A good friend of mine sent me this news article and report.
Little is known about the success of students who choose to take K-12 courses online instead of in the classroom. But a recent survey by the B.C. Teachers’ Federation sheds light on the rewards and challenges facing their teachers.
For those who may not know, the BCTF is the teachers’ union in British Columbia. Unlike what is often found in the United States, teachers’ unions in Canada have been generally supportive of K-12 distance education and K-12 online learning – although with a skeptical eye (maybe it is just a Canadian thing).
In the case of British Columbia, the BCTF has actually been the greatest source of research into K-12 distance education in the province. For example:
Hawkey, C. & Kuehn, L. (2007). BCTF research report – The working conditions of BC teachers working in distributed learning: Investigating current issues, concerns, and practices . Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved January 6, 2008 from http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedFiles/Publications/Research_reports/2007ei01.pdf
A research report prepared for the British Columbia Teachers Federation. This report investigated distributive learning, focused on the impact of provincial government policy, the current practices and working conditions of teachers and the development of technology and its applications at the local level.
Kuehn, L. (2006). BCTF research report – Distributed learning in British Columbia schools. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from http://www.bctf.ca/publications/ResearchReports.aspx?id=9248
A research report that discusses the historical changes to the distributive learning program in the British Columbia. The report highlights the major policies of Bill 33, creating a framework for the LearnNowBC system; and British Columbia Teachers Federation (BCTF) policies for standarization of distributive learning programs.
Kuehn, L. (2004). BCTF research report – Online education is not the same as home schooling. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from http://www.bctf.ca/publications/ResearchReports.aspx?id=8430
A conference paper reporting how past educational policies and practices confused the distinction between online education and home schooling in British Columbia. This paper discusses the 2003/2004 audit of distance education to establish clear policies and criteria for ministry funded online programs.
Kuehn, L. (2003). BCTF research report: Distributed Learning in B.C., 2002-03. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from http://www.bctf.ca/uploadedfiles/publications/research_reports/2003ei02.pdf
A research report presented to the 2003 BCTF Representative Assembly. This report identifies issues concerning distributive learning with regard to teaching practices, the learning environment, curriculum development, and government policies and accountability practices. The report includes two appendices. Appendix 1 focuses on challenges of distance education to support the student’s learning experience. Appendix 2 is an observational account of distance education from the combined experience of three educational counselors.
Kuehn, L. (2002). BCTF research report – Developments with distributed learning. Vancouver: BC: British Columbia Teachers’ Federation. Retrieved from http://www.bctf.ca/publications/ResearchReports.aspx?id=5556
A supplemental report to the 2002 BCTF Executive Committee meeting. This report includes educational policy statements concerning distributive learning, information on Vancouver’s virtual school, and practical and philosophical issues to consider for future research.
The largest teachers’ union in Ontario has produced similar reports that take a critical look at K-12 online learning through the lens of teacher workload and teacher preparation. It seems that the main concern that these teachers’ unions have is to ensure that distance or online teachers have similar workload and working conditions as their face-to-face counterparts. And while they have concerns, they are still very supportive of this educational delivery model. For example, in the up-coming State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada (the annual iNACOL publication on the state of K-12 distance education activity, policy and regulations in Canada), I wrote:
at their 2010 annual meeting the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (one of the four main unions representing teachers in the province) adopted a policy regarding distance education that states, among other things, they belief that “the Ministry of Education should ensure that all students in publicly-funded schools should have equal access to online credit courses, including but not limited to covering the cost of online credit courses for low-income students and making available computers, modems and Internet access” (p. 29).
Nova Scotia is actually leading the country (and I would argue North America) in terms of critical support of K-12 distance education. Again, from the State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada report, I wrote:
There is currently no legislation specifically related to K-12 distance education in Nova Scotia, however, there are 11 provisions included in the agreement between the Government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. As a contract between the Government and teachers’ union, most of the provisions deal with teacher certification and workload issues. For example, all distance education teachers must have provincial certification and be employed by one of the eight school districts (49.01), must not infringe upon the teachers “marking and preparation time, lunch periods, days pursuant to Article 25.05 [i.e., professional development, assessment, preparation, and personal days], School Year, or other such times provided to classroom teachers in the school” (49.02), and must be scheduled during the school day (49.08).
The agreement states that the school board is responsible for ensuring that there is a plan in place for student supervision, and that schools must appoint a distance education coordinator and that these responsibilities shall be included as a part of that teacher’s overall teaching assignment (although without outlining the specific responsibilities of this coordinator), or the principal must assume these duties (49.03). The coordinator is responsible for ensuring that students have a physical space to complete their distance education courses, supervision and submission of assessments and assignments, maintenance of student records, communication with the distance education teachers, and tutoring (49.04).
There are provisions that limit the size of synchronous classes to a maximum size of 22 or 25 students from up to five different school sites. If new technologies are to be used, those involved in the distance education programme are required to meet to discuss updated maximum number of students and schools, along with other delivery issues (49.06). School boards are required to provide on-going professional development in distance education for all of those involved in the distance education programme (49.07).
Lastly, the two final provisions relate to the creation of a “standing Distance Education Committee consisting of two representatives from the Department of Education, two representatives from the Nova Scotia School Boards’ Association and four representatives from the Union… to address issues surrounding distance education” that meets at least twice a year and provides annual written reports” (p. 100).
It is interesting to see the difference between the Canadian experience and the American experience. In one teachers’ unions are seen as the problem or an impediment to educational reform, in the other they are seen as a partner. In one K-12 distance education teachers are unionized, in the other almost all are non-unionized employees (and, again, unions are generally seen as an impediment to what these K-12 distance education organizations want to do). Finally, in one teachers’ unions see K-12 distance education as a way to increase they membership and are working to protect the interest of their members while still being supportive of the increasing use of K-12 distance education.
While I understand the MAJOR socio-cultural and political differences between the two countries, but I think this example illustrates once again how the educational reform movement in the United States isn’t about improving education. It is about two ideological positions and each side trying to impose their view of public education upon everyone. Teachers’ unions aren’t the enemy, unless your goal is to crush the union and destroy public education. Teachers’ unions have a specific role within the educational process (i.e., to protect the interest of their members). If unions are engaged in the process, with the understanding of what they real role is, than they can be a useful partner in the process.