UNT Professor Researches Learning Environments During Pandemic

A University of North Texas professor wants to give teachers a helping hand when it comes to teaching during a pandemic

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Dr. Christopher Long is the assistant professor of K-12 education at UNT, and he hopes his research on COVID’s impact on learning environments helps teachers on all levels prepare for a nontraditional class setting.

Long began his research early in the spring semester on what he calls psychosocial perceptions of learning environments with middle school students in Denton. Then, the pandemic made its way to North Texas, and parts of that study fell apart. But, Long refocused his research to deal with our current reality.

His research is now centered on students’ normal learning environment before the pandemic hit and what it's been like since the rapid shift to online learning.

About 230 students from UNT’s education department filled out a survey in the spring semester. That survey took a look at five dimensions of learning environments: student cohesiveness, teacher support, involvement, task orientation and equity.  

For the most part, students said they preferred the way it was before the pandemic. Student cohesiveness, or students feeling like that were a part of the class, was a big part of what was missing. Long said kids kind of lost that feeling that you traditionally get with in-person group learning.

So, the question is how will all this research help teachers and parents because, he says, parents will play a big role in this new reality as teachers begin to try and navigate a new way of teaching effectively during a pandemic.

"You have to keep in mind what everyone is working through and be willing to be flexible and work with students, help them mitigate whatever obstacles are being thrown in front of them. My thing to teachers, try something see if it works, if it doesn't work, go on to the next thing, if it does work, share it out with everyone around you so we can start building up a database of what is effective in this environment, what is not effective in this environment,” said Long.

“I’m just encouraging parents to realize that the teachers are new to all this and they’re going to be trying new things," Long explained. "The best thing the parents can do is to support the teachers and help their students learn and not fight the teacher. The teacher is going to try some new things, and some of those things are going to seem odd, but as a parent let’s give it a try, and see if it’s going to be the thing that is going to help your student. It’s a very weird situation.”

Long says for teachers using an online format, it's going to take some thinking to figure out how to make all students feel like they're a part of the class.

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