Building Post-COVID Response Expertise to Transform Education Systems

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Antonia Makina

University of South Africa
Building Post-COVID Response Expertise to Transform Education Systems
From the Edited Volume
Edited By:
Ljupka Naumovska


The impact of COVID19 has brought a growing sense of chaos in the education systems and has severely disrupted academic progress across the globe by forcing education institutions to adopt a rapid re-design of teaching and learning systems. Among the many COVID-inspired challenges that faced education institutions was how to ensure survival, preparedness and growth after the pandemic. However, the same challenges have presented humanity with many opportunities to re-think and re-engineer a new way of doing business, a successful future is mostly held on the level of preparedness amongst education institutions to manage the future crises in the best way possible. There has never been a greater need and opportunity than this moment for the education sector to work much closer together to produce a collective strategy and plan that will redefine the future outlook of the broader education sector. It must be a plan that must proactively tackle possible challenges and risks and guide the education institutions into how to harness and apply the opportunities presented by covid 19. This chapter introduces the theory of chaos as a means of adapting to any crisis disturbances as it offers practical reflections through a philosophical window that goes from identifying patterns in crisis to creating new forms of creating order. The purpose of this chapter is to clarify a link between reflective practices and discussion case research on the idea around the suggested Adaptative Reflective Cycle (ARC) as a pandemic response model.

Keywords: Reflective cycle, response model, pandemic, chaos, preparedness


Education after the pandemic will never be business as usual again. The spread of the COVID-19 virus and the subsequent closure of many education institutions severely disrupted academic progress across the globe. Hence there were visible struggles towards survival of the fittest in the education institution in their bid to adapt to these changing circumstances of confusion. In the present day the drivers of disruptive changes in education systems are no longer very clear and well defined which often leads to the need for unplanned and unorganized responses to these changes. For example, many universities faced a chronic lack of infrastructure to deliver e-learning resources and the under-preparedness among students and staff. New initiatives tend to disarm the existing leadership in institutions. For example, there were students and staff gaps in their access to computers and the internet amid their bid to continue mitigation efforts in terms of social distancing and other health measures. Many organizations are slow to adapt to these changes, and those that don’t may fail. However, the education service to its students, communities and the world must continue with expected quality guarantees from the new initiatives. The COVID19 pandemic forced education institutions to adopt a rapid re-design of teaching and learning systems. This has led to for example the mass adoption of online learning strategies across the sector. There were three major COVID-inspired challenges that faced governments, international and inter-governmental agencies and education institutions (Zeleza, 2020). First, it was the slowing and stopping the spread of the pandemic. Second, it was how best to mitigate the extensive and damaging effects of the pandemic in the immediate and short term. Third, it was how to ensure survival and growth after the pandemic.” The third challenge was the subject of interest in this chapter.

The introduction of webinars to assist lecturers with the implementation of emergency remote teaching (ERT) were some of the pandemic response initiatives that were carried out. For example, the Association of African Universities (AAU) and OER Africa presented a series of four webinars on ERT strategies. Another example is webinars presented by George Siemens (Professor and Director: Centre for Change and Complexity in Learning), focused on the role MOOCs play at the unprecedented COVID19 times in history. A successful future is held on one hand in an education that must be adapted to enhance the feasibility and effectiveness of emergence learning in for example the integrity of assessment and examinations. At least there must be a level of preparedness amongst education institutions to manage the future crises in the best way possible. However, the same challenges have presented humanity with many opportunities to re-think and re-engineer a new way of doing business, especially at a time when the fourth industrial revolution and technological advancement has become a reality of our times. There has never been a greater need and opportunity than this moment for the education sector to work much closer to produce a collective strategy and plan a redefinition of the future outlook of the broader education sector. It must be a plan that must proactively tackle future challenges and risks such as the one presented by Covid-19, and to guide the countries into how they can harness the opportunities presented and apply these in the education milieu. Two pandemic response model were discussed in this chapter,

The pandemic response model is cast as a pedagogical innovation that has the potential to enable institutions of education to disentangle the fear of a pandemics and adapt to the readiness to act to any eventualities. The questions of how the pandemic response model can aid in the conventional thinking of education systems is built around relevant theoretical frameworks that allows for a justified reflexive quick implementation to education ideas.

