These two news items came across our electronic desk just before the holidays.

Report includes Indigenous lens on remote learning in Canada

Report finds only 17 per cent of households on First Nations had access to broadband internet connectivity
virtual_remote_learning_student_desk_covid
A new report, including experiences of Indigenous youth who are disproportionately impacted by existing distant learning challenges, has been released.

The 56-page report, which is titled Uncharted Waters: Toward A World-Class Canadian E-Learning Paradigm, was released on Dec. 8.

To continue reading, click https://www.timminstoday.com/local-news/report-includes-indigenous-lens-on-remote-learning-in-canada-4878722

Report eyes remote learning through Indigenous lens

As of last year, 17% of households on First Nations had access to broadband internet: Auditor General
pexels-burst-374074
A new report, including experiences of Indigenous youth who are disproportionately impacted by existing distant learning challenges, has been released.

The 56-page report, which is titled Uncharted Waters: Toward A World-Class Canadian E-Learning Paradigm, was released on Dec. 8.

To continue reading, click https://www.midlandtoday.ca/local-news/report-eyes-remote-learning-through-indigenous-lens-4888329

Now the actual report that is being discussed was:

Uncharted Waters

A World-class Canadian E-learning Paradigm

By Maryna Ivus , Nathan Snider , Trevor Quan  December 10, 2021

Abstract

Tagged with: EdTech, Education, eLearning, Distance Learning, Digital Fluency

As this is an organization that is new to the field of K-12 distance, online, and blended learning, it is worth looking at the organization and individuals behind the report.

Examining the Logistics of the Report

According to their website, the “Digital Think Tank by Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC) is the research and policy arm of the ICTC” and they “provide future-focused research and publications that inform evidence-based policies and forward-looking insights for the digital economy.”  The team listed for ICTC, the vast majority are trained in economics or business, with a fair amount of political science or public policy through in there (even a couple with engineering, medical, or anthropology backgrounds) – although not all indicate their educational backgrounds.  Of the 21 people that are listed, there is only one with any mention of education in their academic background and that one is described as their “academic background stems from Nipissing and Athabasca University’s social science programs, with post-grad explorations in the field of ethics in technology, Indigenous research methodologies and Indigenous education” (whereas most of the profiles that did reference an academic background referred to specific degrees).  This is not to suggest that folks who aren’t trained in the field of education have nothing to offer to the conversation around educational practice or policy.  But it also means that those individuals may not be aware of established understandings in the field that are just known by those in the field (e.g., that there is no research to support individual learning styles as one often used example).

As for the actual report, the “primary research for this study consisted of a series of 20 key informant interviews (KIIs) and were held with a variety of subject matter experts from across Canada” and “a survey on distance learning to understand the perspectives of both students and parents… between February and March of 2021” (p. 49).  There is no specific reference to who the 20 interviewees were, other than “representation from Indigenous populations along with other members who self-identify as being part of Canada’s various communities: Black, and other people of colour (BIPOC). Representation included K–12 educators, higher learning professors, curriculum consultants, e-learning strategists, educational administrators, and educational directors from prominent Canadian teacher colleges” (p. 49). They surveys had 1063 responses from “556 parent respondents, and 507 student respondents primarily from the same families” (p. 49).

Beyond looking at the academic background of the authors and the organization, and how those might impact the quality of the work; as well as the methodology that was used and how that might skewed the findings that were presented, an examination of the literature that is used to inform the report is another tool to determine the understanding that the authors have of the field.  In looking through the 165 footnotes, the majority of sources seem to come from articles published in the popular news media (often Canadian daily newspapers) or from material published on the websites of different government agencies or various companies involved in the e-learning sector.  The research that is used is primarily from the higher education environment.  While there is some use of K-12 e-learning literature, it is scant and many of the seminal researchers – both within Canada and internationally – are completely absent from the report.

