and processes, using IT for day-to-day teaching and learning, were better able to respond to the crisis, compared to jurisdictions where technology is seen as an ‘add on’ to teaching. It appears that in New Zealand, as in many other jurisdictions, at a systems level, there are some areas for improvement, which became evident as lockdown periods continued.

According to the report, when systems are fully aligned, they are better able to provide continuity in the event of widespread disruption, and can deliver the following benefits:

  • “Equitable access and use – closing the digital divide by ensuring digital access to all, building teacher and leader capability, and attending to learner and whānau needs and capability.
  • Flexibility – exploiting the opportunity to create genuinely personalised, adaptive and flexible approaches to education delivery, including distance, blended and online learning.
  • Resilience – ensuring the system has the capacity to respond with greater ease and seamlessness in the event of any future emergency.
  • Systemness – describing the overall state of the education system where all interconnected parts work together to create successful outcomes.”

These findings require schools to review every element “from the foundational digital infrastructure and software used at one end, through to the pedagogical approaches to build capability at the other” to ensure that there is a quality teaching and learning experience.   

One of the many issues identified in relation to school closures or individual student isolation (due to being a positive case or a close contact) is how these exacerbated inequalities in education. The success of home schooling relies on access to resources such as digital technologies, a suitable study area, and guidance. A lack of resources can impact on the educational success of students who are able to attend school, but the removal of the school environment widened this difference in educational opportunities.

The report draws attention to the notion of “digital divide” by showing how a lack of access to technology, and skills to use digital technologies is “affecting not just learners but also teachers who were under pressure to cope with an increased (and unfamiliar) workload, while managing their own and their families’ response to the pandemic.”

The review reinforces the importance of addressing equitable digital access and lifting teacher capability to strengthen digital inclusion.

Among other findings, some found working remotely caused frustration and anxiety.  There was evidence of some negative impacts arising from increased screen time, and increased exposure to inappropriate online materials. However, for others working remotely created new ways of learning and “enabled them (many for the first time) to truly express themselves as learners or teachers, finding new and different ways of working that helped overcome previous barriers.”

The positive impact is reflected in other findings that convey the potential that exists for quality systems. This includes increased flexibility of effective digital education systems that combine the benefits of face-to-face teaching with new opportunities provided by online learning. This type of integrated system is critical if “we are to equip our young people with the skills and understanding they need for success in a digital world.”

There are plans to release a draft discussion document for consultation, “Digital and data for learning – an education system strategy for a digital age” in June/July 2022 which will support development of a system-wide strategy and address the issues raised by the review.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:25 AM, 6 April 2022

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