Online STEM education in Armenia: challenges and prospects
Between October 2022 and April 2023, the Ayb Educational Foundation undertook a research project as part of the U.S. State Department's federal grant program. The research project postulated a hypothesis that the perception of online education in RA is fragmented due to several factors, including geopolitical influences, socioeconomic conditions, and national and cultural characteristics. The investigation was approached from both a macro-level and micro-level perspective, thereby giving rise to two crosscutting research questions as follows:
- What organizational changes and competencies must teachers and students acquire to advance the establishment of online education in RA?
- What educational reforms are most crucial to achieving successful implementation of online education in RA?
In order to mitigate any situational bias that may have resulted from the force majeure "invasion" of online learning into the RA educational system, we conducted a descriptive research (DR) study at the beginning of 2020. The research was based on an open-ended survey that was made available to four key stakeholders, including teachers, students, parents, and education organizers.
The research aimed to achieve the following objectives:
1. Provide a comprehensive comparative analysis of online and face-to-face STEM education, covering two key aspects - the content overview and the organization of the learning process (as illustrated in Diagram 1).
II. Identify both positive and negative perceptions of face-to-face and online education.
III. Engage in in-depth discussions with three target groups (TG), namely teachers, students, and a combined group comprising of parents and education organizers. The topics for discussion were aligned across all three groups and the questionnaires' "Additional Observations" were considered during the discussions.
IV. Conduct a total of eight interviews with teachers and students who had varying degrees of experience with online learning.
Analysis of Research Data/Evidence
The subsequent analysis is structured into several sub-parts, based on the evidence gathered, which pertains to both the micro and macro levels. As a result of the compelling evidence generated by the descriptive research, particular emphasis was given to parenting observations (as illustrated in Diagram 2). It is important to note that a brief discussion of the challenges and perspectives of parenting, particularly in the context of online education, deviates somewhat from the overall structure of the analysis, though it is a relevant consideration nonetheless.
Parenting: Challenges and Prospects
The data collected from the target groups revealed several notable findings, including:
- A particularly extreme level of dissatisfaction with online education and satisfaction with face-to-face education among parents in Armenia, compared to other countries.
- The majority of parents, regardless of whether their children are experiencing face-to-face or online learning, are uncertain about their roles and responsibilities.
- The vast majority of parents view their participation in their children's learning primarily through external control.
- Parents generally do not place much emphasis on the cognitive aspect of learning.
- Most parents have an exaggerated sense of responsibility for their children's wellbeing, which leads to a negative attitude towards online education. This sense of responsibility is often used as a baseless justification.
Combining the accumulated leading experience in parenting and its expression in RA, we have concluded that the prospects of online education in RA largely depend on the study of this practice, localizion in our socio-cultural environment and the comprehensive development of parenting skills.
Professional competencies are a crucial factor in the learning process
The discussion on pedagogical capacities involves a comparison of face-to-face and online learning in terms of two key areas:
1․ the assessment process
2․ the strengths and weaknesses of teaching.
The issue of assessment, which is a cornerstone in all aspects of education, has revealed a rather complex and convoluted misunderstanding of the concept among teachers, who are the key implementers of this function.
The collected data allow us to conclude that in terms of professional development:
Firstly, the assessment process is the weak point of general education in RA, particularly in teaching STEM subjects. This challenge exists in both face-to-face and online learning settings. Moreover, it seems that the importance of assessment is not fully realized, which exacerbates the problem.
Secondly, the relatively small number of components in face-to-face teaching suggests that teachers lack confidence in their own professional competences when it comes to online teaching, rather than in the quality of the teaching itself.
Finally, there is an urgent need to establish a pedagogical professional participatory culture. This can be achieved through the study of international leading practices, retrospective analysis of one's own experiences, and providing recommendations for the strengthening of the mentorship institute. Additionally, the establishment of teaching communities can help to foster a culture of professional development.
Modeling of Education Process
The findings suggest that teachers were more proficient in implementing models of face-to-face teaching and identifying and applying the best teaching approach, albeit not always with complete accuracy. This indicates that modeling face-to-face lessons is valued more highly by teachers. Furthermore, while teachers did use online learning and teaching models tailored to the online format, it was deemed acceptable only when complemented by a rich and varied arsenal of face-to-face teaching methods.
From the perspective of learning process modeling, the the STEM subjects’ peculiarities are reflected in a number of specific conclusions, which record methodological inquiries that aim ensure the effectiveness of the transition from face-to-face to online teaching.
The implementation of practical and laboratory work in STEM subjects poses a challenge, as these types of assignments are more frequently conducted during face-to-face classes than in online classes. Additionally, there are numerous online tools suggested for conducting STEM practical and laboratory work that are not adequately suited for this purpose, such as Word, Excel, and quizzes.
Material Adequacy and Organization of the Learning Process
Even the most ardent opponents of online education admit that in the past three years since its introduction, the problems of communication availability and functionality have been almost resolved. In other words, now the ball is in the court of the teachers who prepare curricula, educational materials and conduct instruction based on them.
Planning and Management of the Learning Process
The research findings leave no doubt that online education has gained wide acceptance in the educational system of the RA, even from a public opinion perspective. Therefore, the focus must shift towards planning the extent and modes of this participation, including the different ways of combining online and face-to-face learning.
The available research strongly supports the advantages of integrating online learning. It is evident that as long as online education is limited to broadcasting classes and does not ensure primarily cognitive involvement of learners and evidence of its implementation, it will not be able to show its best aspects or fulfill its crucial mission for us.
Conclusions and Recommendations
To obtain comprehensive and well-supported answers to the research questions posed, it is imperative to review the complete version of the research. Similarly, the conclusions drawn from the research, which were condensed into two summary points, are more fully elaborated in the complete text, with several key details presented across multiple points.
The key idea behind the macro-level conclusions:
Online learning has become an undeniable reality in the educational system of the RA, and its incorporation into all levels of education management and regulatory processes is imperative.
The key idea behind the micro-level conclusions:
The study process in both online and face-to-face education should be designed to align with the ultimate objectives of achieving learning goals and outcomes, cognitive engagement, meaningful communication, and creative collaboration. This alignment should be reflected in the planning and management of lessons, learning activities, selected assignments, and assessment formats.
See full research paper here.