1 Introduction

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, PK-12 schools around the globe were quickly forced out of physical classroom spaces and into distance learning. Hodges et al. (2020) refer to this temporary shift in delivery modality as emergency remote teaching (ERT). While the shift to ERT had a global impact during the COVID-19 pandemic, similar occurrences have happened in response to crises like natural disasters (Rush et al., 2016; Schwartz et al., 2020). During ERT, PK-12 teachers and students experience various challenges ranging from inadequate technology access to distracting home learning environments. It is crucial for PK-12 teachers to identify and address these challenges before introducing new content in an ERT environment.

Factors that may contribute to or inhibit the ERT environment can be identified through a needs analysis. A needs assessment is the process of identifying discrepancies that may exist between a current state and a desired state (Altschuld & Kumar, 2010). During a needs analysis, factors contributing to the discrepancies are explored in detail. A needs analysis can also be beneficial to a PK-12 ERT environment by identifying teaching, learning, and environmental affordances.

A challenge with identifying the needs existing within an ERT environment is time. During emergency circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers may not be provided with sufficient time to transition to an ERT environment. Oftentimes, teachers need to quickly prioritize what needs should be addressed immediately. Stefaniak (2021a) suggests that needs analysis must acknowledge the degree of entropy that exists within a system to determine the extent that the environment can self-regulate and implement change. Emergency situations often present a significant amount of inevitable entropy. We recommend that teachers conduct a rapid needs assessment to determine the immediate needs that can be addressed quickly within the learning environment. A rapid approach involves the teacher gathering as much information as possible within a relatively short amount of time. Oftentimes, these types of assessments may be completed within a matter of hours or a few days compared to more large-scale needs assessments that may take weeks or months to complete. Not only can a rapid needs assessment identify any challenges related to teaching, learning, and environmental affordances, it can also identify limitations to infrastructural support needed for ERT environments.

The purpose of this chapter is to explore how PK-12 teachers can use rapid needs assessment strategies to support their students during ERT. Sections 2 and 3 of this chapter will present the context of PK-12 ERT through the lens of the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting some of the challenges faced by PK-12 teachers and students as documented in empirical literature. Sections 4 and 5 of this chapter will provide information about typical processes for needs assessments, as well as expedited, proactive, practical rapid needs assessment strategies to support teaching and learning affordances in ERT environments.

2 The Current Context-ERT during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted PK-12 education systems globally. Although many industries shut-down completely, PK-12 schools were expected to continue operating in an ERT format. This impacted approximately 1.6 billion PK-12 learners in 190 countries around the world in the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2020 (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO], 2020). However, not all learners were impacted equally. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, PK-12 students around the world may face anywhere from 0.3 to 1.1 years of learning loss (Azevedo et al., 2020), substantially impacting students already facing achievement gaps (Dorn et al., 2020). In the subsequent sections, we provide empirical evidence of the challenges faced by PK-12 teachers and students during the shift to ERT and provide rapid needs assessment strategies to support teaching and learning for future emergencies.

3 ERT Challenges Faced by PK-12 Teachers and Students during ERT

We conducted a scoping review of empirical, peer-reviewed articles published in 2020 and early 2021 to determine the challenges faced by PK-12 teachers and students during the shift to ERT. The rationale for conducting a scoping review is that these reviews are helpful to quickly, yet systematically, identify key factors related to a particular concept (Munn et al., 2018). Based on the scoping review, we found that the most substantial challenges faced by PK-12 teachers and students are categorized as technology challenges, pedagogy challenges, environmental challenges, and social/emotional challenges.

3.1 Technology Challenges

Both PK-12 teachers and students faced technology-related challenges in the ERT environment during COVID-19. When schools shifted to an online learning format during ERT, teachers and students experienced issues with access to devices and reliable Internet (Antee, 2021). Many social inequities such as accessibility, parents’ and guardians’ abilities to assist students, and time allocated for learning tasks impeded the shift to ERT (Stefaniak, 2021b). Some school districts provided devices and/or Wi-Fi access during ERT; however, some teachers and students reported discomfort with using these new tools (Leech et al., 2020). This coincides with Moore et al.’s (2018) findings that 1 in 5 high school students in the United States were underserved in regard to technological support at home.

3.2 Pedagogy Challenges

PK-12 teachers experienced various pedagogical challenges as a result of the shift to ERT during COVID-19. Teachers indicated that they struggled to teach with technology in a remote format (Trust & Whalen, 2021). This is a result of many teachers being inadequately prepared to teach online during their pre-service teacher training. Kaden (2020) argues that online teaching preparation is limited to implementing multimedia and digital resources in teaching strategies, rather than online teaching pedagogy. Therefore, PK-12 teachers found it difficult to shift their teaching practices online. In a survey of over 600 teachers in the United States, over half of the respondents reported that their course lessons and activities were not as successful in a remote environment (Leech et al., 2020). Additional pedagogical challenges teachers faced during ERT were access to resources and learning materials (Kaden, 2020; Middleton, 2020).

3.3 Environmental Challenges

The environmental challenges faced by teachers and students during the shift to ERT impacted teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents struggled to support their PK-12 children at home, which particularly impacted families with limited resources available to them (Bansak & Starr, 2021). Some PK-12 teachers reported spending substantial time responding to parents’ questions about supporting their child(ren) at home (Trust & Whalen, 2021). Additionally, PK-12 teachers and students sometimes experienced inadequate working and learning environments while at home. For example, in some scenarios, siblings were forced to work in shared spaces at home, making it difficult to participate in synchronous learning activities (Kaden, 2020).

