Top 10 Covid-19 “Good Reads” from 2020: Lessons for the Future

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. 

Photo by Elena Mozhvilo on Unsplash

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

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

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

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

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.

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 Learnera 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.

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 WattersBen WilliamsonBryan 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.

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.

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.

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 Education15(2), i-x. Available at

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

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 AssessmentThis 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.  

And finally…

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

ABC Learning Design Online – Tools, Tips and Takeaways

By Clare Gormley, Rob Lowney & Suzanne Stone

When a group of us were first introduced to the ABC Learning Design (ABC LD) framework through a study visit to University College London (UCL) in 2017, we were intrigued by the accessibility and potential of the approach.  What’s not to like about a workshop that promises a pedagogically robust (re)design of a course in under 2 hours, all while collaborating with colleagues and considering new ideas?

Becoming partners in the transnational ABC to VLE Erasmus+ project gave us the opportunity to apply this approach at DCU and further develop the method while learning from our European partners. As a result the team in the Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) have facilitated ABC workshops in multiple contexts within DCU and as part of invited seminars and conferences.

So far we have run and evaluated 20+ ABC sessions, working with teams of staff to use the framework to rethink the student learning experience on their courses.

This work with ABC has significantly evolved from on-campus to online so in this blog post, building on the spirit of knowledge exchange emerging from the ABC Swap Shop series, we would like to explain what we have done and share some lessons learned along the way.

Our challenge was to move from this original in-person version….

To this purely digital ABC approach, designed for staff at DCU…

The starting point

As the Covid crisis continued it became clear that for an extended period of time most DCU staff would continue to work remotely and rely on Zoom Meetings to collaborate with colleagues. It was not realistic to pause our offerings of ABC workshops during this period so therefore we started planning what an online ABC workshop could look like. The in-person workshop covers a lot (tweet, graphs, learning types and more) in a remarkably short space of time. Our first challenge was to decide what realistically we could achieve in an online format, noting that “things online take more time”. 

The first iteration of the online workshop took place in May 2020. It started with a brief description of what ABC LD method is followed by overview of session activities and then a quick discussion of existing module learning outcomes. Then we introduced the six learning activity types, giving participants 3 minutes to independently read each card before being split into breakout rooms to discuss further. Spokespeople were appointed and the plan was to document discussions (via shared Google Doc), proceed with storyboarding, and wrap up with an action plan that would capture next steps. 

Although we were broadly happy with this first run at an online ABC workshop, we did feel that improvements could be made.

The early part of the workshop saw participants working quietly alone, to make notes on the learning types. Participants were then placed into breakout rooms to discuss only some of the learning types before coming back to the main room. We felt the division of learning types for the breakout activity might have placed a constraint on the discussion. Similarly, only one spokesperson from each breakout room was invited to populate the Google document, which might have left others feeling left out or unable to contribute as they would like. We therefore wanted to figure out a way to maximise participation and began to think about how the use of polls might encourage everyone to input in a time-efficient and democratic way. 

A second major refinement of the workshop was our approach to kick-starting the storyboarding process. In the face-to-face context, storyboarding can be scaffolded very directly by physically prompting participants to engage with the storyboarding resources. This was less easy in the online mode of delivery and resulted in a very slow start to storyboarding. We felt that this hesitation indicated a less clear understanding of the process and so devised a new approach. A video was developed to introduce this stage and explain how one might storyboard a module using a couple of examples. 

We continued to refine the approach after each subsequent workshop as we learned more about what worked well and what did not. Feedback from participants after workshops helped inform this, as did our own reflections. Furthermore, as staff were preparing to teach mostly online for the upcoming academic year we wanted to model good practice and looked at the affordances of local technologies to support the ABC workshop.

