Haring Center

October 21, 2020

Inclusion in Online Learning: Research

As online learning rapidly became the ‘new normal’ this year, the Haring Center stepped up to ensure inclusion was at the forefront. The Haring Center’s Framework for Online Support comprises a tiered system, at the base of which is ensuring support for families’ basic needs, and moves up through managing behaviors, developing curricula and monitoring progress to adapt as necessary. Each of the Haring Center’s three teams is working from this framework to promote inclusive online learning through its integrated model of research, training and demonstration.

“The pandemic was a full stop for a lot of Haring Center research,” says Kathleen Artman Meeker, Haring Center director of research and associate professor at the University of Washington College of Education (CoE). “Much of our research is applied, so it happens in classrooms, on home visits, in community locations.”

This abrupt stop to the conventional education data collection methods prompted Haring Center researchers to consider how they could use their skills to support online learning.

“Our projects had to think flexibly, be nimble and rise to the moment to do work that would be meaningful in this time instead of a burden on others,” explains Artman Meeker.

‘Listen-and-learn’ style methods took the place of traditional intervention techniques as researchers redesigned their work to be useful in the new normal. In some cases, teachers whose classrooms had previously been observed by Haring Center researchers requested follow-up and support around online learning.

Brand new projects also came to fruition as researchers learned from families and teachers about their experiences with schooling during the pandemic.

Elizabeth Kelly, a doctoral student at the CoE studying special education, was in the middle of completing her dissertation when the pandemic struck. Unable to continue her in-school data collection, Kelly designed an entirely new project, entitled Families’ Experiences with Early Learning and Behavior Supports During COVID-19 School Closures.

“Ideally, this research will reach policymakers and educators to help them understand what difficulties families are facing, especially when they have young children with challenging behaviors expected to engage in daily online learning at home,” says Kelly.

Haring Center researchers have also taken this opportunity to spotlight others with valuable contributions to the field.

“The best ideas coming out of this time are from teachers and families, and researchers can help shine a light on some of these really promising things,” says Artman Meeker.

Additionally, researchers are drawing from existing knowledge and applying it to the current circumstances. Artman Meeker notes that the Haring Center has conducted research on topics such as home-school communication and distanced coaching, and while this information was written from a classroom perspective, it is built on principles that apply broadly.

“We have decades of research about how to build responsive environments, community and relationships, and how to individualize instruction,” she says. “We don’t have decades of research about how to do that online, but we can think together with families and teachers about what carries over.”

Artman Meeker sees plenty of potential in the pandemic, and believes research can play a pivotal role in reaching it. She explains that special education services have been particularly disrupted, and those disruptions disproportionately impact families of color.

“The pandemic is an opportunity for us to think about how we can provide services better, so that we don’t recreate the problems we see right now,” says Artman Meeker.

Kelly adds, “Now is the time for early learning programs and families to authentically partner together and dramatically re-envision what instruction and behavior support look like for young learners.”