3.4 Social/Emotional Challenges

The social and emotional well-being of teachers and students was also a challenge to teaching and learning during the shift to ERT during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teachers who experienced COVID-19-related stressors reported difficulty teaching (Baker et al., 2020). Teachers also reported additional stress related to worrying about their students during the pandemic (Kim & Asbury, 2020). Students also faced substantial social and emotional challenges while at home, which include but are not limited to strained family relationships and feelings of isolation (Prime et al., 2020). Such adverse impacts to students’ well-being is associated with decreased learning and academic performance (Blodgett & Lanigan, 2018).

4 Processes for Needs Assessment

When conducting a needs assessment, it is important to gather sufficient information to understand the needs of the situation and determine factors contributing to those needs. Every needs assessment, regardless of scale, goes through six phases: identification of problem(s), identification of needs, identification of data sources, data collection, data analysis, and making recommendations and implementing changes (Altschuld & Kumar, 2010; Stefaniak, 2021a; Watkins et al., 2012). Each of these phases can be tailored to meet the time and resource constraints imposed on a project. Time allocated on data collection and analysis can be tailored to meet the time allocated for a project. Stefaniak (2021a) recommends that individuals take an iterative approach to needs assessment. As they go through each phase, they should be verifying that the needs are the actual needs of the situation.

5 Rapid Needs Assessment Strategies to Support Teaching and Learning Affordances in ERT Environments

When conducting needs assessments, educators must be “able to work within the scope of their design space, rely on the resources they have available to them, and make decisions to the best of their knowledge” (Stefaniak, 2021c, para 2). This is especially important when conducting a rapid needs assessment. Educators must be able to make decisions and implement changes that can be implemented in a timely manner. A big difference between rapid needs assessments for emergency situations and traditional needs assessments is that more emphasis is placed on meeting the needs in a short-term period. Depending on the situation, traditional needs assessments may make recommendations for addressing needs that could span several months or years to address. When conducting a needs assessment for ERT, the teacher should be solely focused on what they can reasonably do within a matter of weeks. A key difference between rapid needs assessment and a needs assessment with an extended timeframe is the consideration of implementation. When an educator is engaged in conducting a rapid needs assessment, the ability to implement solutions that arise from the needs analysis is important. Not only do they need to consider identifying realistic solutions that align with situational needs, but they also need to ensure that these remedies can be enacted immediately.

In this section, we propose strategies for conducting rapid needs assessments for ERT. Table 7.1 provides examples of the types of questions an educator might ask within this context. Recognizing that most educators do not have the time or access to data to engage in a large-scale needs assessment that may span several weeks or months, it is important that they rely on information they already possess to implement change quickly in response to ERT. Like any needs assessment, they should still employ an iterative approach and continue to assess and verify the needs of their learners as changes are implemented in the ERT environment and new information becomes available.

Table 7.1 Examples of questions to ask during a rapid needs assessment for ERT

Oftentimes, a problem has already been identified that has resulted in the push for ERT. When this occurs, it is important for teachers to consider what needs to be prioritized and which problems require immediate attention. This is usually influenced by the amount of time their school has imposed for making the shift to ERT and the degree of entropy imposed on the learning environment.

The second phase of a needs assessment involves identifying needs as they pertain to the project. For situations warranting ERT, it is important that the teachers consider the needs of their learners, instructional environment, and technological needs. While some may argue that technological needs would be considered an affordance of the instructional environment, we have intentionally separated them as two distinct categories. In ERT, the instructional environment expands beyond the traditional classroom and includes the students’ home environments (i.e., access to resources, support from family and guardians, appropriate assistance for completing online tasks).

The time constraints associated with the decision to shift to ERT pose significant constraints in teachers’ abilities to gather data to inform their needs assessment and analysis. When conducting a rapid needs assessment, it is important for teachers to consider and use information that they already have available. They should consider existing student information and performance metrics to help inform their instructional design changes they may make to shift to ERT. The goal of needs assessment is to identify where gaps may exist. Needs analysis determines what factors are contributing to the gaps (Stefaniak, 2021a). During a rapid needs assessment, emphasis should be placed on identifying factors that are contributing to needs that have been prioritized and need to be addressed within a short timeframe. The degree of entropy should be considered when considering these factors. If there is a high degree of entropy that a teacher cannot control, they may need to delay addressing that need in its entirety until adequate resources are provided.

Individuals involved in conducting rapid needs assessments for ERT may be a teacher preparing their own learning environment or they may be an individual providing recommendations to school administrators. Regardless of their role in the school, it is important that recommendations be focused on what can be accomplished within a short timeframe. During this time, it is important that teachers consider what changes they can make on their own, what changes require approval from administration, and what resources are needed to support the proposed changes.

While all individuals conducting needs assessments should employ an iterative approach, it is imperative that they do so during a rapid needs assessment. This type of assessment involves quick decisions that can be expanded upon in future iterations. All inquiries pertaining to identifying needs, data sources, and analysis should be focused on what can be achieved within a few weeks. Once shifts have been made to ERT, teachers and administrators can then work to verify that they are adequately addressing needs and expanding their data collection and analysis as new information and student performance metrics become available.