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Indiana University, Unizin launch massive study on effects of COVID-19 remote learning on higher education

Thousands of students and faculty to be surveyed in effort to gather data to inform future eLearning efforts

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—Almost overnight, the United States’ roughly 20 million college students were faced with a new normal this spring: leave campus and finish all classes via remote learning. Necessary to stop the spread of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the abrupt switch in teaching methods will leave its mark on higher education, and one Indiana University researcher is getting out in front to study the effects.

Ben Motz, director of the eLearning Research and Practice Lab, a unit within the Pervasive Technology Institute (PTI) at Indiana University, is principal investigator of the “Mega-Study of COVID-19 Impact in Higher Education.” The study was designed in collaboration with Julie Wernert from PTI, and Erica Moore, from the IU Center for Survey Research.

Ben Motz
Ben Motz

As the study's principal investigator, Motz seeks to understand how the transition to remote instruction has affected the learning environment at a massive scale.

“Education has undergone a rapid and unprecedented contortion, and the effects of this contortion should be measured,” Motz said. “We’re running a massive national experiment—except there is no experimental design. But there is a risk that we may need to do this again, in whole or in part, so we need to learn as quickly as possible about what happened this spring to be prepared for this fall.”

The mega-study seeks to understand how the transition to remote instruction has affected the learning environment at a massive scale, and how the transition and its impacts might differ for different students and faculty. There are many hypotheses about the wide range of challenges faced by our students and faculty—ranging from housing and food security to Zoombombing—and how they’ve affected teaching and learning in higher education.

The study aims to produce an evidence base that can be used to advise future support and recovery efforts. Data will come from institutions within the Unizin Consortium, who are banding together to conduct a massive multi-institutional survey deployed to undergraduate students and their instructors. 

Education has undergone a rapid and unprecedented contortion, and the effects of this contortion should be measured.

Ben Motz, director, eLearning Research and Practice Lab

The initiative is funded through a grant from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative co-founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt; by the Office of the Vice President for Research at Indiana University; and by The Ohio State University.

Core institutional collaborators include Indiana University and The Ohio State University. This summer, thousands of surveys will be deployed to students and instructors on those campuses, with data collection completed before the start of the fall semester. (Learn more about the study and its survey methods: https://osf.io/n7k69/wiki/home/.)In the spirit of open science, the survey’s raw de-identified data will be made public with plans to submit a more thorough analysis and peer-reviewed manuscript before publication.

“Someday, in the not-too-distant future, people are going to be very concerned about the effect of this massive forced migration to online education. We should have answers, partly to understand what has happened and partly to improve disaster preparedness and online education in general in the future,” Motz said.

About the Pervasive Technology Institute

The Pervasive Technology Institute at Indiana University is a collaborative organization designed to marshal IU's computational experts and resources quickly in response to societal, research and educational needs. The institute was established in 1999 by a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment and has continued to lead productive uses and applications of research technologies for over 20 years.