Back to School - ITEST Project Adaptations: Tips from the Field

In the virtual and hybrid school environment that students and teachers have had to embrace as their new reality, recruitment and data collection have been among the most difficult adaptations for ITEST projects to make.  STELAR connected with 5 ITEST projects to find out what major challenges they faced in implementing their projects during the pandemic.  We found that although many stakeholders involved in the ITEST project implementation have felt overwhelmed by the numerous ways that they have had to adjust, resiliency and creativity has come into play in figuring out how to continue their projects’ work in both virtual and/or hybrid settings. 

Recognizing that everyone is facing different obstacles, here are some elements and action steps shared by our focus group that offer insights on how to modify your project to meet the reality that COVID-19 has brought:

Relationship Building.  Building a relationship with trust and accountability takes time, especially in a virtual environment.  As the school year progresses, students are getting to know their teachers and are becoming more accountable to their teachers and their schoolwork. Some ITEST projects have been able to observe classes by joining via Zoom or Google Classrooms and taking notes, allowing for another way of getting to know students on a deeper level and vice versa. 

By building relationships with students, teachers, and principals and connecting through virtual classroom observation, some ITEST projects have used the opportunity to get consent from parents using DocuSign, a simple electronic method of sharing a document and getting an electronic signature in minutes.

Social Media as a Promotional Tool.  One project has taken to Instagram to communicate with parents and students in hopes of relieving some of the work from teachers. By putting together a series of short videos explaining the project, ITEST projects can get information to the parent by tagging the teachers to share through their social media channels. If the parent is interested, they can fill out all the required information online.

Chatting Apps.  Chatting apps can play a key role in recruitment and participation, as it allows for more real time discussion and assistance than email allows. In targeting desired stakeholders, one ITEST project has used Slack with the research team and with teachers.  In their research team channel, when they are online in Zoom classes of the teachers they collaborate with, they use Slack in parallel to discuss what is happening, take notes, and problem solve, so that they can be more helpful and engaged in what is happening in class.  In the teacher channel, teachers are starting to use Slack to communicate about curriculum, tech issues, among other challenges.  It can be a great tool for immediate feedback and for providing support in the moment.  

Re-inventing the Curriculum.  Creating a new curriculum that walks through project steps in an online format to provide the professional development support that teachers need during this transition has proven to be helpful in breaking down the tasks and making them manageable for teachers to implement. 


We can all agree that for many projects, the virtual experience just doesn’t equate to the live events that take place to showcase project outcomes.  However, it seems to be in the DNA of our community to find ways to adjust and be creative in implementing our projects despite the global pandemic.  We have already discovered many possibilities and workarounds in virtual environments, and albeit less than ideal, we will likely get better at adapting our work to the virtual environment and overcoming obstacles as we move forward.

For helpful resources on best-practices for online instruction, ideas for providing engaging virtual professional development for teachers, or curriculum for students to explore from home, there are a wealth of resources available on the STELAR website.  

A special thanks to the ITEST participants that shared their insights and adaptation strategies: