Moving Forward: Teaching in Uncertain Times

Community Blog on online, hybrid, and F2F teaching during the pandemic

Doing Research on Your Teaching by Moving Forward to the Past

By Mike Metzler (CETLOE Associate Director for SoTL, Retired Professor of Kinesiology & Health)

My part time job in CETLOE is to assist faculty doing research on their teaching and/or their students’ learning. Prior to the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, the most common research design for faculty was to implement an innovative teaching method and to compare it to the so-called ‘traditional’ method they had been using before. I think it’s fair to say that the emergency transition to remote learning in the spring of 2020, and through the summer of 2021 led nearly every instructor to implement innovative ways to teach content and assess student learning. Those ‘new ways’ constituted numerous kinds of interventions in teaching and learning that forced faculty to teach differently and students to learn differently than they had prior to the pandemic. These ‘new ways’ were pedagogical experiments, and could be studied as such—but the reality was no one had the time to design, implement and evaluate them empirically. Instructors were working overtime just to make it through those semesters.

The return to Face-To-Face instruction this semester will likely lead most instructors to do much of what they did pedagogically prior to the pandemic. Sure, some will keep a few things they did during remote instruction, but most will not. Their post-pandemic teaching will look a lot like their pre-pandemic teaching. Not a criticism—just a prediction.

During those semesters of all-remote teaching, faculty accumulated a large amount of pedagogical and learning outcome data. The near-total reliance on media-based content and assessments completed online have produced rich descriptions of student engagement and learning, now stored in iCollege and other places, and waiting to be mined. Those data are easily retrieved for research purposes.

As instructors return to many, if not all, of their pre-pandemic pedagogical practices, that also constitutes an intervention—one that can be compared to teaching effectiveness during the semesters of all-remote instruction. In a sense, faculty can now use this return to pre-pandemic teaching methods as the experimental condition, with the all-remote instruction used as the baseline for comparisons.

The good news is that faculty already have a lot of valuable data on hand from Spring 2020 through summer of 2021. They would need to collect and analyze data going forward from Fall 2021 on those same classes. IRB now allows the use of data collected in prior semesters without the need to secure informed consent from those prior students (an impossibility in the past). There are some stipulations, but they are simple to understand and easy to meet. If you intend to publish or present your teaching research data, you will need IRB approval to use data from Fall 2021 and beyond—including getting informed consent from fall 2021 and future students. Nearly all such studies would qualify for Exempt Review status, which has far fewer requirements than Expedited or Full Board Reviews. I am happy to assist you with that application.

If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘Do students learn more from my classes in person, or online?’ now is the time to find out. To discuss this idea of ‘Moving forward to the past,’ please respond to this blog or email me at

lcarruth • August 23, 2021

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