Over the past year we have been asking questions about distance learning in Saskatchewan (see here, here, here, here, and here). One of those questions related to what happened to existing distance learning programs that were not the new Crown Saskatchewan Distance Learning Corporation (Sask DLC), and it appears that this question has been answered. Sometime in March 2023 the Ministry of Education released their Quality Assurance Framework for K-12 Online Learning (and the French version is available here).
It seems that according to this press release yesterday, the Ministry of Education is using this framework as a way to evaluate whether to approve other distance learning programs (see Province Approves Online Learning Applications). According to the release, “Regina Catholic Schools, Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools and FlexED have met the requirements of the Provincial Quality Assurance Framework (QAF).”
The release also indicates that “The QAF sets out requirements, effective practices, roles and responsibilities for approved online schools.” – but if you actually look at the framework, there are indeed a lot of requirements listed. However, there isn’t really anything there related to the effective design, delivery, and support of K-12 online learning. For example, if you look at the “Information and Support” category, it includes the following requirements:
- Policies, procedures and guidelines are established and consistently implemented regarding the following:
- to determine when and how interventions are implemented to support students before they are at risk of failure or discontinuation of studies;
- to foster positive interaction through Codes of Conduct or guidelines for online student expectations, behaviour and etiquette; and,
- to moderate the use of online features (e.g., chat room).
- In every school, where students are accessing online learning, a designated staff member (or a parent or guardian for students who are not in a school building) is identified to provide on-site supervision and technical support (i.e., teacher or educational assistant).
These requirements can be met by these “effective practices”:
- Data on student access and performance is collected and used to ensure students are actively engaged learning and caregivers are aware of student progress.
- Students and caregivers have opportunities to share learning needs, provide feedback and input to support planning and instruction. These opportunities include hearing from students who have left an online learning program or course.
Note that there is nothing in the requirements or practices that indicates that this needs to be done well, or even what well looks like. For example, the online school needs to collect data on student access and performance, use it to ensure students are actively engaged learning and also share that data with caregivers so they are aware of student progress. However, it doesn’t indicate what constitutes actively engaged learning. Does it mean logging in daily? Logging in every x number of days? What kinds of activity is actually required to be active – is it more than logging in? Do they have to spend so much time with the content and how is that measured? Most learning management systems will show that the student watched all of the video or spent 22 minutes on a reading, but that student could have also started the video or opened the reading and went to watch a 30 minute sitcom.
Further, how often does the online school need to make the caregivers aware of student progress? There is nothing here to indicate that students have more success when this is done on a weekly basis, as opposed to once a semester. Is once a semester enough? Once a month? Weekly? An online school could include in their materials any of these options and they would met the Ministry’s “effective practice” – but which of these options is truly effective? Which one of these options actually make a difference in the student success?
Unfortunately, the Quality Assurance Framework for K-12 Online Learning would more accurately be described as a list of policies and practices that need to be transparent to the Ministry, which may or may not represent quality K-12 online learning.