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 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 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. 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 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. 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 Education15(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 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 https://doi.org/10.1007/s42438-020-00150-3

Fast-tracking the Future: Reflecting on the 2019 Dublin Declaration

In November 2019, we concluded the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning with the release of The Dublin Declaration. At the time of the World Conference, which attracted over 800 delegates from more than 80 countries, no one was predicting or even speculating on how our lives might change in the space of just a few months. Even our DCU Student Ambassadors who did a great job in assisting delegates throughout the event had no sense of how online education would become absolutely crucial to the continuation of their learning, and in some cases completion of their degrees, in the face of a global pandemic.

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In the prophetic words of our conference poem:

“We no longer stop learning when the darkness gathers”.

Poem3Since this poem was read out in such dramatic fashion during the World Conference Open Ceremony, the move to rapidly teaching online has forced many of us to think around corners and fast-track the future. A future that was not thought possible even amongst those working directly in the area. This claim is evident by a quick analysis of the collection of papers contained in the two volumes of the 2019 World Conference Proceedings:

•  Proceedings of the 2019 ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, Vol 1

•  Proceedings of the 2019 ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, Vol 2

In many respects, the adoption of online learning in response to the Covid-19 crisis is now an opportunity for educators to reimagine education for better futures. Accordingly, the World Conference theme of Transforming Lives and Societies is even more relevant than it was when delegates came together in Dublin.  With the benefit of reflection, The Dublin Declaration (reproduced at the bottom of this post in a more accessible font) is still highly relevant to the uncertain future we are facing.

Opening
At the time, The Dublin Declaration sought to tease out and distil some of the key messages about online learning, and hopefully these will not get lost in the great onlining of education at the start of the third decade of the 21st Century. While online learning is not the panacea that will by itself transform the education system, looking towards a new and better future, traditional face-to-face delivery models can no longer be viewed as the default or baseline of good education and lifelong learning. Our discussions back in November in Dublin renewed the importance of reimagining the art of the possible and the need for growing innovative mindsets in turbulent times.

IMG_5507There is a risk, however, the mainstreaming of online education will promote old 19th Century teaching methods on new 21st Century networks to merely dump large volumes of undigested information down modern digital diameter pipes to relatively passive learners, with no transformative advantage (Brown, Costello & Nic Giolla Mhichíl, 2020). Beyond the current health crisis, if we want to develop creative, innovative and highly imaginative learners capable to solving tomorrow’s problems today, then we need to value and support these dispositions in those who teach and in our future education systems.

Tensions remain, nevertheless, between traditional conceptions of education and the creation of more open cultures of innovation, which anchored in core values and practices serve to unlock the so-called “iron triangle” of widening access to learning whilst enhancing quality and reducing costs. In the post Covid-19 era, where the commercial “EdTech” sector is more prevalent than ever, questions of who is telling the online learning story, what are they telling and why, and who benefits most remain crucial to harnessing the transformative potential of digital technologies in the service of a quality education for all.

The Dublin Declaration

Set against the backdrop of Samhain, a Celtic tradition dating back thousands of years celebrating the changing of the seasons from light to dark, the 28th ICDE World Conference on Online Learning in Dublin brought together around 800 educators from 80 countries. Over five-days in November in 2019 the World Conference provided a timely opportunity to critique, critically reflect on and celebrate the many and varied facets of online education. Framed by the overarching theme of Transforming Lives and Societies, the discussions in Dublin explored competing powerful change forces and different and contrasting preferred futures for online learning. From a rich tapestry of future discourses in Dublin, the following strands help to tease out and distil some of the key messages.

  1. Shifting shapes

Online education is not a neat singular shape. There are a variety of forms of online education and greater understanding is still required of the contextual and societal contours and the influence of important cultural factors in supporting learning. Moreover, the boundaries between online, open, digital and traditional models of distance learning have become increasingly blurred—for better and for worse. Therefore, online and off-line education is not a simple duality between good and bad, old and new, public and private – such binary thinking fails to convey the complexity and rapidly shifting forms of online learning and education.

  1. Shades of Openness 

There is a sense in which Openness is the elixir, the new gold standard of education and research. However, openness can be opaque with many different meanings and challenges. A broad spectrum critique of open is continually required, so that a myriad of education and learning futures can emerge. A renewed commitment to open practices and  social justice for transformative learning experiences was asserted in Dublin.

