Defining working conditions of teachers in Distributed Learning (DL) in British Columbia (BC) was the impetus for the creation of a Task Force on DL by the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF). Other BC teachers have some boundaries around their work through the collective agreement and/or the School Act. In contrast, DL teachers are explicitly excluded in the School Act from provisions that limit class size. When the last BCTF collective agreement that covered staffing was negotiated in the 1990s, Distributed Learning was in its infancy. The restoration of staffing language in the BCTF collective agreement by the Supreme Court of Canada in November 2016 didn’t provide any help–there was no language to restore for these teachers.
The terms of reference of the Task Force on DL call for it to “Devise possible approaches to defining the boundaries of working conditions of DL teachers that is equitable among DL teachers, as well as equitable in comparison to teachers in face-to-face programs and make recommendations for the 2018 AGM and the next round of bargaining.”
Conditions for DL teachers vary incredibly – reports of one teacher teaching 35 courses, another with more than 800 students, others with reasonable conditions. The extremes certainly don’t allow for credible, quality teaching that serves either teachers or students. The challenge is to define a reasonable workload that provides a healthy work/life balance and equity of expectations within DL and the school system as a whole.
Workload is, of course, related to context and the Task Force is charged with looking at that: How are programs structured, how are they designed to provide quality, what is the impact of “blended learning” as an approach, how do other provinces address the equivalent of DL? In the context of major curriculum change from K to 12, how is the challenge of course development handled?
The major factor in determining DL policy and practice currently is funding. It is the most significant driver of decisions, in the view of many DL teachers. The funding rules, audit criteria and auditor reports that can claw back funding are the focus, rather than pedagogy, course development or appropriate technology.
The annual State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada report has frequently described the BC system as the most regulated in Canada. But that is regulation of funding, not of working and learning conditions or program structure. BC is the “wild west” in those areas, and the BCTF Task Force on DL hopes to recommend policies that bring more balance to DL programs and practices.