Several studies conducted in recent months have found that Australian teachers considered the transition to remote and flexible learning as an exhausting, confusing and debilitating experience.
Indeed, the pandemic caught teachers everywhere off guard, presenting them with the surreal challenge of delivering a normal education under truly abnormal conditions.
However, a new study suggests Australian teachers may be ahead of the curve when it comes to remote learning.
On Tuesday, the OECD published the 2020 edition of Education at a Glance, its wide-ranging annual comparison of member countries' education systems, including a section on COVID-19's impact.
One education expert says the TALIS 2018 data foregrounded in the report provides evidence that Australian teachers may have been better equipped than those in most OECD countries to deal with the pandemic.
Associate Professor Matt Bower of Macquarie University is a researcher focused on the innovative use of technology for learning purposes.
He pointed out that approximately 79% of Australian lower secondary teachers let students use ICT for projects or class work, which was much higher than the OECD average of 52%, and third highest in the OECD overall.
"Similarly only 12% of Australian secondary school principals reported that access to digital technology hindered teaching, as compared to the OECD average of 25%,” Associate Professor Bower said.
"Novice teachers in Australia have high self-efficacy in supporting learning using digital technology, with 81% of novice Australian teachers reporting quite a bit or a lot of technology use”.
Associate Professor Bower went on to highlight data from his own university:
"We have reports from schools that when Macquarie University’s pre-service teachers are on their practicum, they are providing practising teachers with guidance and support to teach effectively online”.
He said COVID-19 has “undoubtedly” helped society to understand the value of online learning.
“It is critical that we provide teachers with the professional learning and resources they need to teach effectively with technology, not just to survive the pandemic, but to thrive in the future”.
Using technology for impact, not just convenience
The Educator Leaders’ Summit 2020 recently saw three award-winning principals share their experience in using cutting-edge technology to enhance learning and set students up for academic success.
Jamie Dorrington, strategic adviser at Caloundra City Private School, Tamara Sullivan, deputy principal of Inner City Secondary School and Kylee Owen, principal of Callaghan College, explained how their schools have been using technology to foster stronger connections and improved learning outcomes during COVID-19.
Dorrington said that no school could be expected to be completely prepared for the incredible disruption the pandemic caused, but fortunately much of the necessary architecture was in place to help students and staff survive the worst.
“Back at St Stephens, we did a lot of work around blended learning for years. When the pandemic occurred, our school was in a position to apply all of those systems it had in place,” Dorrington told The Educator.
“We had developed some really good connections and networks from outside, but they had been built up over the long term. However, Caloundra was nowhere near as well developed in terms of its blended learning journey, but it did some fantastic work as well”.
Sullivan said pandemic has demonstrated the importance of educators linking and utilising connections outside of their school and collaborating with industry players.
“Having those external partnerships are important, but what’s more important is building that capacity within your school,” Sullivan said.
“At Ormiston College, we used to run a Learning Innovation Leadership Committee, which began with 12 voluntary staff members and over the course of a few years tripled to see a third of our staff on that committee really exploring those innovative approaches to teaching and learning”.
Owen said that for her school, the crisis was an important learning opportunity.
“There were certain things we already knew, but COVID-19 really brought some things to a head and made us hone in on specifics like ensuring explicit instruction and ensuring there was a really clear framework for our students to work within,” she said.
“However, at the same time, there was also a need to balance that with an incredible degree of flexibility to cater for the diversity across our student needs”.