COVID-19 and the quality of mathematics education teaching and learning in a first-year course

Keywords: COVID-19;, education, mathematics education, online learning, quality, challenges


This article is vested on the need for higher education educators to be reflective on their practices in order to configure effective ways to interact with the students and knowledge for specific courses. It is uncontested that education systems globally are under constant pressure to respond to the changing needs of societies. The outbreak of COVID-19 has reminded us that the complexity of education needs responsive practices to facilitate effective teaching and learning across all levels of schooling globally. All over the world, the normative ways of teaching and learning evolved drastically in the first quarter of the 2020 academic year when teachers and students found online offerings to be the dominant option available as a sequel to the pandemic conditions. In South Africa specifically, students and teachers were thrust into virtual teaching and learning situations with the majority of them having no preparation for this shift. This article presents an auto-ethnographical account of the knowledge gaps in the teaching and learning of mathematics education in a first-year education course in an online space. We used auto-ethnography to discuss our experiences of teaching limits and continuity. We argue that teaching the topic on an online platform constrain student teachers’ procedural thinking, conceptual development, and demonstration of their thought processes during mathematics learning and assessment. We also discuss our experiences of developing assessment tasks for the topic and how students identified cheating mechanisms to answer questions in assessments.

Author Biographies

H. Mbhiza, University of South Africa, Pretoria

Department of Mathematics Education

D. Muthelo, University of Limpopo, Polokwane

Department of Mathematics, Science and Technology Education


Adedoyin, Olasile Babatunde and Emrah Soykan. 2020. “Covid-19 pandemic and online learning: The challenges and opportunities.” Interactive Learning Environments: 1‒13. 10.1080/10494820.2020.1813180.

Ali, Ghadah Essa, and Rodrigo Magalhaes. 2008. “Barriers to implementing e‐learning: A Kuwaiti case study.” International Journal of Training and Development 12(1): 36‒53.

Al-Mutawah, Masooma Ali, Ruby Thomas, Abdulla Eid, Enaz Yousef Mahmoud, and Moosa Jaafar Fateel. 2019. “Conceptual Understanding, Procedural Knowledge and Problem-Solving Skills in Mathematics: High School Graduates Work Analysis and Standpoints.” International Journal of Education and Practice 7(3): 258‒273.

Anderson, Terry, Rourke Liam, D. Randy Garrison, and Walter Archer. 2001. “Assessing teaching presence in a computer conferencing context.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Seattle, WA.

Anderson, Terry. (Ed.). 2008. The theory and practice of online learning. Athabasca University Press.

Badat, Saleem. 2017. “Trepidation, longing, and belonging: Liberating the curriculum at universities in South Africa.” University of Pretoria public lecture 10.

Chauhan, Sumedha. 2017. “A meta-analysis of the impact of technology on learning effectiveness of elementary students.” Computers & Education 105: 14‒30.

Church, Karen and Rodrigo De Oliveira. 2013. “What’s up with WhatsApp? Comparing mobile instant messaging behaviors with traditional SMS.” In Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Human-computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, 352‒361.

Cross, K. Patricia. 1998. “Why learning communities? Why now?” About Campus 3(3): 4‒11.

Eady, Michelle J. and Lockyer, Lockyer. 2013. Tools for learning: Technology and teaching strategies: Learning to teach in the primary school, 71‒89. Queensland University of Technology, Australia.

Eickelmann, Birgit and Julia Gerick. 2020. “Lernen Mit Digitalen Medien: Zielsetzungen in Zeiten Von Corona Und Unter Besonderer Berücksichtigung Von Sozialen Ungleichheiten [Learning with Digital Media: Objectives in Times of Corona and under Special Consideration of Social Inequities].” Die Deutsche Schule 16: 153–162. doi:10.31244/9783830992318.09.

Ellis, Carolyn, Tony E. Adams, and Arthur P. Bochner. 2011. “Autoethnography: An overview.” Historical social research/Historische sozialforschung 36(4): 273‒290.

Ellis, Carolyn. 2020. Revision: Autoethnographic reflections on life and work. Routledge.

Espasa, Anna and Julio Meneses. 2010. “Analysing feedback processes in an online teaching and learning environment: an exploratory study.” Higher Education 59(3): 277‒292.

Frank, Arthur W. 1995. The wounded storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Gandhi, Mohandas K. 2018. “Autobiography or the story of my experiments with truth.” In Autobiography or The Story of My Experiments with Truth. Yale University Press.

Garrison, D. Randy and J. Ben Arbaugh. 2007. “Researching the community of inquiry framework: Review, issues, and future directions.” The Internet and Higher Education 10(3): 157‒172.

Garrison, D. Randy, Terry Anderson, and Walter Archer. 2000. “Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education.” The Internet and Higher Education 2(2–3): 87–105.

Garrison, D. Randy. 2011. E-learning in the 21st century: A framework for research and practice. Taylor & Francis.