The model enables the achievement of the purpose, the aim and the outcomes of the teaching and learning to either be consistent with intention or to adapt to the changes of the immediate era. The promise of the response model to transform education is sounded in an existing body of literature, explorations such as the one shared in this chapter. The aim of this chapter is to share best practice from two pandemic response models the valuable as pandemic response models that can be initiated to help with a quick response to unforeseen disasters. The context of COVID and post COVID situations are grounded around the theory of chaos.


Chaos is defined as the “breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order” and therefore originate from “a cryptic form of order” (Siemens, 2014, p3). The theory of chaos assumes that everything may change or break. Prediction about the future is very hard (Berra, 2016: 5).” The chaos theory says it is not just hard, but impossible. The Chaos theory encompass the “breakdown of predictability, evidenced in complicated arrangements that initially defy order” and therefore originate from “a cryptic form of order” (Siemens, 2014, p3; Calder, 2013, p3). Since the theory of chaos assumes that everything may change or break, therefore, systems and other infrastructures must be built and deployed in rapid, repeatable, ideally automated ways (Galbraith. 2003). These systems must continually respond to continual changes in the unpredictable systems. Education institutions must monitor what happens in real time and seek to provide intelligent automated responses. The best practice would be to create systems that can operate and invest in a change-dominated world.

The ability to recognize and adjust to pattern shifts that focus on enabling the creative, and adaptive capacity of complex adaptive systems within a context of knowledge-producing organizations is therefore key (Marion & McKelvey, 2007; Uhl-Bien; Marion, 2009). Schon (1973) had foreseen the ideas in the theory of chaos with his focus to ‘Change and industrial society’ in his path-breaking book: Beyond the Stable State. Schon’s central argument was that ‘change’ was a fundamental feature of modern life and that it is necessary to develop social systems that could learn and adapt. This chapter clarifies the nature of the process by which education institutions must transform themselves through what Schon called ‘dynamic conservatism’. He argued that “social systems must learn to become capable of transforming themselves without intolerable disruption” (Schon 1973: 57). His crucial engagements are only being appreciated now.

From the education landscape perspective, it is important to note that systems are not linear. In the process of developing any education systems nothing can be foreseen or predicted and hence there is need for quick response systems to be developed. Management and leadership that can plan, create and manage such quick response systems, need to be knowledge informed, through either professional development or any other serious training structures. Best practices would then be the ability to create systems that operate and invest in a change-dominated world. For example, when events or crises hit individuals and groups there must be a spontaneous capacity to organize and respond to these challenges (Galbraith (2003). This stands in direct conflict with a “learning organization” concept that seeks alignment informed by systemic understanding, together with collegiality in leadership and management, in the search for profound and sustainable change (Galbraith (2003). Berra, (2016) highlights an aspect that is critical for purposes of this chapter when he talks about the theory of chaos’s relevance in the rapid world changes.

Berra (2016) first points out that the theory of chaos does offer answers to current challenges in education. He then goes on to say if education systems are contextualized in order to address problems and issues that face a society’ at a particular point in time, then the theory comes in handy.

By better understanding how the chaos theory opens what is possible, educators find encouragement to seek alternatives to traditional institutional practice (Shukie, 2019). The possibilities of chaos theory opened-up new ways of thinking and renewed support for ideas and theoretical models that challenge established order.

‘Chaos…recognizes the connection of everything to everything…the ability to recognize and adjust to pattern shifts is a key learning task. He suggests chaos holds a ‘cryptic form of order’ that lies in wait of discovery Siemens (2005, p. 3-4).

In contrast to Siemans’s idea it is also found that chaos is also a space of creation that makes possible the thinking of new concepts. Siemens’ (2005) and Downe (2012) argue that chaos theory provides opportunities to shift away from traditional approaches to new pedagogical approaches. Chaos theory is open to varying interpretations, primarily that it creates a theoretical basis for believing that nothing can be predicted, and consequently nothing is certain except uncertainty. Chaos Theory recognizes unpredictability as a fundamental feature of all networks and scientific (social and natural) exploration. Siemens suggests that, ‘chaos is a new reality for knowledge workers’ p4.


