A wealth of literature was published during 2020 in response to the Covid-19 crisis, ranging from blog posts, opinion pieces, media commentaries, major national and international reports, and a steady stream of peer reviewed journal articles. One thing is certain, we are not short of material offering an opinion, viewpoint or perspective on what has been described as the Great Onlining of 2020. Indeed, picking up on a key point made by Reeves and Lin (2020) in our top ranked article of 2020, which we shared last week, there is a risk that over the next few years we will become swamped with special issue publications that may help to meet the pressure on some of us to publish in referred journals to advance our careers, but actually fail to ask or respond to the right questions.
With this point in mind, the decision to single out just a handful of good Covid-19 reads from open access journal articles arose for three reasons. Firstly, we did not want this literature to overly dominate our annual selection of other top scholarly reads in the general area of digital learning which offer valuable lessons and perspectives for the future. Secondly, because so much has been written in response to the pandemic and the situation remains very fluid, it is virtually impossible to keep up-to-date with everything that has been published. Therefore, we felt it was useful to flag some valuable work that many educators may not have already come across. Lastly, not everything published thus far is solidly grounded in evidence and to put it bluntly there has been a lot of myth, misinformation and even rubbish written about digital learning in the Covid-19 era.
The selection of top reads that follow seek to address this last point as each article is the outcome of scholarly peer review and we have given particular attention to major literature reviews or think pieces from highly respected educators and researchers working in the area. However, before introducing the selection of top reads, with a brief commentary about each article, we would like to acknowledge those at the frontline of education who are actually doing the work of responding to the crisis as well as the significant contribution of many professional bodies in supporting their efforts.
In Ireland, for example, the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education along with the Irish Universities Association (IUA), and others, have played key roles. At a European level, EATDU and the European Distance and eLearning Network (EDEN), in particular, played a major leadership role, with in 2020 over 20K registrations, almost 10K live participants, 20K views of recorded webinars and 119 individual presenters and moderators across a diverse range of events.
The value of more organic initiatives should not be underestimated either, with events like “Gasta Goes Global” back in April 2020 standing out as particularly memorable at a key period in the crisis. You may like to read the following article as it offers a valuable insider’s perspective to the format and experience of this unique Irish event, which according to rumour may be returning again in 2021.
Farrelly, T., Suilleabháin, G., & McCarthy, K. (2020). Gasta goes global as a rapid community response to COVID-19. All Ireland Journal of Higher Education, 12 (2), 1-9. Available at https://ojs.aishe.org/index.php/aishe-j/article/view/451
The Top 10 Articles
We have chosen not to list the articles that follow in rank order as doing so would be counterproductive to the purpose of this exercise. Rather the order they appear reflects the narrative we have chosen to write to help explain why each article was selected. While it is noteworthy that three journals appear twice in this list the work reported presents a diverse and truly global perspective with contributing authors representative of many nationalities. In total, the 10 selected “good reads” come from the collective efforts of 100 authors, which is another good reason to acknowledge and celebrate the valuable contribution of this work.
Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., & Bond, A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review, 27 March, Available at https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning
We selected the above article as a huge amount has been written about how to design effective online learning. Dozens of valuable checklists, design guides and top tips for online learning and emergency remote teaching were produced throughout the year in a variety of formats. On a slightly more critical note, it does beg the question:
“If online learning was the default mode of education before the Covid-19 pandemic, and we had to rapidly pivot to on-site learning due to a different type of crisis, how problematic would it be to try to reduce or encapsulate the complex, multifaceted and idiosyncratic nature of good teaching for campus-based education down to a list of 10 handy hints?”Professor Mark Brown
This question is an interesting thought experiment as it serves to underscore the point that online learning is not a single monolith entity and like traditional teaching methods has many different and varied faces. Hence sweeping generalisations about any form of teaching or learning are usually problematic. This point is implicit in the above article as it helps to articulate important differences between emergency remote teaching and online learning. The fact the article was published back in March 2020 was a consideration in its selection, as in many respects this distinction only became more apparent, and the question of how to design effective online education, until after our initial response to the Covid-19 crisis.
Bozkurt, A., Insung, J., Junhong, X., et. al. (2020). A global outlook to the interruption of education due to COVID-19 pandemic: Navigating in a time of uncertainty and crisis. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 1-126. Available from http://asianjde.org/ojs/index.php/AsianJDE/article/view/462
This article reports 31 case studies from around the globe and was chosen as it provides valuable insights of how educators and institutions responded to Covid-19 relatively early in the crisis. For this reason, it has a degree of historical significance and like the above article by Hodge et. al. (2020) identities how early practices during the initial pivot were essentially emergency remote teaching, as opposed to carefully planned practices more akin to the principles of distance education, online learning or other derivations. Moreover, the collection of cases raised an early flag of how inequity, digital divide and fundamental issues of social injustice were being exacerbated through the pandemic, and require unique and targeted measures if they are to be addressed. This issue is even more pertinent now and therefore the article still has currency in helping us to grapple with deep challenges beyond the health pandemic.