After several refinements, by the end of summer 2020 our online ABC workshop looked like this:

  • Before the workshop, participants are asked to engage in an asynchronous Pre-ABC workshop activity called ‘8 Prompts to Reflect on Learning Outcomes’ to focus minds on the end-goal of their design and prepare for the workshop. This is an H5P interactive object available on our dedicated Loop (Moodle) course for ABC workshop participants.
  • At the start of the 2 hour live workshop which is run in Zoom, introductions are made and expectations set. A short video ‘Top 6 Activities for Hybrid Learning’ is also played, to give participants who may not be familiar with VLE tools and terminology a sense of some possibilities.
  • The six learning types are introduced one by one and a short explanation given of each. The sample learning activities for each type are presented as Zoom polls and participants choose the types that they feel are most relevant to the module in question.
  • Participants are then divided into breakout rooms with a facilitator each to answer the question “How might the activities suggested so far enable your students to achieve the desired learning outcomes?”. The participants discuss the results of the polls and the types they feel are most relevant. This helps move the group towards a consensus.
  • Upon returning to the main room, participants are asked to annotate a Zoom whiteboard and add the main points of discussion and prevailing learning activities discussed in the breakout room. As the whiteboard grows, commonalities between the breakout rooms become evident and the most appropriate learning activities are identified. The whiteboard is saved and shared afterwards as a reference resource.
  • Participants are next shown a video explaining what storyboarding is and how to go about storyboarding a module using the language and tools of ABC LD. There is time to discuss the storyboarding process and then a storyboard template in the form of a shared Google document is circulated via the chat. Participants are invited to remain online and commence storyboarding while the facilitators depart or the team can decide to storyboard at another time themselves. 
  • To assist with implementation of proposed designs, follow up resources including the DCU ABC to VLE+ App Wheel are forwarded to staff after workshops. These are shared on our in-house ABC hub along with curated guidance on key supports (e.g. online resources and workshops) available at DCU relevant to workshop discussions.

So how has it gone down with staff?

Initial evaluations of the ABC workshops to date have been very positive from both formal evaluations and informal follow-up discussion. The combination of using polls to introduce the learning types, followed by discussion in the breakout rooms was mentioned by several respondents as the most useful aspect of the workshop. The storyboard process and video were also mentioned explicitly as positive aspects. An unexpected outcome was that participants considered the workshop approach a positive model of online delivery, evident in the following comment:

The session offered a useful overview of tools and approaches and the structured activities offered an effective demonstration of how these could be used and sequenced.

The potential impact beyond the current focus of learning design for one single module/academic year is also evident in the comment below:

The alignment of my module LO’s to the different learning strategies was presented in a very practical and informative way to allow me to be more creative in my lecture delivery as a whole, not solely in the current year.

Some suggestions for improvement include the request for more case studies highlighting in particular the balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning activities for an online module. The need for more time for various activities was another suggestion which came very strongly from the evaluations to date. This is a particular challenge to address as the fast-paced approach is a central appeal of the ABC Learning Design approach. However the team are considering an ‘opt-in’ version of the workshop where participants stay online (e.g. 30 minutes longer) in order to make more progress on the storyboarding stage with facilitator support. 

We have also received feedback from participants via email and Twitter and include a selection below. 

Feedback from Dr Anna Logan, Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning DCU Institute of Education 

I’m delighted to see this level of interest in the ABC learning design approach which apart from the immediate impact in this emergency context can only be beneficial for programmes in the medium and longer term…there has been great reach of ABC across a range of our programmes which is super.

Email feedback from Dr Jane O’Kelly, Chair of BSc in Education and Training, DCU:

Thanks Clare, Rob and Suzanne for the training this morning. I really enjoyed it and have had great feedback from the team on it. All found it really valuable and felt inspired to tackle the work needed for this semester. Part-time lecturers enjoyed the chance to discuss approaches with the team and I think full-time lecturers found something new to reinvigorate them!!! Thanks again, really practical, interesting support and tools that will make a difference in our planning.

Where to next?

ABC has become a core learning design framework at DCU for the design of new programmes and for those changing to a fully online or more hybrid and/or blended format. Future plans will address feedback raised by workshop participants. Very importantly, since we recognise that immediate feedback is only part of the evaluation picture, we will go back to participants in six months time (and beyond) to learn more about the outcomes of the workshop. This way we hope to find out what specific changes occurred in practice so we can continue to enhance the format and our knowledge of how best to apply it. If you would like to hear more about our experience of implementing ABC to learning design, then please don’t hesitate to contact us.