STEM teachers facing online challenges

March 21, 2022

Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) teachers struggled with implementing online education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This is according to a new study published in Disciplinary and Interdisciplinary Science Education Research from Western Education professor Isha DeCoito and co-author, Mohammed Estaiteyeh, a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education.

The researchers discussed their findings during the Let’s Talk About Education podcast.

They found 56 per cent of STEM teachers felt their transition to online instruction was difficult; 83 per cent experienced challenges while teaching and 51 per cent said they were overworked. Overall, 70 per cent had a negative online teaching experience.

“The results weren’t surprising,” Estaiteyeh said. “However, we weren’t expecting it to be negative to that extent.”

Using online questionnaires, the study looked at elementary and secondary school teachers’ self-efficacy – their belief they could teach effectively, and their belief students could learn effectively. They also looked at how teachers integrated technology into their teaching strategy and the availability of digital resources. Finally, the effectiveness of online learning, meeting teacher and student needs and assessing students’ learning were also analyzed, DeCoito said.

Estaiteyeh added online teaching during the pandemic was difficult for many reasons. First, many teachers were homeschooling their own kids while instructing their students online. In addition, teachers faced time constraints because they created course work from scratch due to the lack of resources and insufficient prior training. Also, developing and maintaining student engagement was challenging.

“When students turned off their video, teachers couldn’t tell if they were in front of their computer and still working,” Estaiteyeh said.

At the same time, teachers changed their teaching strategies. The majority of teachers prioritized subject content and covering curriculum objectives over creative and student-centered pedagogical approaches. Also, teachers found it difficult to assess students because they weren’t sure if someone else was completing the students’ assignments. Finally, some students didn’t have the appropriate technology, especially in the early days of the pandemic, Estaiteyeh said.

In Canada, school closures affected more than 6.4 million students.

Going forward, the Ontario government announced two online mandatory courses for secondary students before graduation. Based on this study, DeCoito believes the government needs to prepare students and educators for online teaching and learning. For example, determining the curriculum that is appropriate to teach online is important. As well, the government should introduce online courses to children in elementary schools.

“How do we prepare teachers and students for online teaching?” DeCoito said. “I think starting in the early years is important because we saw the impact on both teachers and students as they pivoted to online learning during the pandemic.”