Fernandez, A.A., & Shaw, G.P. (2020). Academic leadership in a time of crisis: The Coronavirus and Covid-1 9. Journal of Leadership Studies, 14 (1), 39-45. Available at https://doi.org/10.1002/jls.21684
Most people would agree that leadership was, and remains, a crucial factor in our capacity to effectively respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Accordingly, the above article was chosen as it directly speaks to this challenge and notably reports key lessons in an educational leadership journal from authors who are not international experts in the area of online learning. It identifies many of the key dimensions of effective leadership drawing on contemporary thinking, including the importance of emotional intelligence, connecting and enabling people, building and distributing responsibility for leadership and the crucial role of clear communication. Also, the authors note how effective leaders can see opportunities in a crisis, a point that remains highly relevant as we increasingly turn our attention to the future. However, it needs to be noted that micro-leaders played a crucial role as well throughout the crisis and our thinking and takeaway lessons should not only emphasise the value and impact of positional leaders.
Johnson, N., Veletsianos, G., & Seaman, J. (2020). U.S. faculty and administrators’ experiences and approaches in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online Learning, 24(2), 6-21. https://doi.org/10.24059/olj.v24i2.2285
This article continues the focus on leadership by reporting the findings of a survey which investigates the rapid transition to emergency remote teaching in the early weeks of the pandemic at over 650 higher education institutions in the United States. Data were collected in April 2020. The study helps to illustrate the agility and resilience of many institutions along with providing an early snapshot into the disruptive aspects of the Covid-19 crisis at a large scale, as many faculty report using new teaching methods regardless of previous experience. Moreover, there is clear evidence of changes to assessment practices as participants report the adoption of new kinds of assignments or exams. In asking participants what assistance would be helpful, it is noteworthy and perhaps not surprising that the top response related to student support. More specifically, participants identified how to support students to succeed as an online learner as a matter of priority, which validates as well as resonates with our own decision to commit NIDL resources back in June 2020 to designing and then delivering in September, A Digital Edge: Essentials for the Online Learner, a free online course through the FutureLearn platform. At the time of writing over 6,500 learners have registered for this course with a 56% completion rate.
Marko Teräs, M. & Suoranta, J., Teräs, H., & Curcher, M. (2020). Post-Covid-19 education and education technology‘solutionism’: A seller’s market. Postdigital Science and Education, 2, 863–878. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00164-x
Another dimension of leadership during the early stages of the crisis was filtering B.S. and managing the ‘solutionism’ being peddled by an array of EdTech providers and arguably snake oil merchants. While leading critics like Audrey Watters, Ben Williamson, Bryan Alexander and Neil Selwyn, to name a few, help to deconstruct the ‘education is broken’ discourse and provide critical commentary on the creeping datafication, corporatisation and commercialisation of our schools, universities and education system through EdTech, the above article synthesises many of the key arguments in a Covid-19 context. It is a very accessible read that importantly goes beyond the pedagogy of the depressed. The piece is written by some good colleagues at Tampere University and Tampere University of Applied Sciences in Finland who are collaborating with the NIDL team in a major EU funded project, known as BUKA, to support the development of online education in universities throughout South East Asia. The central thesis of the article urges educational leaders to think carefully about the decisions they are currently making if they wish to pave the way towards better, and more desirable, education future which go beyond our response to the current crisis.
Rapanta, C., Botturi, C., Goodyear, P., Guàrdia, L., & Koole, M. (2020). Online university teaching during and after the Covid-19 crisis: Refocusing teacher presence and learning activity. Postdigital Science and Education, 2,923–945. https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00155-y
This article, which comes from the same journal as the previous paper, shifts the focus back to the question of pedagogy. It endeavours to provide some expert insights into the type of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) required for effective online education to help non-expert university teachers navigate their way through the challenges they face. Drawing on research, and their individual and collective experience across three continents, the authors point at the design of learning activities with certain characteristics—that is, the combination of three types of presence: social, cognitive and facilitatory. They also stress the need to adapt assessment approaches to the new learning requirements, and in so doing reflect on how our “best efforts” response to the current crisis may help to precipitate enhanced teaching and learning practices in the postdigital era. This last point serves to flag Postdigital Science and Education as one of the best new journals to emerge in the last couple of years if you value fresh ideas, critical thinking and insightful perspectives on the future of education.
Carrillo, C., & Assunção Flores, M. (2020). COVID-19 and teacher education: A literature review of online teaching and learning practices. European Journal of Teacher Education, 43(4), 466-487.https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2020.1821184
This article continues the pedagogical focus but with a more specific emphasis on teacher education in an initial preparation and schooling context. It analyses over 130 empirical studies published between 2000 and 2020 to provide a review of the literature of online teaching and learning practices. Not surprisingly, the findings highlight the importance of social, cognitive and teaching presence according to the Community of Inquiry (COI) Framework. While reference is made to the importance of emotional support, perhaps due to the specific teacher education focus, there is limited acknowledgment of other presences and, in particular, growing research interest in the role of emotion in online learning. Several members of our NIDL team share this interest, with last year Dr Elaine Beirne completing her PhD thesis on this very topic. Overall, the most valuable contribution of this literature review is helping to underscore the need for a comprehensive view of the pedagogy of online education.
