On Monday we posted a quick note about two reports that were released by the Ontario Teachers’ Federation (OTF) – see Continuing to Confound – Ontario Teachers’ Federation Research Reports – and in that entry we indicated that we would attempt to review each of the reports.  Earlier this week we reviewed Schools, Austerity & Privatization in the Pandemic Era, and this entry is a review of The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12 report.

Unlike the previous report, most of what is included in this report is squarely focused within the K-12 distance, online, and blended learning community. However, like the previous report the author confounds the implication that the emergency remote learning and remote learning over the past two and a half years is representative of formal K-12 distance and online learning in Ontario in the past or planned for the future.

This is seen right from the two research questions that the author decided to explore were:

Research Question 1: What are the systemic and long-term implications of virtual teaching and learning for educators and students in K-12 settings?

Research Question 2: What are the systemic and long-term consequences of fully virtual teaching and learning on the well-being of educators and students in K-12 settings?

These questions were answered using focus groups and survey data from educators, parents/guardians/caregivers (i.e., families), and students beginning in the Summer 2021 through to Winter 2022.  The questions are focused on systemic and long-term implications of virtual teaching and learning, but the data is largely – primarily – based on perceptions of the short-term, temporary remote teaching and learning that folks experienced.  As we have said many times in the past, the system – rightly or wrongly – had never anticipated this kind of extended closure and the preparations that would be needed, not the least of which was that teachers were never trained as a part of their initial preparation or their on-going professional development to teach in these kinds of circumstances.  While governments could have done a better job in their initial responses (see the Canadian eLearning Network’s (CANeLearn) “Pandemic Pedagogy Series” for an in depth examination of those responses across Canada), most believe that everyone in the education system was doing the best job they could under the circumstances.  This is not consistent with the 25+ years of formal K-12 virtual teaching and learning that has happened in Ontario, or that will continue to happen in the future.  This fundamental flaw hinders most of what this report attempts to offer.  It would be like trying to understand what it takes to fly an airplane, but asking a bunch of people who have just received their auto learner’s permit.

If the research questions were re-worded to be:

  1. What are implications of the instructional pandemic response for future emergency planning of remote teaching and learning for educators and students in K-12 settings?
  2. What are implications of the instructional pandemic response for future emergency planning of remote teaching and learning on the well-being of educators and students in K-12 settings?

If the report is read through this lens, it is quite useful.  I mean the wording could be changed a bit, but the idea is what can we learn from the emergency response so that the next time this happens we can do better.  Taken in that light, this can be a useful report.

For example, back in 2003 the the Toronto District School Board had to closed four schools due to the SARS outbreak.  Interestingly, reports at the time suggested that the “district didn’t implement a full-scale virtual learning program. But they did gather online learning links from the Canadian Ministry of Education on the district’s Web site for access to material supplementing students’ classwork” (Borja, 2003, para. 15). The superintendent was also quoted as saying, “we had homework provisions [online] for these kids…. They need to keep up with their classwork and keep engaged” (para. 17).  In a Health Canada (2003) report entitled Learning from SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada that examined the emergency response to SARS, the only time the word ‘school’ appeared was to describe the schools that were closed due to the outbreak, and then the role of closing schools to contain a future outbreak. There was no discussion at all to how continuity of learning could be provided for K-12 students when public health authorities decided to close the schools, or the potential impact on children of these closures.  Essentially, there was no exploration of potential lessons for how the education system could have responded better.  One wonders if there had been any examination of the lessons from SARS if the response to COVID would have been different?

At the time, Christensen and Painter (2004) summarized an editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (2003), both of which described the need to examine the response for lessons on what could be done better next time, by stating:

whether the right structure, both medical and political, was in place for fighting epidemics like SARS. It questions whether the local and provincial health authorities had the training and the resources they needed and the proper surveillance and reporting system in place. (Christensen & Painter, 2004, p. 37)

You could replace the following words: ‘medical’ with ‘educational,’ ‘health authorities’ with ‘school authorities,’ and ‘surveillance and reporting’ with ‘teaching and learning;’ and the sentiment would continue to be accurate.

