This is an excerpt from a recent article that was published by Springer’s Technology, Knowledge and Learning Journal.
The unexpected Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has disrupted the provision of education in various contexts around the globe. Education service providers, including higher education institutions (HEIs) were required to follow their respective governments’ preventative social distancing measures and to increase their hygienic practices, to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. They articulated contingency plans, disseminated information about the virus, trained their employees to work remotely, and organised virtual sessions with students or course participants.
These latest developments have resulted in both challenges and opportunities to students and educators. Course instructors were expected to develop a new modus operandi to deliver their education services, in real time. During the first wave of COVID-19, HEIs were suddenly expected to shift from traditional and blended learning approaches to a fully virtual course delivery.
The shift to online, synchronous classes did not come naturally. COVID-19 has resulted in different problems for course instructors and their students. In many cases, educators were compelled to utilise online learning technologies to continue delivering their courses. In the main, educators have embraced the dynamics of remote learning technologies to continue delivering educational services to students, amid the peaks and troughs of COVID-19 cases.
Subsequently, policy makers have eased their restrictions when they noticed that there were lower contagion rates in their communities. After a few months of lockdown (or partial lock down) conditions, there were a number of HEIs that were allowed to open their doors. They instructed their visitors to wear masks, and to keep socially distant from each other. Most HEIs screened individuals for symptoms as they checked their temperatures and introduced strict hygienic practices like sanitisation facilities in different parts of their campuses.
However, after a year and a half, since the outbreak of COVID-19, some academic members of staff were still relying on the use of remote learning technologies to deliver education services, as they utilised learning management systems (LMS) and video conferencing software to teach their courses. During the pandemic, they became acquainted with online technologies that facilitated asynchronous as well as synchronous learning.
Whilst their asynchronous approaches included text and/or recorded video that were made available through LMS (like Moodle), in many cases, they also utilised video conferencing platforms including Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Zoom, D2L, Webex, Adobe Connect, Skype for Business, Big Blue Button and EduMeet, among others, to interact with students in real time.
In this light, our research investigated the facilitating conditions that can foster the students’ acceptance and usage of remote learning technologies including LMS and video conferencing programs. We examined the participants’ motivations to use them to continue pursuing their educational programs from home, during COVID-19. Specifically, our study investigated students’ perceptions about the usefulness of remote learning, their interactive capabilities, their attitudes toward their utilisation, the facilitating conditions as well as their intentions to continue using them.
Our targeted respondents were registered students who followed full-time and part-time courses at the University of Malta in Malta. We used a structural equation modeling partial least squares (SEM-PLS) analytical approach to examine the responses of 501 students who voluntarily participated in our research.
The findings clearly indicated that the higher education students perceived the usefulness of remote learning technologies during COVID-19 and valued their interactive attributes. They confirmed that the respondents held positive perceptions toward their universities’ facilitating conditions (like ongoing support, as well as training and development opportunities).
The empirical results reported that the HEI’s facilitating conditions had a significant effect on the students’ interactive engagement with online learning resources and on their attitudes towards these technologies.
The confirmatory composite analysis reported that there were positive and highly significant effects that predicted the students’ intentions to continue using remote learning technologies. Evidently, educators have provided them with the necessary resources, knowledge and technical support to avail themselves of remote learning technologies.
The respondents indicated that they accessed their course instructors’ online resources and regularly interacted with them through live conferencing facilities. The findings from SEM-PLS confirmed that the perceived usefulness and perceived interactivity with online technologies had a positive effect on their attitudes toward remote learning.
In sum, this contribution has differentiated itself from other studies as it investigated the students’ perceptions and attitudes on the use of asynchronous as well as synchronous learning technologies in higher education. It implies that the integration of these technologies ought to be accelerated in the foreseeable future as they may become the norm, in a post COVID-19 era. Therefore, HEIs ought to continue investing in online learning infrastructures, resources and facilitating conditions, for the benefit of their students and faculty employees.