Abstract: Distance Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

624P Distance Learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Sunday, January 16, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 6, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Kathryn E. Parr, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Hartford, CT
Mollie Lazar Charter, PhD, MSW, Research Associate, University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Hartford, CT
Harini Buch, BS, Research Assistant, University of Connecticut School of Social Work, Hartford, CT
Background: As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, children of all ages have been engaging in distance learning (DL). This study sought to better understand perceptions that parents of young children (preschool and school-age) have of DL, with a focus on whether these factors vary by demographic characteristics like income, race, and ethnicity. Increasing knowledge about distance learning is especially salient as the pandemic continues but also because the pandemic has introduced DL as innovative tool that could continue to be utilized to reach children.

Methods: Findings from a cross-sectional survey conducted in both Spanish and English in a Northeastern state during September of 2020 will be presented. The survey included quantitative and qualitative questions that asked parents about their experiences with distance learning in relation to childcare programs. The sample (n=3,917) was predominantly women (75% women, 25% men), white (62% white; 5% black/African American; 30% Hispanic), and most were between the ages of 30 and 49 (71%).

Topics such as access to DL, perceptions of distance learning, and DL activities being utilized by families, were asked as well as demographic characteristics. Quantitative analyses including Chi Square examined possible differences between demographic groups, and qualitative thematic coding garnered a better picture of distance learning.

Results: Of the survey responses (n=3,917), only 14% were offered DL through their childcare program. While most school age children (90%) had sufficient access to distance learning if it was offered less than half (46%) of preschool children had sufficient access. Families of color, of Hispanic ethnicity, and with lower income levels were associated with having less access to DL (p≤0.01). In the qualitative comments, the need for access and support with technology was frequently mentioned by parents with lower incomes.

Overall, parents indicated ambivalence about distance learning. Only 14% of parents of preschoolers and 37% of parents of school-age children supported DL for their children. Themes that emerged through qualitative coding indicated that parents expressed concerns about age appropriateness, including excessive screen time. However, the desire to utilize distance learning varied according to income, race, and ethnicity; those with lower incomes, parents of color, and Hispanic parents about 2 times more likely to want their children to participate in distance learning (p≤0.01).

For those who participated in DL, preschoolers most often engaged in storytelling, and school age children most often engaged in ‘other’ activities like packets and remote learning with peers. Parents provided a wealth of suggestions about distance learning, including that live streaming would be helpful as it would decrease the need for parent engagement. Alternately some parents wanted DL that is flexible and asynchronous. Others highlighted the need for DL to attend to child socialization.

Implications: These findings indicate that in order for distance learning to be a sound choice for younger children that several important factors must be considered, such as ensuring equitable access across demographic factors; that concerns about age appropriateness should be explicitly addressed; and that the types of activities should strive to attend to the heterogeneity of family needs.