Thursday, October 7, 2021

Emotion and self-belief in online education

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
Confidence and self-belief are crucial elements in education. Your emotional attitude to what you are studying can strongly influence your chances of success. We all remember subjects we hated at school and how that attitude was often formed by a simple dislike of the teacher who taught it or maybe the way the subject was taught. Or the classroom, or your classmates; the list goes on. Even the most pedagogical and well-planned lessons can go wrong if the student simply doesn't feel like working today. It's a wickedly difficult factor to influence since emotion is so often irrational and unpredictable.

There has been considerable research in the role of emotions in online education, for example the work of Martha Cleveland-Innes and Prisca Campbell, relating emotional presence to the wider community of inquiry model (see Cleveland-Innes, M., & Campbell, P. (2012). Emotional presence, learning, and the online learning environment. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 13(4), 269-292.). They define the concept as:

Emotional presence is the outward expression of emotion, affect, and feeling by individuals and among individuals in a community of inquiry, as they relate to and interact with the learning technology, course content, students, and the instructor.
Online learning can be very emotional, especially when tools and resources don't work as expected and when technical problems outweigh the actual learning experience. It's important therefore to build a community of trust in the group and acknowledge the emotional ups and downs. The teacher can turn frustration into more positive emotions by tackling issues with respect, humour and understanding. Timely support can also soothe student nerves. Students can also learn to help each other and offer emotional support - even a well-timed smiley can help.

Another aspect of emotion comes in a new report from College Innovation Network, The New Digital Divide: How EdTech Self-Efficacy is Shaping the Online Student Learning Experience in Higher Ed, showing how students' perception of their proficiency in using digital tools and platforms, their EdTech self-efficacy, determined to a large extent their experience of online education during the pandemic. Those with a positive experience of and attitude towards educational technology also felt positively about their online learning experience during the pandemic. Furthermore, those who attended institutions where online education and the use of digital tools and platforms were already established found the transition relatively simple and were very positive to how online teaching had contributed to their learning process. Those who lacked experience of online education or had low confidence in their ability to learn in an online environment struggled.

The results of the survey further show the impact of EdTech self-efficacy on the student learning experience. Students’ reports of their EdTech self-efficacy was the most robust predictor of how they reported on a variety of aspects of their online learning experience this past year, including whether they felt they were learning effectively in an online environment, and how academically prepared they felt for next year.

Another digital divide mentioned is that of access to and ownership of digital devices and broadband internet access. Here there is a clear divide where less privileged groups had difficulty accessing course material and were unable to fully participate in online activities because they couldn't afford the necessary subscriptions and devices. They suffer from both the lack of necessary technology and the lower self-esteem that results in.

When students are required to use new tools and software in their courses, they are not only learning new course content, but they are also learning how to use new EdTech. Our data show that substantial portions of students struggled to learn how to use new EdTech in their courses. It’s important to realize that the introduction of new EdTech results in a dual learning experience for students. This can be beneficial as students are learning how to use new technologies, but it is important to design courses to incorporate proper instruction of new technologies to students, and ensure that all students have the digital literacy skills they need to succeed in courses.

This may seem obvious but we need to be reminded of the digital divide that is present in most institutions and how this links to self-esteem and confidence. How many students drop out due to low self-esteem and lack of experience? How does previous bad experience of online education affect future performance? When faced with a difficulty a common reaction is to say "I knew I wasn't good enough to do this sort of course" and drop out. We need to learn to meet these pre-conceptions from the start and create a sense of trust in the group where concerns can be raised and resolved with understanding and respect. Often it's not simply technical issues but emotional responses that can be most damaging to the student's learning journey.

An article in Inside Higher EdWho Are the Students Struggling With Online Learning?, comments on the CIN report by advising that teachers spend time with a class discussing previous experience of educational technology and making sure that there is adequate support in helping them get familiar with the platforms and tools used on the course. Obviously this also means designing the course to avoid tech overload and providing scaffolding and support for the technology that is used on the course. Many students face a double learning load - the course content plus the course platform and tools. Recognition of the power of emotional presence can be decisive.

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