We haven’t had a lot to say about the emergency provision of distance education across K-12 schools in Canada over the past few months.  In fact, the only thing that we have posted to this space since the pandemic began has been notices that one or more of our researchers have received related to work that the project has published.  The reason for that is simply because it has been too soon.  As Hodges and his colleagues (2020) described, what we have seen over the past four months has been emergency remote teaching or emergency remote learning, which they define as:

a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances. It involves the use of fully remote teaching solutions for instruction or education that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face or as blended or hybrid courses and that will return to that format once the crisis or emergency has abated. The primary objective in these circumstances is not to re-create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide temporary access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably available during an emergency or crisis. (para. 13)

You see it is important to make this distinction because we are starting to see the first “research” based examinations of this emergency remote learning being released.  For example, late last week the Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) released a report entitled Canadian Teachers Responding to Coronavirus (COVID-19) — Pandemic Research Study.  Based on the press release for the report (which can be accessed at https://www.ctf-fce.ca/all-is-not-well-in-education/), the notable findings of the report include:

  • 74% are concerned with the mental health and well-being of their students.
  • 73% have concerns or questions about getting their students what they need to be successful with online instruction.
  • 44% state that they have concerns with their mental health and well-being.

Of the teachers who responded to open-ended questions:

  • 92% say that access to technology and learning materials was a barrier to equitable quality public education.
  • 89% report concerns about student emotional health. Educators note that students are isolated and missing social connections with their classmates and schools, and they are concerned with students returning to school after a period of detachment.
  • 99% have concerns about the return to school buildings discussed anxieties around not knowing the plans, adding that constant changes from Ministries of Education, without proper time and supports to adapt, have taken a toll on their mental health and well-being.

These are all perfectly valid concerns.  However, if you look at the actual report (and the full report is available at https://vox.ctf-fce.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/National-Summary-Report-OVERVIEW-Pandemic-Research-Study-Jul-22.pdf), the quantitative data related to “Technology and Online Instruction” begins with the statement:

Two-thirds of respondents report having concerns or questions about the impact of digital technologies used during the pandemic on the physical, mental, social and emotional well-being children and youth.

We have just spend four months largely locked down due to a global pandemic.  In terms of schooling, there were three options that policymakers could have chosen:

  1. Simply shut things down completely.
  2. Leave things open and keep one’s fingers crossed that the disease didn’t impact children (or their families or anyone else that they might come into contact with).
  3. Try some grand experiment in remote learning to provide some semblance of routine and normalcy that comes with “attending” school (regardless of what “attending looked like).

As you might imagine, given those three choices there was only one real choice – remote learning.  The question is did digital technologies impact the physical, mental, social and emotional well-being children and youth, or maybe it had to due with the fact that the world was shut down due to a global pandemic?

Interestingly, in their section on the Black Death, the Decameron Web Project at Brown University wrote this about the impact of the plague:

The plague had large scale social and economic effects, many of which are recorded in the introduction of the Decameron. People abandoned their friends and family, fled cities, and shut themselves off from the world. Funeral rites became perfunctory or stopped altogether, and work ceased being done. Some felt that the wrath of God was descending upon man, and so fought the plague with prayer. Some felt that they should obey the maxim, “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die.” The society experienced an upheaval to an extent usually only seen in controlled circumstances such as carnival. Faith in religion decreased after the plague, both because of the death of so many of the clergy and because of the failure of prayer to prevent sickness and death.

The economy underwent abrupt and extreme inflation. Since it was so difficult (and dangerous) to procure goods through trade and to produce them, the prices of both goods produced locally and those imported from afar skyrocketed. Because of illness and death workers became exceedingly scarce, so even peasants felt the effects of the new rise in wages. The demand for people to work the land was so high that it threatened the manorial holdings. Serfs were no longer tied to one master; if one left the land, another lord would instantly hire them. The lords had to make changes in order to make the situation more profitable for the peasants and so keep them on their land. In general, wages outpaced prices and the standard of living was subsequently raised.

As a consequence of the beginning of blurring financial distinctions, social distinctions sharpened. The fashions of the nobility became more extravagant in order to emphasize the social standing of the person wearing the clothing. The peasants became slightly more empowered, and revolted when the aristocracy attempted to resist the changes brought about by the plague. In 1358, the peasantry of northern France rioted, and in 1378 disenfranchised guild members revolted. The social and economic structure of Europe was drastically and irretrievably changed.

(Ed: D.S.) Courie, Leonard W. The Black Death and Peasant’s Revolt. New York: Wayland Publishers, 1972; Strayer, Joseph R., ed. Dictionary of the Middle Ages. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. Vol. 2. pp. 257-267.

While the specific examples are date, replace plague with COVID-19 and it does sound quite familiar.  The reality was that the world was experiencing something that the scope of which it hadn’t seen in over half a millenia, and that the last time we saw something this devastating that it wiped out 20%-25% of the world’s population.  Maybe it could be that this reality was what was having an impact on the physical, mental, social and emotional well-being children and youth?  And maybe not necessarily the use of digital technologies or students being engaged in remote learning?

This is not to say that there are no good findings in this report, and we’ll try and highlight some of the interesting data that the study generated in subsequent entries.  However, this is one of the first examinations of K-12 schooling during the first months of the pandemic, and within the K-12 distance, online, and blended learning community there is a concern that all of the problems that students experience during the pandemic from physical, mental, social and emotional well-being to learning loss to access issues will be blamed on the remote learning that was necessary during this period of time.  That confounding of causation will mean that those who have understanding and expertise in the field will dismiss each of these reports as being fundamentally flawed, while the general public will use it as a stick to beat supporters of K-12 distance, online, and blended learning into submission.



Hodges, C. B., Moore, S., Lockee, B. B., Trust, T., & Bond, M. A. (2020). The difference between emergency remote teaching and online learning. Educause Review. https://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learninghttps://er.educause.edu/articles/2020/3/the-difference-between-emergency-remote-teaching-and-online-learning

Starting to Examine Remote Learning: And So it Begins…

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