Newest UTSA distance learning study: 64% of students learned less

Author predicts widening achievement gap

SAN ANTONIO – Of the nearly 300 students surveyed by the UTSA Urban Education Institute, author Mike Villarreal said 64% said they had learned less from home than in the classroom, 25% learned about the same, and 11% learned more.

“What we discovered was that a majority of the students really struggled to engage in their studies during this past spring,” Villarreal said.

He pointed out that the study was done during a pandemic when there was “a sudden shift in distance learning nobody expected.”

“We are going to be digging deeper in understanding who the students are and how this experience shaped their learning not just right now, but also into the future,” Villarreal said.

But as of now, Villarreal said, “We expect that we’re going to see widening of the achievement gap.”

However, based on their experience last spring, school districts are trying to improve distance learning, he said.

Having already surveyed teachers for the initial study released earlier this month, the most recent findings showed what worked and what didn’t work for the 1,125 students and parents who took part in the survey.

UTSA distance learning survey reveals teachers’ distance learning concerns

For instance, live interaction with teachers and their peers, creative assignments and one-on-one time with teachers were beneficial, according to those surveyed.

But worksheets, lessons without access to teachers, pre-packaged online content and too many hard-to-navigate tech platforms were among the negatives cited in the study.

Villarreal said it could be that school districts will adopt the “blended learning” model that was already in use by CAST, the Centers for Applied Science and Technology, charter, or “district choice,” schools within several San Antonio school districts.

Villarreal said it combines in-person and technology-based distance learning. He said CAST also has less on-screen time during intervals throughout the day.

“You want the student to be learning on their own, reading books, writing, and doing research, not necessarily in front of a computer,” Villarreal said.

However, until school campuses are re-opened, a spokesman for CAST said its teachers and students are limited to online instruction.

Due to the pandemic, Villarreal said the academic upheaval has made the communication between a teacher and student even more essential.

“The personal connection is central. It’s very important,” Villarreal said. “Whether it’s through technology or in person, that’s an essential component.”

About the Authors:

Jessie Degollado has been with KSAT since 1984. She is a general assignments reporter who covers a wide variety of stories. Raised in Laredo and as an anchor/reporter at KRGV in the Rio Grande Valley, Jessie is especially familiar with border and immigration issues. In 2007, Jessie also was inducted into the San Antonio Women's Hall of Fame.