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Exploring The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher Education in Malta: Student Participation in Higher Education

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The COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid transition from onsite to online learning spaces for initial teacher education (ITE); with Universities adopting new modes of pedagogy and assessment. This study explores: (1) how Maltese ITE undergraduate early years and postgraduate primary education students dealt with remote forms of learning during the early stages of the pandemic in Malta, and (2) the teaching/lecturing modes used, by lecturers, for remote learning, assessment and the impact on student wellbeing. The data were gathered through an online quantitative survey designed to collect information about ITE students' views. Students' responses obtained strongly suggest that in the eventuality of an ongoing 'post-vaccination COVID' era, ITE within HE programmes should consider revisiting the course content and delivery, supporting and fostering, blended and online approaches. A 'blind spot' reflecting the struggle for independence, autonomy, and control during COVID-19 in a postcolonial Maltese Higher Education context also emerged. The insights gained highlight how ITE students' views on their experiences of predominantly online pedagogy and assessment, and how the impact on their wellbeing within a Maltese HE context can serve to promote the development of ITE programmes. These results also emphasize the need to promote participatory research amongst university students as key to inform HE policy and practice.
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Exploring The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher
Education in Malta: Student Participation in Higher Education
Charmaine Bonello, Josephine Deguara, Rosienne Farrugia, Suzanne Gatt, Tania
Muscat, Josephine Milton, Lara Said, Jane Spiteri
Department of Early Childhood and Primary Education, Faculty of Education, University of
Malta, Malta.
Abstract
The COVID-19 pandemic forced a rapid transition from onsite to online
learning spaces for initial teacher education (ITE); with Universities
adopting new modes of pedagogy and assessment. This study explores: (1) how
Maltese ITE undergraduate early years and postgraduate primary education
students dealt with remote forms of learning during the early stages of the
pandemic in Malta, and (2) the teaching/lecturing modes used, by
lecturers, for remote learning, assessment and the impact on student wellbeing.
The data were gathered through an online quantitative survey designed
to collect information about ITE students views. Students’ responses
obtained strongly suggest that in the eventuality of an ongoing ‘post-
vaccination COVID’ era, ITE within HE programmes should consider
revisiting the course content and delivery, supporting and fostering, blended
and online approaches. A ‘blind spot’ reflecting the struggle for independence,
autonomy, and control during COVID-19 in a postcolonial Maltese Higher
Education context also emerged. The insights gained highlight how ITE
students’ views on their experiences of predominantly online pedagogy and
assessment, and how the impact on their wellbeing within a Maltese HE
context can serve to promote the development of ITE programmes. These
results also emphasize the need to promote participatory research amongst
university students as key to inform HE policy and practice.
Keywords: Initial teacher education; online learning; COVID-19; student
participation; Higher Education.
7th International Conference on Higher Education Advances (HEAd’21)
Universitat Polit`
ecnica de Val`
encia, Val`
encia, 2021
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4995/HEAd21.2021.12794
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-ND 4.0
Editorial Universitat Polit`
ecnica de Val`
encia 1249
The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher Education in Malta
1. Introduction
The SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) has led to a global health crisis that has impacted the
quality of education and the mode of delivery, process and outcome of learning at all levels
of education (United Nations, 2020). Many countries were forced to close educational
facilities such as Universities. This closure has considerably disrupted the quality of
teaching/lecturing within Universities and altered students’ learning trajectories. COVID-19
has also created opportunities for teacher education (United Nations, 2020) with an increase
in students enrolling in teacher training programs (Worth & McLean, 2020). It has also
heralded the implementation of a digital transformation in teaching/learning in HE
institutions; which usually take years to implement (Adedoyin & Soykan, 2020). A critical
challenge relates to how students interact with digital teaching and learning, in that littl is as
yet known about the impact of online teaching and learning in ITE (Carrillo & Flores, 2020).
