HSE Study Findings: 74 Percent of Teachers Who Did Not Employ Online Resources Now Use Them
A large-scale study conducted by the HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education found that the situation with online education is better than was first thought when schools had to switch to Internet-based learning to help stop the spread of coronavirus infections.
The social survey ‘Problems with Switching to Remote Learning in Russia – Through the Eyes of Teachers’ was conducted in late March-early April by the HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education. It received support from the Russian Trade Union of Education, the HSE Department of General Education, the Komsomolskaya Pravda Publishing House, and the Directory. Online Internet publication for school directors, and was carried out in cooperation with the HSE Institute of Education. In all, 22,600 teachers in 73 Russian regions were interviewed.
‘We wanted to identify the main difficulties that teachers face when switching to distance learning,’ said research group director and Laboratory Deputy Head Daria Saprykina.
Using Online Platforms
Researchers found that, even before switching to distance learning, 64% of the teachers surveyed had used online educational platforms regularly or occasionally, mainly for covering complex topics in their subject or for homework.
When schools switched to distance learning, the share of those using online resources during lessons increased from 64% to 85%. In addition, 74% of teachers who had never used any online educational resources whatsoever began employing them. Of those, 47% said they would probably continue using such resources in their work in the future.
The most popular platforms that schools currently use are Uchi.ru, Russian Electronic School (RESH), YaKlass, and Education.Yandex.ru. Interestingly, Uchi.ru is most popular among small cities and rural towns and RESH is most popular in cities with populations of one million or more.
In most cases, teachers choose the online platforms they find most convenient for themselves and their students, or else schools choose one or several platforms for the whole school to use.
Some teachers who still do not use distance learning tools explain that this is due to technical problems their students have. ‘Most of the students in my class do not even have Internet connections through their phones, much less high-speed connections, and only three of them own computers,’ said one respondent. Some teachers from this group said they do not have the necessary equipment themselves. ‘I have one laptop at home that my son who is in his senior year of high school uses,’ said one teacher, ‘and when he is done, another son who is in the ninth grade uses it.’
Teachers who regularly conduct lessons remotely listed several main problems they encounter. These include difficulty connecting all the children to the video broadcast, connection failures in the video platform due to heavy traffic, and the children’s inability to connect to the online broadcasts without help from someone else.
The residents of cities with populations of 250,000 or more are most likely to use the popular video communication platforms, whereas rural schools located in small and medium-sized towns were at risk. There, teachers reported fewer opportunities for remote learning, with only 8% of students equipped to study online.
The study found that teachers and students in the Sakha Republic (Yakutia) are significantly better equipped than those in other regions of the country are. Fully 61% of teachers in Yakutia conduct lessons remotely, as compared to a national average of 25%.
Teachers’ Workload Has Increased
According to the study, 84% of teachers say their workload has increased with the transition to distance learning and 59% said the burden on students has also grown.
This is first because teachers had to master new teaching formats quickly and must prepare for them differently than in-person classes. Second, few teachers know how to make use of the many opportunities provided by online educational platforms.
For example, only 13% of teachers know that the online educational platforms can check homework automatically and 75% of the respondents said they had not conducted video lessons at all as part of distance learning.
A Mix of Analogue And Digital
Many teachers said they make use of online resources, but few of them were aware of all of the functions they offer.
‘It’s all very basic,’ said HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education Director Head Alexander Milkus. ‘Many teachers report that they post the homework assignment online and students study the lesson independently. Then they submit their completed homework by post, email, or their parent’s mobile messenger service. Teachers also consider this non-standard method a form of distance learning,’ he said.
He said that the problem with this method is that students receive no feedback and that parents wind up having to explain the lessons to their children. But it is difficult to blame teachers for not conducting lessons or interacting with students online.
‘Many regions, especially rural ones, lack the technical capacity for this: Internet connections are slow and break up frequently and people do not have the necessary equipment for video conferencing,’ noted Alexander Milkus.
Still, the situation is not critical. As many as 84% of teachers report that they have the necessary technical equipment to work on educational platforms and 22% said they use their school’s computers to conduct classes online.
According to teachers, students are much more poorly equipped, with only 38% able to complete homework assignments using online educational platforms.
Additional Problems Teachers Cited
In addition to technical difficulties, teachers were unclear on how to hold remote lessons in art, music and physical education, or how students could engage with psychologists and speech therapists. Some schools have cancelled lessons on those subjects while distance learning is in place, and those teachers are worried about retaining their salaries. Teachers also noted that there were no easy-to-use distance learning platforms for working with children with disabilities.
‘The HSE Institute of Education is conducting comprehensive monitoring of how education is organized during the pandemic,’ said HSE Centre for General and Continuing Education Director Sergey Kosaretsky. ‘We have confirmed the data obtained by the HSE Laboratory for Media Communications in Education as well as that from other sources.’
He noted that children living in rural areas and families with many children face the greatest hurdles. The quality of distance learning differs markedly between regions, but that discrepancy is seen in other countries as well.
‘I hope that having shown that people are facing similar problems, solutions of proven effectiveness will be disseminated more rapidly,’ Sergey Kosaretsky concluded. ‘For example, by issuing gadgets to low-income families and providing support, including counselling, to families that are having difficulty with distance learning.’