The calls made around the world to come up with post covid responds ideas in the education system are a realization that after covid 19 things will never be the same again. For years change was slow and almost predictable and therefore there was no need for urgent responses to most of the changes. Yet this chapter acknowledges that, for the fast and unpredictable changes happening now and for education to be prosperous in this complex changing world it must draw from new practical practices that can be borrowed from those with futuristic minds or from those who had foreseen unpredictable future times. In his seminal work, Schon (1973) moans about the loss of the stable state. Belief in the stable state, he suggests, is belief in ‘the unchangeability, the constancy of central aspects of our lives, or belief that we can attain such a constancy’ (Schon 1973: 9). Institutions are characterized by ‘dynamic conservatism’ – ‘a tendency to fight to remain the same’ (Schon 1973.: 30). He argued that “with technical change continuing exponentially its pervasiveness and frequency was “uniquely threatening to the stable state” of for example learning (Schon, 1973: 26). It is interesting to notice that Schon as early as 1987 foresaw the unpredictability of future times (p10):

“The loss of the stable state means that our society and all of its institutions are in a continuous process of transformation. We must learn to understand, guide, influence and manage these transformations because we cannot expect new stable states that will endure our own lifetimes. We must, in other words, become adept at learning. We must become able not only to transform our institutions, in response to changing situations and requirements but we must also invent and develop institutions with ‘learning systems’ that are capable of bringing about their own continuing transformation”.

There is thus an urgency to replace the out of date behaviors and thinkings in education institutions.

It is time that education’s response practices to either policy, technology, teaching, research or general behavioral practices transform to match the unpredictable times. Education systems which embrace the post covid era will reflect hope in the future of the student. In other words, the response to post covid 19 in education aims to contribute to the transformation of educational discourse in the 4th generation era. This will empower schools and universities to participate in their own educational development through the use of whatever intellectual skills (rational and logical) they possess to eliminate the various dimensions of the post covid 19.

In this chapter we focus on developing an education pandemic response model that can respond to emergence education situations. This is to create the optimum environment in which educators and their institutions are always ready to respond to unforeseen educational circumstances for teaching and learning to continue with very limited interruption. While most educators want concrete tools now because they need to use them yesterday in the covid pandemic, this chapter intend to give them knowledge or conceptual skills that leads to the dispositions of a pandemic-informed educator. Having a firm grasp of the conceptual elements informing post covid-response model is key to developing trauma-informed expertise. In this chapter we focus on how we can help educators who are overwhelmed by the effects of covid 19 to have adequate education support also necessary for post covid now and in the future. There will always be disruptions in the way teaching and learning happen during any pandemic.


No one can develop any covid response model without an understanding of some conceptual frameworks that help to build and understand the model for practice.  Kwame Nkrumah (1969) spoke of the need to apply the weapon of theory when he stated, “Action without thought is empty. Thought without action is blind”. The practitioner reflective theory and the discussion case research method were selected as the vehicles to drive the idea behind the adaptive reflective model as they encompassed all aspects of the covid 19 and post covid educational setting and learning trajectory.

Figure 1.

The Theoretical Framework

4.1. The Practitioner reflective model

Donald Schon (1930-1997) made a remarkable contribution to our understanding the context of covid 19 and post covid era through his theory and practice. It was his innovative thinking around ‘reflection-in-action’ in the development of reflective practice within the education systems, organizations and communities for which the adaptive response model is built. We focus one important elements of his thinking on the relationship of reflection-in-action to professional activity. In his book “Technology and Change, The new Heraclitus (1967)” He sought to offer an approach to an epistemology of practice based on a close examination of the distinctive structure of reflection-in-action’ (Schon, 1983). He argued that it was unlike the rigor of scholarly work, controlled experimentation. Most people originally favoured it for professional development of educators, though it was later adapted to all spheres of professional groupings.

Schon and Aryris (1974) believed that people have mental maps regarding how to act in situations.  It is these maps that guide people’s actions in the way they plan, implement and review their actions rather than the theories they explicitly espouse. Schon’ brought ‘reflection’ into the centre of an understanding of what professionals do. The notions of reflection-in-action, and reflection-on-action were central to the area of what he described as ‘thinking on our feet’. It entails building new understandings to inform our actions in the situation that is unfolding. The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique. Thinking on the feet which is explained through the reflective practitioner theory is the baseline and the cornerstone of this chapter.