In Malta, during the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Malta,
experienced a rapid transition from onsite face-to-face to remote teaching and learning,
affecting education, including ITE (Carrillo & Flores, 2020). This paper gives a voice to the
students at the University of Malta and explores the influence of COVID-19 on their
undergraduate/postgraduate ITE experiences through student participation.first section starts
on page two. Paper length must be between 4 and 8 pages (A4 size), incorporating all text,
references, figures and tables. These guidelines are strict: papers failing to adhere to the
guidelines (by being more than 8 pages, altering margins or not following the template) will
be rejected without consideration of their merits.
2. Literature review: The impact of COVID-19 on HE and ITE
An important consequence of COVID-19 for HE was the shift from face-to-face instruction
to synchronous/asynchronous online modes of teaching and learning. Many universities,
including the University of Malta (UM), already possessed a virtual learning environment
(VLE). This sudden shift to online modes created challenges/hardships to academic
staff/students (Allen, Rowan & Singh, 2020) and had major academic, financial, social and
physical implications for students (Donsita-Schmidt & Ramot, 2020). Universities adopted
new modes of assessment such as writing blogs, portfolios, production of interactive digital
posters, podcasts, presentations, etc. Many assessments and exams were also held online
(Donsita-Schmidt & Ramot, 2020). ITE also experienced added challenges related to their
trainee teachers’ practical work experience in schools (Donsita- Schmidt & Ramot, 2020).
As school closure reduced the placements available, this also resulted in lost opportunities
for teaching practice. Student teachers could find more time to read and to reflect in-depth,
achieving improved overall grades (La Velle et al., 2020). Universities adopted different
strategies to overcome ITE challenges such as having online work placements. However,
online modes of teaching and learning are not always motivational to university students;
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Charmaine Bonello et al.
and Maltese student teachers may not be any different. Isolation also impacted students’
psychological wellbeing (Arnhold, et al., 2020). The intensity of interaction prevalent in
teacher training programmes such as collaboration and cooperation, led some students to
experience stress/burnout and exhibit this through an apparent lack of enthusiasm to
participate actively in online learning.
3. Aims and Objectives of the study
The study explored how Maltese ITE for early years and primary education dealt with remote
online learning during the pandemic, and how the pedagogies experienced impacted
students’ learning and wellbeing. The study included two groups of students from the
Faculty of Education (FoE) at the University of Malta: those following a 3-year Bachelor
degree in Early Childhood Education and Care (BA) (training to work with 3- to 5-year-old
children); and Master in Teaching and Learning (MTL) students training to become primary
teachers (working with 5- to 11-year- old children). The aim of this research was to
understand the impact of COVID-19 on ITE students’ overall learning and wellbeing
through a student participatory research approach. The specific objectives were to explore:
trainee educators’ perceptions and experiences of online delivery modes in ITE; the impact
of the shift to online learning on relationships and wellbeing; and ITE students’ preferences
of online pedagogies. The main research question set was: ‘What lessons were learnt from
the rapid shift to online modes of delivery in ITE during the first wave of COVID-19
pandemic?’. This was extended to the following subquestions: ‘What were ITE students’
perceptions and experiences of online teaching and learning and quality of learning, and how
did it impinge on their relationships and overall wellbeing?’, and ‘What online pedagogies
and strategies did the ITE students prefer?’
4. Methodology
The research methodology involved an anonymous online quantitative survey among
University of Malta ITE students’ about their experiences and views of their educational and
personal lives during COVID-19. The survey was divided in four-sections and included 29
items, mainly multiple-choice and 5-point Likert scales. The featured sections included items
about: participants’ demographics; teaching/learning during the pandemic; learning spaces;
and relationships and wellbeing. Following ethical clearance obtained from the Faculty of
Education Research Ethics committee at the University, the necessary permissions were
obtained to disseminate the survey through the University channels. Responses were
collected between July and September 2020. A total of 127 ITE students (BA group n=68,
MTL group n=40, not stated n=19) from a whole student population of 206 participated in
the study. The majority of respondents were female at 94.5% (n=120) while 5.5% (n=7) were
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The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher Education in Malta
males. Students’ ages ranged between 18 to 47 years. MTL students were on average aged
20.57 years old (s.d=3.788), whilst BA students 19.01 years (s.d=5.44). This older age for
MTL students reflects the years needed prior to progression postgraduate professional
Masters training in the case of primary school teachers.
