Teaching Remotely During a Pandemic: Impact of Smart-Working on Teachers' Professional Identities

Teaching Remotely During a Pandemic: Impact of Smart-Working on Teachers' Professional Identities

Francesca Amenduni, Maria Beatrice Ligorio, Maria Grazia Chillemi, Lorenzo Raffio, Patrizia Giaveri, Dena Markudova, Giuseppe Giliberto, Alberto Gritti, Giovanna Barzanò
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-6754-8.ch006
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This chapter presents a qualitative research project called “Oversight Points.” Fifty-nine Italian teachers participated in in-depth semi-structured interviews focusing on their perceptions, grievances, and hopes about remote teaching during the COVID-19 lockdown. Interviewees belong to a national school network and share a longstanding cooperation in blended action research initiatives. The research was inspired by the teacher professional identity (TPI) theory, and dialogical self-theory (DST) was used as an analytic lens. Data was organised through Nuvolar, a software that can generate word-clouds and provide timestamps of related video-clips. Results suggest that teachers are peculiar smart-workers. For them freedom of space and time, self-improvement, and autonomy—distinctive aspects of smart-working—acquire specific meanings, implying both positive and negative aspects. A set of positionings was found. The authors discuss how they compete in determining the re-organisation of teacher identities' landscape. Finally, they indicate some possible developments and practical implications.
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The COVID-19 crisis was a sudden and unexpected event. School disruptions due to the pandemic have consisted, in fact, in one of the longest breaks of formal education in modern times, in many countries. Carrillo and Flores (2020) highlighted how stressful it was for teachers to adapt their teaching style to meet the expectations of students, considering also the conditions in which schools had to operate. Schools often did not have an adequate online infrastructure, teachers did not have proper training, and the conditions students had at home in terms of quality of the internet connection were not clear (Zhang et al. 2020). Judd and colleagues (Judd et al. 2020) denounced also the lack of mentoring and support, which is recognised as essential.

Within the European context, Italy does not shine for its performance in digital development. The report “Educating Digital” (AGCOM 2019) indicated that only 47% of teachers use technology in their lessons daily, only 74% of schools have internet in all classes, and only 11.3% have high speed broadband access (30Mbps at least). Yet educational policy has not totally neglected digital issues. Starting from the 1990s the attention of policy makers has focused with increasing interest on the improvement of digital literacy among teachers and students. In 2007 an important national plan for digital school was launched aimed at changing learning environments and developing digital innovation in schools but most of these initiatives only concerned small groups of schools or teachers.

While this national plan was deeply criticised for its lack of impact, in 2015 a relevant reform occurred, embodied in the detailed and long discussed act, called “La buona scuola” (The Good School). This act introduced a new role, called “digital lead”, with the appointment of 8,000 new experts that had to be both digitally skilled and internal to the school, therefore familiar with its culture. Despite its smarter strategies, this act could not be defined a success, probably due to the inadequate financial investments, weak training and monitoring settings The full disruption of schools occurring in Italy in March 2020 introduced the possibility of distance teaching, which became compulsory a month later. Technology came to the fore to play a crucial role never experienced before, in that it was the only means to concretely tackle the school disruption, allowing for the continuation of the educational mission.

As many commentators observe (Franchini, 2020; Giovannella et al., 2020), teachers found themselves confronted with an enormous effort; they became smart-workers without any specific preparation and the weaknesses of the system surrounding them made their tasks even harder. Of course, it is possible to teach at a distance, however this implies a surrogacy of physical presence that hides many challenges. With this study we intended to approach teachers’ stories and experiences in this particular historical moment, to explore the opportunities and challenges they met, to make sense of their adventures, inventions, perceptions and emotions in performing a new, compelling role in a context affected by long standing weaknesses.

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