  1. Sharpening the Shoots 

Talk of openness also raises controversial questions about business models. Such questions were not avoided in Dublin as the conference explored the evolving nature of the MOOC movement and the influence of commercial forces. But business models are not new and polemic debates do little to advance deeper understandings of how new models of online education might serve to unlock the so-called iron triangle of widening access to education whilst enhancing quality and reducing costs. Governments and policy-makers need to do more to fully harness the potential of online education to promote sustainable business models and implementation that support the goals of life-long learning and education for all.

  1.  Sunsets and Breaking Days  

A key theme emerging from Dublin was that traditional face-to-face delivery models should no longer be viewed as the default or baseline of education and lifelong learning. Indeed, new and emerging models of online learning challenge conceptions of good pedagogy—irrespective of when, where and how people choose to study and learn. The continuing development of online education is impacting all delivery models and diminishing the distinction between formal, non-formal and informal learning. This point is evidenced by the strong focus in Dublin on the continued emergence of micro-credentials and their position within the landscape of recognised learning pathways.

  1. Turning the Tide

Online learning is not the panacea that will by itself transform the education system. Discussions in Dublin renewed the importance of reimagining the art of the possible and the need for growing mindsets in turbulent times. A consistent theme is the hope that new online technologies will promote more transformative and considered learning experiences remains largely hype and technocentric. The conference highlighted the need for teachers, educational leaders, researchers and policy-makers to embrace and to critique current models of teaching, learning and assessment in context. Tensions remain between traditional conceptions of education and the creation of a culture of innovation. More creative, equitable and critical forms of pedagogy to redefine learning and education are required for the knowledge society and in response to the ecological crisis facing the planet.

  1.  Closing Chasms

The need for balance and disciplined debate to critique online education to expose the challenges, the big questions and indeed its limits were brought to the fore in Dublin. In this respect the ICDE World Conference supported rich debate, disagreement and the expression of differing viewpoints. This critique should not simply be rooted in simplistic narratives or comparisons. It requires sophisticated theoretical reasoning and empirical evidence drawn from multiple disciplines to challenge myths, misinformation and half-truths whilst adding to research and to inform transformative practice. Questions of who is telling the online learning story, what are they telling and why and who benefits most remain crucial to harnessing the transformative potential of digital technologies in the service of a quality education for all. In this respect the conversations emerging from Dublin reminds us to also ask whose story is not being told and whose voice is missing or misrepresented?

  1. Rays of Light

The Dublin Conference was anchored in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS), the conversations served to paint a bigger picture of how online education has enormous potential globally to help support and transform lives and societies. With tones and intentions of optimism, realism and activism the ICDE World Conference on Online Learning has left us with the clear message to engage with issues of social justice. It  illustrated the importance and necessity of digital presence and participation of  indigenous heritage and culture in the networked world to promote diversity and to support context and  situated learning experiences. A rich tapestry of cultures and contexts in the online learning space connects learners and does not other their learning experiences. The concept  of othering, challenged the Dublin ICDE conference to renew our commitment to access, to inclusion and to lifelong learning and to reject hegemonic monolithic thinking. Delegates leave Dublin with a clear message for the future that online learning is committed to the values and practices of social justice, equity and ethics in a cohabited, sustainable society.

Conclusion 

At the heart of the ICDE World Conference in Dublin was the message of transformation. The challenge distilled by this declaration for all participants before we meet again in Natal in Brazil is to take ethical, sustainable and transformative actions that go beyond lofty aspirations.

Professor Mark Brown, Professor Mairéad Nic Giolla Mhichíl,  & Professor Joe O’Hara    

7th November, 2019

References

Brown, M., Costello, E., & Nic Giolla Mhichíl, M. (2020). Responding to Covid-19: The good, the bad, and the ugly of teaching onlineICDE Insider, 26th March.

Brown, M., Nic Giolla Mhichil, M., Beirne, E., & Costello, E. (eds.) (2020). Proceedings of the 2019 ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, Vol 1, Dublin City University, Dublin.

Brown, M., Nic Giolla Mhichil, M., Beirne, E., & Costello, E. (eds.) (2020). Proceedings of the 2019 ICDE World Conference on Online Learning, Vol 2, Dublin City University, Dublin.