5. Results
The students’ responses reflect the use of a range of methods of online learning. The most
popular were live online lectures, experienced very often by 52.4% of the students, and often
by another 20.6%. Many students also had documents uploaded on the University’s Virtual
Learning Environment (VLE) (‘very often’ for 50.0% and ‘often’ for 29.6%). Recorded online
lectures were also used, but to a lesser degree, as were group tutorials on Zoom/Teams. Forums
(synchronous or asynchronous) were also not frequent, with 30.0% only using them
‘sometimes’. There was also limited interaction during live online sessions, with one third
(20.8% ‘very often’ and 12.5% ‘often’) using the mute button. Lectures were also teacher
centred, as many (46.4% ‘very often’ and 34.2% ‘often) declared that they took notes during
the lectures. About half of the students (45.92%) used the chat. It is also worth noting that the
great majority never changed their name on screen, or left the lecture to do something else.
Students were asked to express the impact of the different online modes on their learning. As
figure 1. below shows, over half of the students enjoyed spontaneous sessions as they found
it easy to participate actively and ask questions. They also felt more ‘normal’ in the COVID
circumstances, as well as felt that the lecturer could plan better. Contrary to live online
lectures, many students (45.0%) did not feel that they learnt more with recorded lectures while
for 27.9% it made no difference. Only over half (57.3%) listened to a recorded lecture before
the next one was uploaded. About one fifth of the students also often discussed the
lectures with their classmates, while another 47.5% did this sometimes. Only 13.5%
sometimes listened to lectures together with their classmates. However, the majority of the
students liked listening to recorded lectures according to their schedule (89.2%) and that they
could stop the presentation to research material related to the lecture as they needed (80.9%).
They (63.1%) also felt that it allowed them to discuss with classmates when they did not
understand well. In comparing their learning experiences during COVID to normal university
life, over 60% agreed that they spent more time following online lectures and doing
task assignments. Their lectures did not decrease which shows that learning kept on going at
a good pace. Their responses reflect divergent views with respect to whether it was easier to
understand their lecturer when learning online, with about one quarter (26.3%) not liking it,
about one third (29.1%) to whom it made no difference, and around 41% who found it easier.
However, around half of the students found learning more difficult. 46% of students stated
that they spent more time reading, and 41.67% said that they had more time to consolidate
their learning.
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Charmaine Bonello et al.
Figure 1. Impact on online learning.
There was an overall divergent opinion with respect to the quality of learning, with similar
percentages stating that quality was higher, the same quality, and poorer (Figure 2).
However, over half (60.0%) of the students stated that they missed the face-to-face
interaction and around 40.o% were concerned about lack of support for learners. About one
third were more worried about reduced teaching time and content. One major concern for
many (66.20%) with respect to their wellbeing was that they could not maintain long hours
of online engagement and that learning had become more teacher-centred (around 79%).
They also did not like that there was a diminished level of student engagement (60.0%).
Figure 2. ITE’s students’ views on quality of learning during COVID.
These responses show that not only learning may have been harder for some during
lockdown, but that even their wellbeing was impacted. On a positive note, quite a number of
students seem to be resilient. In fact, many of the students indicated that the support of their
family helped them deal with the COVID situation. As a Mediterranean country and culture,
family structures are very important in Malta. This aspect has helped many of the students’
wellbeing as they could deal better with the constraint of having to be physically separate
from their friends. Students were also asked to indicate what they would keep from their
learning experiences at post-COVID. It appears that, having experienced both online and
28,74 11,49
40,70 31,40 31,03 10,47
14,94 24,14
27,91
15,12 10,34 25,58
56,32 64,37
31,40 53,49 58,62 63,95
0%
20%
40%
60%
80%
100%
More normal
to follow live
(n=87)
Enjoy
spontaneous
live (n=87)
Learn more
when
recorded
(n=86)
Easily
participate
actively
(n=86)
Ask lecturer to
explain again
(n=87)
Lecturer can
plan next
lecture
effectively
(n=86)
% disagree % no difference % agree
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The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher Education in Malta
face-to-face learning at University, that over half appreciated the positive aspects of both
approaches, and were also positive with respect to keeping a blended approach (Figure 3).
