Engagement and wellbeing in an online world

The results of OUP’s Addressing the Digital Divide survey revealed that teachers felt their greatest challenge during the pandemic was the problem of engaging students in online lessons—a difficulty reported by six in ten teachers (61 per cent).

A previous study carried out by OUP, surveying 538 higher education instructors, found that almost two thirds of UK respondents (65 per cent) reported that encouraging student participation—such as turning cameras on—was either ‘very challenging’ or ‘challenging’. A digital learning environment is devoid of the usual non-verbal cues that educators can use to spot and address early signs of disengaged learners. Equally, it can be more difficult for learners to engage with a screen, particularly if they have been spending more time than usual online.

Another significant everyday teaching challenge encountered by teachers was difficulty in accurately assessing children’s development and performance (49 per cent). When teaching face-to-face, teachers are able to witness the work being done and check on learners’ progress regularly, asking questions as a means of ongoing formative assessment. Online teaching does not offer the same opportunity, and meant that teachers were not getting as clear a picture of how children were progressing. As a result, it is more difficult for teachers to put effective interventions in place.

'Social isolation of teenagers, increased levels of child depression, gaming online when they are supposed to be in class, or using social media and not focusing on lessons. Some students have been trapped in homes that are not happy or stable places.'

Switzerland, Secondary School teacher


of teachers surveyed worried that that it was difficult to monitor children’s wellbeing in a digital environment

Added to this, 32 per cent said that they were unable to adequately support learner wellbeing. It has been well documented that children have struggled with long periods of isolation during the pandemic, and it is therefore no surprise that this was seen as such a significant challenge to teachers.

The picture is similar in higher education: according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) research into COVID-19’s impact on students in higher education in England (2020), over half (53 per cent) reported being ‘dissatisfied’ or ‘very dissatisfied’ with their social experience; and many students that responded to a Student Covid Insights Survey (SCIS) questionnaire reported lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness, as well as higher levels of anxiety, compared with the general population.

In addition to student wellbeing, a little over a third of teachers (36 per cent) in OUP’s survey also reported that there was a lack of support for teacher wellbeing. This serves as a reminder that it is not just children who have suffered from worsening mental health during the pandemic, and it is important that schools put in place or review initiatives to support the wellbeing of their teaching staff.