The teaching profession in times of pandemics: an ever-changing experience

Like any crisis, and perhaps more than many others, the Covid-19 pandemic has imposed radical changes in the mentality, as well as in the teaching methodology of teachers around the world. While the adaptation and resilience of students have given encouraging signals on many aspects, on the front of the teachers things have not turned out to be so linear.

In particular, the Università Politecnica delle Marche wanted to understand how the teachers assessed their level of preparation for the educational process for the Covid emergency. A series of interviews carried out with professors from various Italian universities made it possible to detect whether the teachers discovered themselves, sufficiently equipped with knowledge and information, and sufficiently expert in technology to teach in a period of pandemic.


The direct experience of professors from various Italian universities

From a series of interviews carried out with professors from different disciplinary sectors and academic seniority levels, it emerged that the level of technological literacy is perceived as medium. All the interviewees report that Covid-19 has imposed an acceleration of learning and a multiplication of remote connection systems for teaching. Specifically, there was an initial disorientation and difficulty in using and understanding the functionality of the platforms made available by universities, especially for older teachers.


A learning curve made up of 4 moments

Many of the teachers interviewed do not see their adaptation to the situation as linear; it was rather a progressive and staged path, a sort of curve made up of four great moments:

  1. 1)  the pre-covid where everyone was already using social networks and applications for videoconferencing, in addition to social media (Skype, WhatsApp, Facebook, Zoom);
  2. 2)   the first lockdown, deregulated in which the platforms made available by one's own university were used as bulletin boards and repositories on which to upload materials (slides);
  3. 3)     the two subsequent lock-downs, in which remote but live teaching methods were also tested (live streaming) and in which the use of digital tools was enhanced;
  4. 4)    today, in which teaching is delivered in blended mode (dual mode, with the physical presence in the classroom of the teacher and students both present in the classroom and connected remotely).

It's not just about IT support

In this rapid and difficult learning process, IT support has been bivalent. For example, there was no lack of information, demos and tutorials, while technical assistance and advice for solving application problems proved to be completely adequate. Some teachers have solved the problem, interacting directly with colleagues and students, demonstrating a strong ability to react in the face of a not fully consolidated use of the technological tools available. Exchanges between peers have generated a technological microculture on an individual level.

Another aspect that emerged from the interviews is that there is a lack of homogeneity in the use of technological platforms and a certain rigidity of the latter. In fact, most of them started out as business platforms and were subsequently converted for educational purposes. To this we must also add the fact that the choice of tools and the way to use them vary according to the type of discipline. Among the most cited systems are Webex, Kaltura, Teams, Meet, Zoom, BlackBoard, OneNote.

Looking at the future

Over time, teachers have learned to use these systems more selectively and based on the type of interaction and counterpart to be managed. Business meetings, seminars or participation in conferences, educational activities begin to be organized on different platforms. The most proactive teachers are also acquiring new soft skills, which allow them to transform content, increase student engagement and include new tools to assess their skills (e.g. videomaking, gamification, call to action techniques).

All of this seems to characterize the fifth moment of the teacher's learning curve in what we call an ever-changing experience.