This item appeared in a newsletter from the People for Education newsletter that was posted yesterday.

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New study uncovers challenges with hybrid learning and quadmesters

Interviews with high school teachers conducted by researchers at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education points to ongoing concerns about hybrid learning. Teachers who were interviewed for the study said it was an ineffective and inefficient approach to teaching and learning; that there were increasing inequities in students’ experiences; that assessment was problematic, and that there had been a loss of shared student community.

Read more here

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While the report focuses on both hybrid learning and quadmesters, we wanted to comment specifically upon the hybrid learning aspect.  In their Toggling between Lockdowns: Canadian Responses for Continuity of Learning in the 2020-21 School Year report, the Canadian eLearning Network described the hybrid learning model as:

…a more common hybrid model was the concurrent teaching learning model (also called co-seating or co-locating). In this model the classroom-based teacher taught some students who were in-person with the teacher in the physical classroom (i.e., colloquially referred to as ‘roomies’). At the same time, the teacher’s instruction was being streamed live through a video conferencing software such as Zoom or Google Meet or Microsoft Teams with other students logged in at home (i.e., colloquially referred to as ‘zoomies’). Essentially, concurrent teaching was an individual teacher providing instruction in-person to roomies, broadcast online to zoomies at home. (Nagle et al., 2021, p. 7)

One of the difficulties of this model is the fact that teachers were never trained on how to teach in this manner (which has been discussed many times before).  Another difficulty is the reality that classrooms aren’t set-up for this model of instruction.  The typical classroom is designed for in person teaching.  There is often a single computer in the room, which is either a desktop on the teachers desk with a webcam facing towards the teacher or a laptop that the teacher can move around the room that still has a single webcam that faces the teacher.  If the teacher is using the whiteboard in their classroom, they also need to share their screen in the synchronous classroom tool (e.g., Zoom, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc.) – which means the teacher will be limited to only seeing 4-6 of the students cameras/icons and often times it also means that the chat disappeared or becomes less accessible.  If the teacher walks away from their desk or where the laptop is placed, that teacher loses the visual of those students who are online.  Additionally, the audio from the device might not pick up the teacher as they move about their classroom, and it may not pick up any of the students in the physical classroom at all – making any real interaction between in person students and online students difficult to impossible.

So in addition to teachers not being trained on how to teach in this dual medium or modality, the physical set-up of the classroom is not designed to help facilitate – let alone maximize – this type of teaching.  Given these hurdles, is it any wonder that research continues to find it ineffective, inefficient, challenging, and many other negative descriptive terms?

Anyway, the direct link to the report is:

https://www.oise.utoronto.ca/preview/lhae/UserFiles/File/Peel_Teachers_Experiences_of_Hybrid_and_Quadmesters_May_2022_Campbell_Arain_Ceau_Final_for_Publication.pdf

The Executive Summary for the report read:

Executive Summary:
Secondary School Teachers’ Experience of Implementing Hybrid
Learning and Quadmester Schedules in Peel, Ontario

Carol Campbell, Ateeqa Arain and Maeva Ceau
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto

Introduction

Teaching is a very demanding and complicated profession during the best of times; during a pandemic, it has become even more complex and challenging for educators. While educators have done their very best to fully support their students through a continuing pandemic with a range of mental and physical health consequences for people dealing with uncertainty and unfamiliar protocols and responses; in the words of the recent Canadian Teachers’ Federation (2022) report, “But at what cost?”. While there was limited choice in the initial emergency response to the pandemic and resulting school closures affecting over 90% of the school-age population globally (UNESCO, 2020); over two years into a continuing pandemic, it is time to take stock of the impact of shifts in education and to make future decisions informed by the experiences and consequences so far and the priorities for future changes.

Methods

In Fall 2021, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) District 19 (Peel) circulated an email to members asking for their experiences with the combined implementation of the quadmester schedule and hybrid learning, and the overall impact of the pandemic for their work and for their students. Hybrid teaching involves a teacher simultaneously teaching students in-person, in-class and students online, at-home. Quadmester involves students being divided into two cohorts and each attends school for one week, taking two courses for one week and two other courses the next week, so four courses are completed by students over the span of nine weeks instead of five months as would be the case in a normal semester.

Responses were submitted in October 2021. OSSTF District 19 shared all written responses with us (totaling 87 respondent teachers). We then conducted a qualitative analysis of these written responses and a quantitative analysis of the frequency of responses on the same topic. In this report, we present our analyses and findings linked to the following research questions generated by the research team:

Question 1: How has the hybrid model impacted teaching?
Question 2: How has the hybrid model impacted students’ learning?
Question 3: What impact did the quadmester model have on teachers?
Question 4: What impact did the quadmester model have on students?
Question 5: How has teachers’ health been impacted by these measures?
Question 6: How has students’ health been impacted by these measures?
Question 7: What other impacts of the response to the pandemic were identified by teachers?