“When a practitioner makes sense of a situation he perceives to be unique, he sees it as something already present in his repertoire. To see this site as that one is not to subsume the first under a familiar category or rule. It is, rather, to see the unfamiliar, unique situation as both similar to and different from the familiar one, without at first being able to say similar or different with respect to what. The familiar situation functions as a precedent, or a metaphor, or… an exemplar for the unfamiliar one.” (Schön 1983: 138)

The reflective practitioner theory according to Smith (1994) is a ‘leading ideas’ that allow the development of responses and moves in any situation.  (Aristotle 2004: 209) highlighted the need for things to be thought through because every case is unique in clear philosophy of life “between the technical (productive) and the practical”. The act of reflecting-on-action enables us to respond to unfamiliar circumstances in order to develop sets of questions and ideas about our activities and practice. Practitioners can describe how they ‘think on their feet’, and how they make use of a repertoire of images, metaphors and theories. Eraut (1994) commented that ‘when time is extremely short, decisions have to be rapid and the scope for reflection is extremely limited’. However, such processes cannot be repeated in full for everything we do.

“As we think and act, questions arise that cannot be answered in the present. The space afforded by recording, supervision and conversation with our peers allows us to approach these. Reflection requires space in the present and the promise of space in the future. (Smith 1994: 150)”“When looking at a situation we are influenced by, and use, what has gone before, what might come, our repertoire, and our frame of reference. We are able to draw upon certain routines. As we work we can bring fragments of memories into play and begin to build theories and responses that fit the new situation.” Eraut (1994: 145)

Reflective practice suggested by Schon was often criticized for its lack of depth with respect to action being informed, or the focus on the commitments entailed to the action (Smith 1994: 150).  On reflection now, it can be realized that the criticism was grounded in change that was either constant or not so rapid. The experiences of covid and its unpredictable future aligns with the way Schon was thinking then. This is also why people now relate reflective practice is directly to the concept of praxis an informed, committed action (Richardson 1990: 14). In just the same way that there is a continual interplay between thought and action, praxis is compared to reflective practice:

“In praxis there can be no prior knowledge of the right means by which we realize the end in a particular situation. For the end it is only specified in deliberating about the means appropriate to a situation. As we think about what we want to achieve, we alter the way we might achieve that. As we think about the way we might go about something, we change what we might aim at. There is a continual interplay between ends and means” (Bernstein 1983: 147).

4.1.1. Summation: The cyclic character in the theory

The integration of the work from Schon (1993) and (Freudenthal, (1991)’s development research cyclic process provides insight into the reflective practitioner model of reflection in action. The cyclic character of the design consists of research cycles in which thought experiments and teaching experiments alternate. The cycles lead to a cumulative effect of small steps, in which teaching experiments provide ‘feed-forward’ for the next thought experiments and teaching experiments (Freudenthal, 1991). A macro-cycle of the design consists of three phases: the preliminary design phase (Diagnosing and planning action), the teaching experiment phase (taking action), and the phase of retrospective analysis (evaluating action). In the last-mentioned phase, the reflection captures the development of the insights of the researcher. As a result, new theories or new hypotheses or new instructional activities emerge, that form the feed-forward for the next research cycle that may have a different character, according to new insights and hypotheses. The Reflective Practitioner Model is therefore essentially an approach to decision-making and problem solving. Schön (1983) found that when effective practitioners were faced with a problem in their practice, they worked through it instinctively and, drawing on previous similar experiences, they tried and tested out various possible solutions until they resolved the issue. The practitioner allows himself to experience surprise, puzzlement, or confusion in a situation which he finds uncertain or unique.


Covid and post covid presents research with a continuing stream of new choices which disrupt existing patterns of research. The production of expensive research that appears to serve no useful purpose are all symptomatic of these concerns (Kanwar & Balasubramanian, 2014). As the complexity of post covid grows, the challenge of research also grows correspondingly. Informing science theory proposes that different levels of complexity require different channels effective informing. Unfamiliar and non-routine circumstances like the covid 19 are sometimes characterized as having high structural complexity. The gap between conceptual expertise and practical expertise is particularly difficult to over-come and is it where the discussion case method become entwined in the pandemic response model. The discussion case methodology provides a detailed description of a real-world business or organizational or personal situation for which one or more decisions must be immediately made (Gill, 2011. The case method is built around a discussion case study.

