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What does the research say in terms of best practices in instructing students where school closures have been impacted by natural disasters i.e. Hurricane Maria or Hurricane Katrina to help respond to the Covid-19 pandemic?

June 2020

Following an established REL Northeast & Islands research protocol, we conducted a search for recent research on school closures due to natural disasters. We focused on identifying resources that specifically addressed research on actions implemented by teachers, administrators, or school systems to support students' academic or social-emotional needs during natural disasters. The sources searched included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response and we offer them only for your reference. Because our search for references is based on the most commonly used resources of research, it is not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

  1. Ayebi-Arthur, K. (2017). E-learning, resilience and change in higher education: Helping a university cope after a natural disaster. E-Learning and Digital Media, 14(5), 259-274. learning_resilience_and_change_in_higher_education_Helping_a_university_cope_after_ a_natural_disaster
    From the abstract: “This paper presents a case study of one College of Business (College of Business and Law from 2013) impacted in 2011 by earthquakes in New Zealand. Analyses from interviews of nine staff and documents were used to describe processes of increasing resilience with e-learning over the worst seismic events. Increasing deployment of the University's learning management system by staff and students plus audio recordings and video recordings of lectures enabled the College to continue its teaching. The Technology Acceptance Model and the generic model of organisational resilience by Resilient Organisations informed the analysis of the adoption and adaptation of e-learning than continued after the crises in the university.”
  2. Johnson, V. A., & Ronan, K. R. (2014). Classroom responses of New Zealand school teachers following the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Natural Hazards, 72(2), 1075-1092. esponses_of_New_Zealand_school_teachers_following_the_2011_Christchurch_earthqu ake/links/556a546d08aeccd77739ff97.pdf
    From the abstract: “Following a damaging magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand on February 22, 2011, an unprecedented number of displaced school children were enrolled temporarily or permanently in new schools throughout New Zealand. This study utilized accounts from primary school teachers in New Zealand, derived from focus groups scheduled in March and April 2011 for an evaluation of a disaster preparedness teaching resource, to examine how these disasters impacted individuals and schools outside of Christchurch. The educators' focus group accounts provide an illustration of classroom responses including providing emotional support to displaced children, informal classroom discussions, curricular responses, addressing disaster rumors, and information seeking through peers. Some recommendations are provided on ways to support teachers' important roles in disaster recovery, including targeting evidence-based guidance and teaching resources to schools enrolling displaced children, dispelling disaster rumors through schools and facilitating peer mentoring among teachers. An overarching lesson is that communities would benefit from teachers being better equipped to provide emotional support and responsive disaster education to children after disasters.”
  3. Rush, S. C., Wheeler, J., & Partridge, A. (2014). A proposed template for an emergency online school professional training curriculum. Contemporary School Psychology, 18(2), 143- 156.
    From the abstract: “On average, natural disasters directly impact approximately 160 million individuals and cause 90,000 deaths each year. As natural disasters are becoming more familiar, it stands to reason that school personnel, particularly mental health professionals, need to know how to prepare for natural disasters. Current disaster preparation and response models used by mental health professionals in K–12 schools, however, assume physical access to schools immediately or shortly after a disaster, and do not adequately address total or near total destruction of school and community property that would preclude any form of school operations or access for extended periods of time. One means for maintaining school operations after a natural disaster makes school operation and/or access impossible for an extended period of time is to employ an emergency online school plan. Ideally, emergency online schools can offer schooling and support services after a natural disaster incapacitates physical school structures for an extended period of time. This article presents the rationale and general resources necessary for constructing and operating emergency online schools and proposes a template for a graduate-level training curriculum on developing emergency online school plans for school systems.”
  4. Tull, S., Dabner, N., & Ayebi-Arthur, K. (2017). Social media and e-learning in response to seismic events: Resilient practices. Journal of Open, Flexible, and Distance Learning, 21(1), 63-76.
    From the abstract: “The motivation to adopt innovative communication and e-learning practices in education settings can be stimulated by events such as natural disasters. Education institutions in the Pacific Rim cannot avoid the likelihood of natural disasters that could close one or more buildings on a campus and affect their ability to continue current educational practices. For the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, the impetus to innovate was a series of seismic events in 2010 and 2011. This paper presents findings from studies that identified resilient practices in this organisation, which was a 'late adopter' of e-learning. The findings indicate that the combined use of social media and e-learning to support teaching, learning, communication, and related organisational practices fosters resilience for students, staff, and organisations in times of crises. The recommendations presented are relevant for all educational organisations that could be affected by similar events.”
  5. Wright, S., & Wordsworth, R. (2013). Teaching through 10,000 earthquakes: Constructive practice for instructors in a post-disaster environment. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25(2), 144-153.
    From the abstract: “The authors describe their experiences of teaching through a series of major earthquakes and the lessons learned regarding sustaining teaching and learning through an ongoing natural disaster. Student feedback data from across the university is analyzed to generate a model of constructive practice for instructors responding to a crisis. The article challenges instructors to reflect on student and instructor needs before, during, and after a crisis in terms of preparedness for immediate disruption, programmatic and pedagogical changes, communication, and response to psychological needs. The authors' experiences with teaching through the earthquakes reinforce the message that even the most well-intentioned and self-aware instructor will, at some stage, falter during an ongoing crisis. Psychological preparedness and classroom emergency management planning are vital to the continuity of teaching and learning in a crisis situation.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