Whether the right structure, both educational and political, was in place for fighting epidemics like SARS. It questions whether the local and provincial school authorities had the training and the resources they needed and the proper teaching and learning system in place.

If you replaced SARS with COVID, you would end up with the content of The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12 report.  Understanding that reality is important as you read through the report.  For example, the key findings were listed as:

  1. The hybrid model of teaching and learning is fundamentally flawed and not sustainable.
  2. There was little or no alignment between the government’s expectations and requirements for virtual models of teaching and the resources and supports made available to do so.
  3. Overall, virtual learning was a negative experience for a significant majority of educators, parents and students.
  4. Overwhelming majorities of families, educators and students reported that virtual learning did not meet the needs of students.
  5. Student readiness to learn, their active/interactive engagement and attention span significantly declined in virtual learning.
  6. Virtual learning had an adverse impact on the development of social and emotional skills of students.
  7. Specific student populations experienced more difficulty than others in accessing the resources required to participate in virtual learning.
  8. Family and student wellbeing suffered as a result of virtual learning.
  9. The demands of prolonged virtual teaching took a serious toll on educators’ physical, social emotional and mental health.
  10. The lack of privacy in online, virtual learning created an unsafe place for many students.

Most of these are accurate if you replace virtual learning with remote learning – the three exceptions to this are indicated in red.  So the following are true:

1. The hybrid model of teaching and learning is fundamentally flawed and not sustainable.
2. There was little or no alignment between the government’s expectations and requirements for remote models of teaching and the resources and supports made available to do so.
3. Overall, remote learning was a negative experience for a significant majority of educators, parents and students.
4. Overwhelming majorities of families, educators and students reported that remote learning did not meet the needs of students.
5. Student readiness to learn, their active/interactive engagement and attention span significantly declined in remote learning.
7. Specific student populations experienced more difficulty than others in accessing the resources required to participate in remote learning.
10. The lack of privacy in remote learning created an unsafe place for many students.

The three items in red were left out because this is a common perception in the media, and in the general public, but to date there is no research to support this claim.  In a recent presentation at the Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association annual conference by Stephanie Moore, Michael Barbour, and George Veletsianos entitled “Online or Remote Learning and Mental Health” (the slides are available at https://www.slideshare.net/mkb/otessa-2022-online-or-remote-learning-and-mental-health).  The presenters found the following

  • Significant stress for students clearly pre-dated the pandemic
    • Literature reviews
  • Multiple studies confound the move to online / remote learning with the pandemic itself (in some cases, treated as synonymous)
  • Those that did not treat online learning as a primary variable provided some of the richest insights into mental health shifts during the pandemic
    • Suggests that a discussion of online / remote may actually obscure important insights and discussions
    • Identified a mix of both positive and negative impacts as well as coping mechanisms (Slide 14)

The basic conclusion these presenters came to was that the research actually shows that it was the fact that people were living through a global pandemic that had:

  • adverse impact on the development of social and emotional skills of students,
  • caused family and student wellbeing to suffer, and
  • took a serious toll on educators’ physical, social emotional and mental health.

As the presenters indicated, most of what was written on the topic suggested remote/online learning impacted mental health with no evidence or there was a correlation between remote/online learning and mental health that researchers claimed was causal – when anyone who knows anything about research understand correlation does not equal causation.  The example that often gets used is…

Source: Medium

Overall, this is a good piece of research if you wanted to explore the perceptions of educators, parents/guardians/caregivers (i.e., families), and students on how we could do better during the next emergency – and that research is important because it clearly wasn’t done or wasn’t heeded when Canadian schools were impacted by SARS in 2003.  However, as a piece of research focused on what lessons this has to offer for more traditional K-12 distance and online learning (or what the author refers to as virtual teaching and learning), it is quite limited!

Report Review – The Implications of Virtual Teaching and Learning in Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, K-12

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