Examining the Content of the Report

The findings of the actual report are difficult to argue against in some cases, are obvious in some cases, and represent a misunderstanding of what is happening in other instances.  For example, I suspect that anyone involved in the field of K-12 e-learning would argue against the sentiment that “Canada must prepare for a future where e-learning is not just an emergency response but a common practice” (p. 5)  As we have seen K-12 e-learning grow from less than 1% of students engaged in some form of distance learning to approximately 6% of students in the past 20 years.  What is needed to see that figure grow to 10% or 25% or 50% or 100%?  What do Ministries of Education and/or higher education teacher preparation programs have to do to better equip and prepare educators so that they can accommodate this future?

However, the authors also suggested that “the mass e-learning experiment experienced by millions of Canadian students and parents over the last 18 months of the pandemic has been paradigm changing” (p. 6).  The past two years have not been a mass e-learning experiment.  If it had been an experiment, the experimenters would have established specific conditions or parameters that the e-learning would have been undertaken.  There would have been training provided to the teachers.  A variety of distance learning resource materials to supplement the existing curriculum would have been created.  Policies would have been put in place to accommodate the disruption of learning that occurred from the initial and immediate school closures which students did not recover from.  As we described in the Understanding Pandemic Pedagogy: Differences between Emergency Remote, Remote, and Online Teaching report, what happened in March-April-May 2020 represented emergency remote teaching, where:

Institutions making an all hands on deck movement to remote delivery, often relying on synchronous video, with massive changes in just four weeks. Educators do whatever they can to have some educational presence for all classes online. Commenters have rightly pointed out that students’ and educators’ health and safety are more important than worrying about quality course design or even equitable access. Think of this phase as ‘Put everything [online] and worry about details later.’ (Barbour et al., 2020, p. 3)

As schools and districts moved into the next phase there was more of a focus on quality of instruction and equitable access, there was some additional contingency planning.  However, the reality is that almost all jurisdiction have never gotten past these first two phases.  Phase three of this ‘mass e-learning experiment’ would have been when the system was at a stage where it didn’t matter if the instruction was being provided face-to-face, at a distance, or some combination of the two because both educators and students were adept enough in either environment to handle the toggling between instructional mediums.

To take a step further, the authors of this report state that “Educators in this study were undecided about whether distance learning is better suited to older students at secondary school levels or higher: however, they did express that socialization and classroom routine is more critical in early years” (p. 6).  This is an example of one of these long held beliefs that certain populations of students or certain subject areas are more or less suited for distance learning.  However, within the field we know that this would be akin to suggesting that certain populations of students or certain subject areas are more or less suited for teaching in a face-to-face setting?  Educators across the spectrum understand how assine a question this would be.  Those in the field of K-12 e-learning understand that like we do in the face-to-face environment, different populations of students need their distance learning designed, delivered, and supported in different ways to ensure that they have success.  And as well meaning as the instruction provided over the past two years have been, and the monumental efforts that educators have undertaken, the reality is that – as noted in the previous paragraph – this has not been distance learning or e-learning.  What the students and parents, and even the experts, have experienced over the past two years has been remote learning at best, emergency remote learning at worse.  Of course older students have generally been better suited for what we’ve seen over the past two years, because they are better able to overcome the deficiencies in how these remote offerings have been designed, delivered, and supported!

Overall, this report offers little that hasn’t already been referenced by other organizations in this space.  What is does offer to those involved in K-12 e-learning is muted by the limitations found with others aspects of the report.  With a more informed understanding of the context, the data might have proven to be more useful and those more nuanced findings could have been more impactful.  Interestingly, either in the news items or in the report itself (maybe both), it indicated that this was the third report that the Information and Communications Technology Council had released on distance learning in the country since early 2020.  So naturally, we went looking for the other two – more to come on those reports on Wednesday and Friday.

 

References

Barbour, M. K., LaBonte, R., Kelly, K., Hodges, C., Moore, S., Lockee, B., Trust, T., Bond, A., & Hill, P. (2020). Understanding pandemic pedagogy: Differences between emergency remote, remote, and online teaching. Canadian eLearning Network. https://k12sotn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/understanding-pandemic-pedagogy.pdf

Report Review – Uncharted Waters: A World-class Canadian E-learning Paradigm

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