Education Development Trust.
From the website: “Education Development Trust works collaboratively with national and local governments, schools and other partners from around the world to design and deliver sustainable solutions to improve education and transform lives. Our work is evidence informed and we invest annually in our programme of educational research.”

Selected reference:

Hallgarten, J., Gorgen, K., & Sims, K. (2020). Overview of emerging country-level response to providing educational continuity under COVID-19: What are the lessons learned from supporting education in conflicts and emergencies that could be relevant for EdTech-related responses to COVID-19? Education Development Trust.
From the executive summary: “The report explores lessons from conflict and education in emergencies (EiE) seeking evidence-informed recommendations for policy makers that can help in the global response to Covid-19. The report explores transferability from EiE contexts to non-EiE Covid-19-affected contexts. The issue of how Covid-19 will impact on existing EiE contexts and displaced pupils is a vital one, but it is beyond the scope of this review. Although the majority of examples explored are technology-enabled, the report also considers how other lessons learned from how no-tech interventions in EIE have supported continuity of learning, and how technologies might support their adoption in other contexts. The scope of this review is largely limited to school-age learners. Given the other reviews currently being undertaken on gender, disadvantage and special educational needs, this review has not concentrated on these more specific areas. Also out of scope is evidence regarding attempts to mitigate the primary impact of disease outbreaks in EiE settings (i.e. preventing the spread of disease and further outbreaks). We have built on the two recent reviews on remote teaching and on Covid-19 distance learning responses, but we have not repeated their conclusions. We have attempted to find examples of practice that are consistent with the conclusions around effective pedagogies, whilst still including examples where 'teacher presence' may be impossible or precarious. The report largely uses meta-analyses of literature, but also includes a scan of the most recent (2019–20) peer-reviewed journal articles and grey literature.”

Save the Children.
From the website: “For 100 years, we've been giving children in the U.S. and around the world a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. When crisis strikes, we are always among the first to respond and the last to leave. We do whatever it takes to save children, transforming their lives and the future we share.”

Selected reference:

Tauson, M. & Stannard, L. (2018). EdTech for learning in emergencies and displaced settings: A rigorous review and narrative synthesis. Save the Children.
From the executive summary: “…the purpose of this report is to build an understanding of 'what works' in EdTech to ensure that children can learn in crisis or displaced settings. The field of EdTech is vast, and has influenced almost every facet of modern educational delivery. This report will focus on 'child facing' EdTech, which refers to technology – both software and hardware – designed directly for use by the child or by a teacher, parent, or facilitator working with a child. Overall, this report amasses evidence to develop a more nuanced understanding of what is required to implement effective and ethical EdTech programmes that lead to children learning, asking the research question: How can the utilisation of EdTech (at home or at school) for teaching and learning best facilitate the learning process of children in crisis-affected settings?”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

Natural disasters school closures

Natural disasters schools closed

Long term school closures

Long term schools closed

Extended school closures

Education in emergencies

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of the publication: References and resources published for the last seven years, from 2013 to present, were included in the search and review.

Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including WWC, ERIC, and NCEE.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Northeast & Islands Region (Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, and Vermont), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands at Education Development Center. This memorandum was prepared by REL Northeast & Islands under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0008, administered by Education Development Center. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.