Darling-Hammond, L. & Hyler, M.E. (2020). Preparing educators for the time of COVID… and beyond. European Journal of, Teacher Education, 43(4), 457-465. https://doi.org/10.1080/02619768.2020.1816961
This next article coming from the same journal also addresses the issue of preparing K-12 teachers for the time of Covid-19, and beyond. Notably, in light of the above comments, the authors talk about the importance of supporting the social emotional and academic needs of students. Particular emphasis is given to what policy-makers and those in educational leadership roles can do to address these considerations from a more systemic perspective, ranging from developing high-quality educator preparation, transforming educator professional learning opportunities to match current and future needs, supporting mentoring and the development of new teacher roles, and creating time for educators to collaborate with each other and key partners. Like many of the other articles identfied as good reads, the authors see the disruption that Covid-19 has created as the opportunity for rethinking and reinventing teacher preparation, as well as education itself. Many of the lessons and discussion points are relevant to educators irrespective of the level.
Bozkurt, A., & Sharma, R. C. (2020). Education in normal, new normal, and next normal: Observations from the past, insights from the present and projections for the future. Asian Journal of Distance Education, 15(2), i-x. Available at http://www.asianjde.org/ojs/index.php/AsianJDE/article/view/512
This article, the second appearing in the Asian Journal of Distance Education, is an extended editorial published right at the end of 2020. Therefore, it benefits from greater time to critically reflect on the highs and lows of the Covid-19 journey, and key lessons emerging over the year. The authors suggest that the pandemic was more than a crisis; it has been a global wake-up call to rethink and change our paradigms and how we perceive and engage with the world. Arguably, the definition of normal has been stretched and redefined over the course of 2020. More to the point, if we wish to stretch our thinking even further to take further advantage of the “great reset”, now is the time to ask what is past?, what is present?, and what is next? Importantly, the authors acknowledge there may be negative consequences arising from the next normal, including a growing human and digital divide between half the world on the cutting edge of technology, while everyone else is left to struggle on the bare edge with only digital crumbs to survive. This uncomfortable reality raises big questions about the future of globalisation and the emergence of deglobalisaton as it relates to education. The paper also invites readers to grapple with questions concerning ethics, privacy and surveillance, as well as the role of the openness movement and renewed emphasis on the so-called pedagogy of care and empathy. In terms of the latter, however, there is a disconnect in the way Emotion, and related constructs, are being defined in contrast to pre-existing literature. Overall, this is a creative and highly readable article, which serves to remind us that discussions about the future of higher education, and the role and impact of new digital technologies, inherently raise much bigger questions about the type of good society we want to create (or not) for the future.
Peters, M. et, al. (2020) Reimagining the new pedagogical possibilities for universities post-Covid-19. Educational Philosophy and Theory. Available at https://doi.org/10.1080/00131857.2020.1777655
The final article rounding out our top 10 good reads comes from an impressive team of authors with different backgrounds and disciplinary roots. They present a collection of short think pieces which individually and when taken together serve to help reimagine new pedagogical possibilities for new times. Although not everything is likely to be to your taste, the collection continues the discussion about normality, drawing on an historical perspective to reflect on ruptures to the old normal of education in efforts to adequately respond to the Covid-19 crisis. Part of the central thesis is that “Nothing could be worse than a return to normality”. The collection offers both a depth and breadth of political, philosophical, sociological and interdisciplinary thinking about the future of education, which is often missing from the field of digital learning and should not be taken lightly. It is difficult to briefly summarise the collection, particularly given the wide range of viewpoints and because as Rizvi and Peters (2020) acknowledge, the paper is three times longer than a normal academic article and it speaks to a different genre. For this reason, take your time reading each piece as the pandemic is far from over and the big questions are not going away in the near future. In between each article, you may wish to explore another collection of high-profile scholars reflecting on lessons from the Covid-19 crisis in a special issue of Prospects: Comparative Journal of Curriculum, Learning, and Assessment. This collection might be more to your taste with very good short opinion pieces from the likes of Professor Michael Fullan, Sir John Daniel, and the late Sir Ken Robinson.
At the risk of self-promotion, this extra read, written by several members of the NIDL team, stretches futures thinking to the year 2050. It adopts a somewhat novel methodology of speculative fiction to present a darker side to life and education after the pandemic. Our only excuse for this line of thinking is that the article was written at a time when we were all grappling with the challenges and new realities of living and learning through the Covid-19 crisis. Enjoy!
Costello, E., Brown, M., Donlon, E., & Girme, P. (2020). The pandemic will not be on zoom: A retrospective from the year 2050. Postdigital Science and Education, 2 (3), Available at https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00150-3