Findings

The responses from 87 teachers identify the following impacts of the hybrid model for teaching and learning:

  • It is an ineffective and inefficient approach to teaching and learning;
  • It is challenging to conduct appropriate online student assessments;
  • There has been increased workload and lack of adequate support to effectively implement the hybrid model;
  • There were differences in student engagement between in-person and online learners (with online learners being more negatively impacted);
  • There has been a loss of shared student community;
  • There has been increasing inequities in students’ experiences and in meeting their learning needs;
  • There were inequities in students’ access to, and use of, technology.

With regard to the impact of the quadmester schedule for teachers and students, respondents identified:

  • Challenges of class time length and quadmester schedule for students’ learning experiences;
  • Difficulties of two and half hour classes for teachers’ work;
  • Difficulties of one-week on, one-week off schedule for teachers’ relationships and support for students;
  • It has exacerbated student inequities;
  • The proposal that quadmesters protect students in cohorting is a myth and has had implications for health and safety.

As indicated above, respondents also noted health concerns resulting from the impact of changes to schooling including:  Deteriorating mental health for students and educators;  Negative physical health impacts for teachers’ having to teach from front of class during hybrid learning and over two and half hour classes;  Feeling unsafe at school;  Increasing sick leave with implications for covering classes. Other impacts noted by teacher respondents included significant and serious impacts on their own professional and personal lives, and an increasing number of teachers considering leaving the profession. Overall, respondents were concerned that the impact of these responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were undermining Ontario’s publicly-funded public education system.

Discussion

Evidence globally and within Canada is clearly indicating that the consequences of the pandemic, including changes in schooling and increasing mental and physical health concerns, had a profound, and often substantially negative, impact for students and for educators (see for example: CTF/FCE, 2022: OECD, 2021; Thompson, 2021). Unfortunately, this holds true in Ontario too.

While education systems around the world have been challenged with rapidly designing and flexibly implementing emergency responses through the pandemic; the evidence from 87 teachers in Peel indicates that the combination of hybrid learning and the use of quadmester schedules appears to have been particularly problematic with negative consequences for teachers’ work and for students’ learning and equity. In combination, the impacts identified for students and for teachers are very troubling. The fact that these impacts were identified within a month of the start of the school year (October 2021) is even more troubling, as the likelihood is further consequences have been experienced over the continuing school year.

The Ontario government has now reduced the requirement for student cohorting, meaning quadmester schedules are no longer required. The government, however, has already confirmed that the option for parents to fully opt their child out of in-person schooling and into online schooling will remain in 2022-23 school year. In light of the experience on hybrid learning, and negative media, student and public reactions (for example: CBC News, 2021: Jalaluddin, 2021: Katawazi, 2021; Stewart, 2021: Wong, 2021a, 2021b), several Ontario school-boards, including Peel, have announced that hybrid learning will not continue in 2022-23, and instead a virtual school for fully online teaching and learning will be implemented. The short- and longterm consequences of these significant shifts for students individually and collectively, and for high quality publicly funded education must continue to be monitored and reported.

Of particular importance, as governments make future education decisions and budget allocations, and as school districts (or their equivalents in specific education systems) and school leaders respond within their local contexts, it is vital that the voices of education workers are listened to, heard, and acted on. A striking finding throughout the 87 responses was a feeling of being unheard. Teachers – and all who work in education systems – have been through tremendous changes during the pandemic; they have navigated and innovated changes and sought to implement improvements to support all students; they have also been on the receiving end of rapidly changing mandates, some of which – as detailed in this report – have had negative consequences. The highest quality education systems listen to, value, respect, and trust the education profession to inform policy decisions and for teachers’ professional judgement in their day-to-day work (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017; Cordingley et al., 2019: Thompson, 2021). This must be central to any plans for COVID-19 recovery in education. We finish with the words of one of the teacher respondents:

“If anyone making decisions actually does want the education system to be a vehicle for social change, please invite us frontline workers to tell you what needs to be done and undone”.

 

References

Nagle, J., Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2021). Toggling between lockdowns: Canadian responses for continuity of learning in the 2020-21 school year. Canadian eLearning Network. https://sites.google.com/view/canelearn-ert/

Challenges with Hybrid Learning?

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