Fjarkennsla í faraldri: Nám og kennsla í framhaldsskólum á tímum samkomubanns vegna COVID-19: Nám og kennsla í framhaldsskólum á tímum samkomubanns vegna COVID-19

Translated title of the contribution: Upper secondary education in Iceland during the COVID-19 pandemic

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As in other parts of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic had an extensive impact on
the Icelandic education system. During the spring semester 2020 all upper secondary
school buildings closed and teaching and learning was moved online overnight. This
change which can be described as ‘emergency remote teaching’ (Bozkurt & Sharma,
2020) posed significant challenges for schools and teachers, requiring them to instantly
adapt their teaching practices and course plans to a digital environment. The aim of the
study is to investigate how upper secondary school teachers adapted and changed their
teaching practices during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, their views
on administrative support and impact on students. In May 2020, all upper secondary
school staff were sent an electronic questionnaire on different aspects of working and
teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic (Háskóli Íslands, n.d.). Here the focus is on
the answers of upper secondary teachers to three categories of questions: (1) management
and support during the transition to remote teaching; (2) changes made to teaching
practices, such as teaching methods and assessment; and (3) impact on students, in terms
of demands, participation, and homework. The answers provided are analyzed by school
size (less than 250 students, 250–500 students, 501–1000 students, and more than 1000
students) as well as whether the teachers had any prior experience in distance education.
Overall, 680 upper secondary school teachers answered the questionnaire (37% males,
57% were in the age bracket 40–59). The sample adequately reflects school population
demographic characteristics, and the response rate was 42% of the overall number of
upper secondary school teachers registered in The Association of Teachers in Upper
Secondary Schools.
The results showed that most teachers worked from home and said that they made
changes to their teaching practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Courses were rarely
suspended and therefore teachers generally continued their teaching load, but in most
cases under drastically changed circumstances. Overall, pedagogical support seems to
have been insufficient, particularly in larger schools. About a third of teachers maintained
the weekly class schedule, but half could decide whether to do so or not, indicating a lack
of coordination within schools in how best to organize classes. Teachers in larger upper
secondary schools thought their duties were less clear and said they had received fewer
directives from the school leadership in comparison to teachers in smaller schools. The
results also show significant influence on teaching practices, especially in larger schools.
The challenges included using varied teaching methods, continuing teaching practical
or workshop classes, and encouraging student collaboration. Most teachers seem to have
Fjarkennsla í faraldri: Nám og kennsla í framhaldsskólum á tímum samkomubanns vegna COVID-19
dealt with the challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing more flexibility
and adapting their teaching to student needs, and the fact that the majority of them
seem to have changed their assessment practices provides evidence of this adaptation.
Having experience of distance education seemed to have mitigated negative effects, and
teachers with such experience were more likely to say the effects on their teaching were
minimal. Finally, the results show that the teachers adjusted their demands on students
during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020. Teachers said student attendance
and participation had decreased, and this negative effect was more pronounced at larger
schools, whereas teachers at smaller schools were more likely to report no change in
student participation. Again, having experience of distance education seems to have
mitigated the negative effects reported.
Taken together, these results highlight the challenges facing upper secondary teachers
during the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, but also demonstrate that
teachers worked hard in overcoming these challenges and adapted to new circumstances.
The results show that most teachers would have liked more pedagogical support in
changing their teaching practices and that there can be a fine line between professional
independence and lack of support. During the past decade or so, teaching and assessment
in upper secondary schools has gradually become more diverse, in line with new
curriculum guidelines. However, the results here show that teachers struggled with using
diverse teaching and assessment methods during the COVID-19 pandemic, indicating
a relapse in this development. This gives cause for concern, especially if the situation
is prolonged. These results highlight the need to include courses in teacher education
on distance education and using information technology in teaching, especially since
distance education experience was found to mitigate negative effects. Distance education
pedagogy is also important to increase student attendance and participation, particularly
to counteract the impact on vulnerable students and students in danger of dropping out.
Translated title of the contributionUpper secondary education in Iceland during the COVID-19 pandemic
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2021

Other keywords

  • Upper secondary schoolteachers
  • COVID-19
  • Teaching practices
  • Distance education
  • Remote learning


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