In early April , we conducted a rapid study of Twitter posts to learn how students are adapting to the shift from in-person course delivery to remote teaching and learning.1 Since studies of faculty responses during COVID-19 are still relatively sparse, we decided to conduct a second rapid-response investigation of Twitter.
Early investigations into faculty experiences with remote teaching and learning as a result of COVID-19 are beginning to surface. For instance, the results of a survey conducted by Bay View Analytics showed that nearly all of the 826 faculty members and administrators who responded to the survey said they had engaged in some form of remote or online teaching and learning effort, that between two-thirds to one-half of the respondents had made changes to the required activities for their newly designed courses, and that 56 percent said they had used teaching methods that were new to them. The results of that study also revealed that this process has been painful, worrisome, and anxiety-inducing, requiring immense efforts from faculty.2
In a 2018 article, we described how scraping public social media data may generate valuable insights for online teaching and learning.3 There are challenges with this approach, including questions about privacy, ethics, objectivity, and representativeness—questions that others describe in the context of big data work4 and that we discuss in our own article in the context of educational technology. In reporting these comments, we intentionally avoid quoting anyone or otherwise identifying individuals and institutions. We used this approach not just because the data we describe below is available but also because alternative data-collection methods used for faculty input (e.g., interviews, focus groups, surveys) would have added further pressures at a time when faculty members are already overloaded. Based on our prior research, we also suspected that we could achieve similar outcomes by examining information that faculty have already shared.
To learn more about what faculty are saying as courses are being developed rapidly, iteratively, and under pressure, we scraped thousands of Twitter posts from individuals who had commented about "my student" during the week of March 15, 2020. Next, we discarded posts that referred to K–12 students or posts that weren't from faculty (e.g., students' posts that included the term "my student loans"). We then coded the posts by topic and categorized them by commonalities, aiming to identify recurring patterns.
Here are some of the things we learned from faculty tweets.
1. Faculty are concerned about their students. Many tweets reveal that faculty know or are learning about the difficulties students and their family members are facing in their homes, communities, and in many cases, workplaces. Faculty most commonly tweeted worries about their students' physical and mental well-being. Many faculty are anxious about the welfare of their students even though they may maintain a calm demeanor during their interactions with students.
2. Faculty are proud of their students' accomplishments during these weeks when their lives have been upended. In their tweets, faculty often express how pleased they are to see students in virtual classes when students are facing so many external pressures. Faculty also note their admiration of students' achieving impressive outcomes on a restructured assignment or reaching a significant milestone such as a thesis defense or an academic publication. Faculty also celebrate and amplify students' achievements.
3. Faculty share their humanity by voicing their own personal reactions to the unexpected shift in teaching and learning. Some express their sadness at the loss of end-of-semester rituals with their students and their good humor when talking about a small faux pas they made while recording instructions/lectures or when mentioning the cat that managed to get in front of the webcam during a synchronous class. Faculty have been impacted by the shift to remote course delivery as much as students have been and are processing some of their frustrations with teaching in unfamiliar online spaces during this time of physical distancing.
4. To support their students, faculty are reaching out to colleagues, instructional designers, and educational technologists to talk about pedagogy and the use of technology in education. Faculty are sharing minimally disruptive practices that helped bridge their students' transition to alternative course delivery and are recommending effective instructional strategies or practices to deal with specific pedagogical or learning objectives. Some faculty are seeking suggestions for how to restructure assignments and assess student learning in meaningful ways. They seem dedicated to finding ways to make emergency remote teaching work for their students despite the limited amount of time they had to prepare, train, and gain proficiency in the use of educational technology and online teaching.
5. Unfortunately, a small number of faculty have used tweets to ridicule, complain about, or shame students by sharing stories of their mistakes or misjudgments. Faculty not only need to be mindful of their professional responsibility to provide safe learning spaces but also need to recognize that these tweets are potentially read by students and that these tweets may impact them in negative ways. This is a time for empathy, compassion, and generosity.
Faculty—like billions of others around the globe—have been thrust into a new and uncertain situation that requires flexibility, adaptation, and resilience. From our analysis, we were generally pleased and encouraged to see how faculty are using social media to express their concern for students and encourage lifelong learning. The only major worry that arose for us while examining these tweets was that faculty may sometimes lose sight of the public nature of social media and may at times use it inappropriately as a type of teachers' lounge where they can vent about students.
Moving forward, we hope that faculty continue to use social media to foster a sense of caring, connectedness, and professional growth. However, faculty should also be aware of and responsive to the potential sensitivity of the information they share online about their students. Social media can maintain and increase professional connections during this time of social isolation, but faculty may need to develop new literacies in these public spaces as online connectedness increases.
- George Veletsianos and Royce Kimmons, "What (Some) Students Are Saying about the Switch to Remote Teaching and Learning," Data Bytes (blog), EDUCAUSE Review, April 6, 2020. ↩
- Doug Lederman, "How Teaching Changed in the (Forced) Shift to Remote Learning," Inside Higher Ed, April 22, 2020. ↩
- Royce Kimmons and George Veletsianos, "Public Internet Data Mining Methods in Instructional Design, Educational Technology, and Online Learning Research," TechTrends 62 (2018). ↩
- danah boyd and Kate Crawford, "Critical Questions for Big Data," Information, Communication & Society 15, no. 5 (2012); Zeynep Tufekci, "Big Questions for Social Media Big Data: Representativeness, Validity and Other Methodological Pitfalls," International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, May 2014. ↩
Original citation: Kimmons, R., Veletsianos, G., & VanLeeuwen, C. (2020). What (Some) Faculty Are Saying about the Switch to Remote Teaching and Learning. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved on May 14, 2020 from https://edtechbooks.org/-TEpS