This has implications to ITE at post-COVID phase.
Figure 3. ITE students’ preferences for different modes of learning.
6. Discussion
A conceptual model emerged from the impact of COVID-19 on ITE students. The model
highlights tension in ITE students’ psychological need and wellbeing; colonised legacies in
HE; and a way forward for more inclusive learning for all. This first exploration study
points strongly towards the need to conceptualize HE teaching and learning in ITE.
Figure 4. Conceptual model on reconceptualising ITE within HE.
Theme 1: Battling a Crisis Online - Students’ Psychological Needs and Wellbeing: Students’
responses highlighted how they battled with COVID-19 limitations. Their positive views
of spontaneous interaction with other students and lecturers reflected a craving need to belong
and connect (relatedness). The students’ voices highlighted how they (60%) missed onsite
45 44 38
52 53 59
0%
50%
100%
Online learning Blended approch Face-to-face
lectures
% negative % same effect % positive
1254
Charmaine Bonello et al.
face-to-face lecturing and (66%) could not endure long hours of online engagement.
These responses highlighted how the psychological need for wellbeing (Self Determination
Theory) was not met for the majority of students who experienced stressful situations
(Agormedah et al., 2020). This implies that if online lecturing is to be kept as part of students’
teaching and learning modes in post-COVID, the number of daily online lectures need to
be taken into consideration. The length of each online lecture could also be rethought together
with the monitoring of quality eLearning is to be carried out.
Theme 2: A blind spot? Lingering colonised educational legacies in HE online teaching and
learning in Malta: Using the Self Determination Theoretical lens (Deci & Ryan, 1985),
competence and autonomy in the new adopted modes of online learning appear to have
decreased. Most students (n=79%), declared that learning was more teacher-centred,
involving passive note taking and using the mute all button (transmission of knowledge).
Students need to feel in control of learning (autonomy) to develop mastery of knowledge and
skills (competence). Students have differing needs depending on their cultural and
environment contexts. Not everyone will seek autonomy if others control the situation and
here is where the culture structure of Malta becomes important. Malta, as an ex-British
colony, has inherited a legacy of formal education, elements of which are still reflected within
its 21st century educational system (Baldacchino, 2019). Albeit the political, curricular and
pedagogical efforts by local education professionals for a more progressive education
philosophy, an existing ‘blind spot’, reflecting a dogged struggle for independence,
autonomy, and control during COVID-19 in a postcolonial Maltese HE context has emerged.
It is thus important for lecturers to engage in professional development on effective online
teaching and learning to maximise and make remote eLearning more meaningful and
responsive to today’s students’ needs.
Theme 3: The Way Forward - A Blended Approach for more inclusive learning spaces in a
Post-COVID University of Malta? Individual differences in learning styles and preferences
are rooted in childhoods and cultures and are reflected in the students’ views on (i) the quality
of remote online teaching and learning, and (ii) the preferences for future HE pedagogies.
The University of Malta should take into account the students’ voices by adopting a post-
COVID blended and more inclusive teaching and learning approach through the integration
of online and onsite face-to-face learning spaces. Also, in a post-COVID era, ITE within HE
programmes should consider revisiting the course content and delivery through students’
views to equip future teachers with the necessary values, knowledge and skills needed within
their contexts.
7. Conclusion
This paper sought a deeper understanding of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on ITE
students at the University of Malta. It highlighted the need to consider both students’ learning
as well as their wellbeing in ITE. Based on the findings, some recommendations for HEIs
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The Influence of COVID-19 on Initial Teacher Education in Malta
include: lead by ‘listening’ rather than ‘talking’ within a shared democratic vision; embrace
students’ right to active participation in HE; extend wellbeing services and assistance through
outreach programmes; provide spaces in ITE programmes to deconstruct the roots of
education philosophy before moving forward (reconstruct); promote learning that recognises
students’ individual needs, and increase their wellbeing; build and sustain an infrastructure for
integrating blended learning; and implement quality and more inclusive learning spaces. The
study has its limitations tied to a focus on ITE students in one HE institution in Malta.