Gulli, Cathy, Nicholas Kohler, and Martin Patriquin. 2007. “The great university cheating scandal.” Maclean’s 120(5): 32–36.

Heleta, Savo. 2016. “Decolonisation of higher education: Dismantling epistemic violence and Eurocentrism in South Africa.” Transformation in Higher Education 1(1): 1‒-8.

Hosler, Kim A. and Bridget D. Arend. 2012. “The importance of course design, feedback, and facilitation: Student perceptions of the relationship between teaching presence and cognitive presence.” Educational Media International 49(3): 217‒229.

Howe, Neil and William Strauss. 2003. Millennials go to college: Strategies for a new generation on campus: Recruiting and admissions, campus life, and the classroom. Washington, DC: American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers.

Huber, Stephan Gerhard and Christoph Helm. 2020. “COVID-19 and schooling: Evaluation, assessment and accountability in times of crises ‒ reacting quickly to explore key issues for policy, practice and research with the school barometer.” Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability 32(2): 237‒270.

Jensen-Hart, Staci and David J. Williams. 2010. “Blending voices: Autoethnography as a vehicle for critical reflection in social work.” Journal of Teaching in Social Work 30(4): 450‒467.

Karasavvidis, Ilias. 2010. “Integrating Web 2.0 technologies in undergraduate teaching: Experiences with a wiki implementation.” In Technological developments in education and automation, 449‒454. Springer, Dordrecht.

Killen, Roy. 2015. Teaching strategies for quality teaching and learning. Juta and Company Ltd, Claremont, South Africa.

König, Johannes, Daniela J. Jäger-Biela, and Nina Glutsch. 2020. “Adapting to online teaching during COVID-19 school closure: Teacher education and teacher competence effects among early career teachers in Germany.” European Journal of Teacher Education 43(4): 608‒622.

Kuo, Yu-Chun, Andrew E. Walker, Kerstin E. E. Schroder, and Brian R. Belland. 2014. “Interaction, Internet self-efficacy, and self-regulated learning as predictors of student satisfaction in online education courses.” The Internet and Higher Education 20: 35‒50.

Le Grange, Lesley. 2020. “Could the Covid-19 pandemic accelerate the uberfication of the university?” South African Journal of Higher Education 34(4): 1‒10.

Lee, Joohi. 2014. “An exploratory study of effective online learning: Assessing satisfaction levels of graduate students of mathematics education associated with human and design factors of an online course.” International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning 15(1): 111‒132.

Li, Qing and Xin Ma. 2010. “A meta-analysis of the effects of computer technology on school students’ mathematics learning.” Educational Psychology Review 22(3): 215‒243.

Lotz-Sisitka, Heila. 2009. “Epistemological access as an open question in education.” Journal of Education 46(1): 57‒80.

Lowenthal, Patrick R. and Chareen Snelson. 2017. “In search of a better understanding of social presence: An investigation into how researchers define social presence.” Distance Education 38(2): 141‒159.

Maringe, Felix. 2020. “The Quarantined Academy: Emerging Opportunities and Risks”. HELTASA. (Accessed 5 May 2021).

Mbhiza, Hlamulo. 2021. “Rural Teachers’ Teaching of Algebraic Functions Through a Commognitive Lens.” Interdisciplinary Journal of Rural and Community Studies 3(1): 10‒20.

Nkambule, Thabisile and Tabitha Grace Mukeredzi. 2017. “Pre-service teachers’ professional learning experiences during rural teaching practice in Acornhoek, Mpumalanga Province.” South African Journal of Education 37(3).

Pelias, Ronald J. 2018. “Writing autoethnography: The personal, poetic, and performative as compositional strategies.” In Writing performance, identity, and everyday life, 31‒52. Routledge.

Ramrathan, Labby. 2021. “School curriculum in South Africa in the Covid-19 context: An opportunity for education for relevance.” Prospects 51(1): 383‒392.

Spaull, Nicholas. 2013. “South Africa’s education crisis: The quality of education in South Africa 1994‒2011.” Johannesburg: Centre for Development and Enterprise 21(1): 1‒65.

Troop, Don. 2007. “You’re never gonna believe this one.” Chronicle of Higher Education 53(4).

Tullis, Jillian A. 2017. “Personal Narratives as a Method of Writing.” The International Encyclopedia of Communication Research Methods, 1‒5.

Tullis, Jullian A. 2013. “Self and others: Ethics in autoethnographic research.” In Handbook of autoethnography, S. H. Jones, T. E. Adams, and C. Ellis (Hrsg.), S. 244–261. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press.

Van der Berg, Servaas and Nic Spaull. 2020. Counting the Cost: COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impacts on children. Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP). Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University.

How to Cite
Mbhiza, H., and D. Muthelo. 2022. “COVID-19 and the Quality of Mathematics Education Teaching and Learning in a First-Year Course”. South African Journal of Higher Education 36 (2), 189-203.
General Articles