Discussion cases are not the “case studies” that appear frequently in textbooks to present real-world examples, or the business cases that appear on corporate web sites to illustrate the successful use of a product or service (Woodside, 2010). Discussion cases provide a detailed description of a real-world business or organizational or personal situation for which one or more decisions must be immediately made (Woodside, 2010). It is in the analysis of these decisions or the creation of plans that judgment or immediate responses are required. Such a method speaks well to covid 19 or for future disruptive pandemics since the decision-oriented focus of the case is critical. Whereas case studies developed for research or illustrative purposes provide stories that describe the outcome of a particular situation, the discussion case stops at the point where the decision must be made (Gill, 2011. Yin, 2009). The participants in the case discussion then examine the situation from the perspective of central figures on the case—referred to as the case protagonists—and attempt to come up with sensible quick decisions. (Gill, 2011). In most of these situations, there is no right or wrong decision. Rather, there are some decisions that make sense, and many more that probably do not. The goal of analyzing the case is to come up with at least one sensible course of action, and to eliminate as many bad choices as possible. A further bonus is that the decisions always require responses from experts in the field of the critical incident.

4.2.1. Discussion case research method

The general pattern of discussion cases is as follows:

  • General Context Sections: A series of sections giving broad context for the case (e.g. describing the post covid critical situation).
  • Specific Context Sections: A series of sections that provide context directly relevant to the case itself (during covid, the need to communicate with students, the need to work from home, take home examinations etc.)
  • Decision-specific Sections: One or more sections detailing the specific decision to be made and choices available.
  • Summary Section: A final section, providing a more detailed look at the decision or plan to be developed and any constraints involved.

In summary, the issue being faced is briefly described, the recommended decision or decisions are summarized, key elements of background are presented and the rationale for the recommendations is presented. This provides a quick response solution to the problem.

At the end of each discussion, a facilitator will generally spend 10-15 minutes reflecting on the discussion. Sometimes, the actual decision or set of decisions made by the organization or individual featured in the case will also be specified. The goal of such reflection is generally not to identify the “right” decision or to imply that whatever decisions were made were the correct ones. Rather, it is to help take a direction that is best suited to the situations.

A discussion case research method which is a short contextual and reflective research method has been debated. On the one hand, are strong critics who refuse to move from long empirical processes of research to easy and quick research reflections that can be documented. This group is meticulous about explication of long empirical research methods, yet this approach does not satisfy emergency situations. The quick and continuous cyclic research situations solve contextual problems quickly. We cannot continue with the long types of research methods with results that are often not used or are not usable and expire before they can be of use. These ideas need to be debated in post covid since the demand of long and painful research can delay and derail transformation processes.

This chapter maintains that the long-winded research methods are stalling the processes of rapid change. Hence there is need to see research methods that solve contextual and realistic problems quickly in unpredictable education situations like covid 19. Ideally, this is how the   pandemic response model works.

4.3. The Adaptation Reflective Cycle (ARC)

Covid 19 and post covid responses must be planned. To begin to understand how to plan effective, developmentally appropriate responses we must look at the context in which that planning should happen. Planning everything, from the spontaneous (unplanned) experiences in education to the experiences educationists thoughtfully plan and intentionally implement, happens in a continuous cycle. This chapter discusses that a cycle begins with observing and continues through documenting what was observed, reflecting on what it means, plan how to best support the situation and then implementing those plans, before returning to observing.

This chapter looks at the “Adaptation research cycle” (ARC) grounded around a conceptual framework discussed above.The adaptation reflective cycle (ARC) model, consist of a development research cyclic process that took insight from the reflective practitioner model of reflection in action. The cyclic character consists of a research cycle in which thought experiments and action experiments alternate. This is thanks to the integration of the work that was started by Schon (1990) and (Freudenthal, (1991). The cycle lead to a cumulative effect of small immediate steps, in which teaching experiments provide ‘feed-forward’ for the next thought experiments and teaching experiments (Freudenthal, 1991). The cycles must be repeated as many times as needed to match the changing situations in a pandemic. Coghlan and Brannick (2001) improved it by encouraging the need to identify a recognized output at each individual circle. As a result, new ideas, new hypotheses or new instructional activities emerge, that form the feed-forward for the next research cycle that may have a different character, according to new insights and hypotheses.

Figure 2.

The Adaptation Reflective Cycle (Arc)

The Adaptive Reflective Cycle (Fig 2) is made up of one major step and four immediate response action. The major step involves the identification of context of the disruption which could be any type of pandemic or a pro-pandemic stage. This is followed by clearly identifying the educational disruption (no students in the classroom) and then naming the general objective. The next stage will be to quickly take the decision and plan of action that must be clearly specified in step by step fashion. This is followed by quickly implementing the action and then assess and evaluate in the next step to see if it was a feasible move. The cycles reconnect to context or situation. This major stage is very important as for example in a pandemic, the contexts of either continual disruption or improvements keep changing goal posts. So, there is a continuing cycle of steps. The rate at which the circle revolves depends on the nature of the stability of disruptions or on the rates of improvement. The continual use of the word “quickly “indicates the urgency and the speed that is required to exercise and execute the steps in this cycle. It is important to note that irrespective of the speed required to execute the steps in the cycle very quickly in a pandemic, the cycles should addear to strict measures of quality of relationships, quality of the action process itself and the quality of the outcomes.


The Adaptative Reflective Cycle examines and promotes an adopted method of a cycle of small research activities. It is a set of quick interactive and practical research activities that are part of an adaptive learning product that can be developed by the education community.  The product can be categorized as a micro-level research activity within the education system wherein tasks or solutions are adapted in real time. The micro research feedback identifies where remedial action is needed as quickly as possible. Corrective ideas are implemented and the corrective education activities in the cycle continues until mastery of outcomes are achieved.

The adaptation research cycle (ARC) is grounded around three theoretical frameworks, the and reflective practitioner theory, and the discussion case research. The creation and sustenance of post covid responses, need thought as we redesign and reincarnate the education institutions for the future. The Adaptative Reflective Cycle is made up of a cumulation of two closely related ideas that are made up of research and reflection. The cycle is a problem solver. To solve a problem one needs to reflect, but one needs to reflect very quickly. Imagine if there is fire in the house. You need to identify the critical incident which is the fire in the house and think quickly on what to do or you burn to death. The problem solver needs to determine the rate at which he cycles. Taking the fire example one might think of running for the door, only to realize that that is where the fire is blazing harshly. The window might be the quick option. The cycling in the pandemic response model need to go at very fast rate in order to allow the identified critical incident to minimize disruption. Reflection is needed in problem solving there is need for research. The type of research is dependent on the reflection that has taken place. One of the most important aspect of any research is its quality and relevancy. One of the most important aspect of any research is its quality and therefore relevance in terms of results and applicability. Applicability is governed by the recognized urgency need for a solution. The fact that if the results or solutions are not visible one can quickly go through the same cycle of the research process. Think of what happens to your mind if one realizes that the research that took three year to do doesn’t really work. Judging by the frequency of referenced articles our long- term empirical research is falling short for applicability. But then the quality of research must be financially feasible and economically viable if it is to provide a model that can influence policy and outcomes). Research continue to exist as a separate entity to the issues of national aspects urgency while research and action continue to exist in separate worlds which do not meet (Kanwar & Balasubramanian, 2014).


When education response mechanisms are done effectively, it leads to better decision-making, and improved academic and administrative services. We end this chapter by inviting multiple stakeholders to come up with suggestions of other best practices that enable universities and educators to cope with unforeseen disruptions that occur due to pandemics.  The concept presented here deepen the understanding of the preparedness and resilience that is needed by educators in all education institutions. This chapter looked at the pandemic response model that can expedite universities’ support to leap into the fourth industrial revolution (4IR), and that can catapult the education sector into the post covid era. Rethinking models of education beyond the institutions can influence change within them. Through chaos we encounter the infinite possibilities from which we might create solutions to global, national and regional challenges. The model is a powerful post covid response model best practice that is essentially an approach to decision-making and quick problem solving


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