However, from a geopolitical angle, the sharing of students’ teaching and learning experiences
within HEIs in Europe, may serve as a valuable input for forthcoming discussions regarding
higher education policy and reforms among European governments, policymakers and
educators. Ultimately, it is the core mission of the Bologna process to enhance the quality
of learning and teaching in HEIs, and student participatory research is key to inform policy
and practice.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a major concern across the globe affecting nation’s socio-economic development including education. It has pushes many HEIs in world to move into remote learning as a substitute of in-person instruction. The study explored students’ response to online learning in higher education in Ghana. The study was guided by three research questions. Descriptive survey design was adopted and online questionnaire was used to gather data from 467 students in a higher education of Ghana. The data was analysed using frequency and percentage. Overall, the study found that students had positive response to online learning. They knew of online learning and some of the platforms like UCC Moodle platform, Alison and Google classroom. They would also like to use other social media platforms. They would use smart phone and laptop for the online learning. However, they were not ready for online learning because they lacked formal orientation and training, perceived lack of constant access to internet connectivity and financial unpreparedness. Management of the university should provide resources to help students assess whether they are ready to take an online course and offer suggestions for preparation. Since internet accessibility is expensive in Ghana at the moment, management of the university should hold negotiations with Cellular operators for educational discount for distance students. Academic staff should provide instructional support through instructional activities that can help students in appraising their readiness, gaining the needed skills to learn online and consider using flexible approaches to teaching and deadlines to accommodate students with reliable Wi-Fi or broadband access challenges as well as emotional response to help student ensure smooth transition to emergency remote learning/teaching. Keywords: COVID-19, e-learning, Higher education, Student readiness, Remote instruction
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This paper examines the impact and implications on initial teacher education (ITE) of the crisis brought about by the Covid-19 lockdown of schools and universities from the perspectives of four university providers in England. The start of the pandemic meant that, in England, schools were closed to all but vulnerable pupils and the children of ‘key workers’, and so the normal placements of students in teacher education (ITE students) could not continue. The ‘virtualisation’ of the ITE programmes by, in some cases, both schools and universities, raised significant issues of both equity and pedagogy. The loss of time on school placement had the effect of lost opportunities for practising teaching but increasing the time for reading and reflection. We consider the effects on a teacher education programme when the practicum experience is abruptly curtailed, yet the programme is able to continue in a different way. We present a model framework for a new digital pedagogy for ITE and discuss the opportunities and affordances available as the post-Covid educational landscape emerges, and suggest that the Covid-19 crisis provides an opportunity to reflect on the idea that practicum experience may be a necessary but not, in itself, a sufficient condition for teacher learning.
Book
I: Background.- 1. An Introduction.- 2. Conceptualizations of Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination.- II: Self-Determination Theory.- 3. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Perceived Causality and Perceived Competence.- 4. Cognitive Evaluation Theory: Interpersonal Communication and Intrapersonal Regulation.- 5. Toward an Organismic Integration Theory: Motivation and Development.- 6. Causality Orientations Theory: Personality Influences on Motivation.- III: Alternative Approaches.- 7. Operant and Attributional Theories.- 8. Information-Processing Theories.- IV: Applications and Implications.- 9. Education.- 10. Psychotherapy.- 11. Work.- 12. Sports.- References.- Author Index.
Tertiary Education and Covid-19: Impact and Mitigation Strategies in Europe and Central Asia
  • N Arnhold
  • L Brajkovic
  • D Nikolaev
  • P Zvalina
Arnhold, N., Brajkovic, L., Nikolaev, D., & Zvalina, P. (2020). Tertiary Education and Covid-19: Impact and Mitigation Strategies in Europe and Central Asia. Retrieved from: https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/783451590702592897/COVID-19-Impact-on-Tertiary-Education-in-Europe-and-Central-Asia.pdf.
Postcolonialism and Early Childhood Education in Small Island States
  • A Baldacchino
Baldacchino, A. (2019). Postcolonialism and Early Childhood Education in Small Island States. Malta Review of Educational Research, 13(1), 109-130.