ETFO’s position on in-person learning remains unchanged. The union firmly believes that the daily, in-person model of instruction and support best meets the educational, developmental and social needs of students, provides the best experience for support, and is the most equitable learning model for all students. ETFO’s expectation is that elementary virtual learning in any capacity, including through hybrid models of instruction, will end once the pandemic ends.
Given that we are at a time in history where a pandemic is pushing school work onto eLearning platforms, I can see growth in the technology of eLearning platforms for many students.
In our immediate future, eLearning will allow students more flexibility in choice and mode as they learn. This means that students could take courses offered by schools, other than the school they attend. Options could include a blended approach which comprises of specified times where they attend classes for hands-on activities.
Note that I see students developmentally ready at a high school level, as I believe students in elementary school require more ongoing face-to-face support with their teachers. In addition, students who are at or below grade 3 level should be limited in their eLearning as they still require personal interactions to learn and socialize with others.
I’ve highlighted some applications that are being used or will continue to be used on eLearning platforms.
Transitioning To Mobile Learning Apps
Teaching students through mobile apps may also be an option in learning languages (e.g. Duolingo), practicing math skills (e.g. Prodigy), and practicing reading skills (e.g. How to teach your monster to read).
Augmented and Virtual Reality solutions may become a way to teach students about places they cannot directly visit or experience situations they should not experience. Examples include visiting the Tundra where polar bears live or learning about the impact of drunk driving through Smart Wheels for grades 4 to 6 (a program I participated in with my students. There are even virtual reality programs for seniors now.
Personalized learning may also be developed to support students with special education needs. Here programs adapt the learning environment to meet each students’ profile of needs and accommodations. These could include having computer programs reading text to students (text to speech) and recording answers (speech to text). Learning environments could also adapt to students’ learning profiles presenting learning with more visuals to visual learners, more audio to audio learners, and the use of augmented hands for tactile learners.
As the learner spends more time with their learning platform, the program would assess how the student learns best and adjust the platform accordingly. There is a debate as to whether personalized learning can really deliver the same quality of learning as being face to face with humans.
Caveats to eLearning
I have been using aspects of online learning for several years with my grade 4 and 5 students. We use Google Docs/Drive to share work with other students in a collaborative format. My students also use assistive technology like Google Read/Write to complete work and then share it with me via Google Docs.
I’ve been teaching my students with significant learning disabilities online for over 2 months now. As time has gone forward, my students who are very good at working on their own have done well in our online learning environment. My students who need a significant amount of support are struggling more and some students have stopped participating completely (33% not submitting any work, 33% submitting some work, 33% submitting all work on time). Note that all students do not have access to high speed internet and to their own technology (as they are using computers from the school).
The big challenge is that my students are missing the social aspect of school as they once worked and played with their friends. Also, many parents have reported students with increased mental wellness challenges.
The one big take away from this experience is that the parents, mostly mothers, are having to take on the role of a teaching assistant while they run the household, take care of children and the elderly, make meals, do laundry, and work at their own jobs at home. Downloading the work of educators onto parents is not sustainable. This puts further pressures on parents, mostly women, who do most of the unpaid work in their homes.
In the end, online eLearning will only work for a certain group of students. It will support the students who are already self starters who work well with little supervision from instructors. For the students who need support to learn, online learning may leave them behind.
Ontario’s current flawed model of online learning
All I know, at this moment in time, is that the current model of online learning is flawed as it expands the digital divide between those who have reliable technology and those that do not. Further, the diversity of learners is not being met as students who work well on their own succeed. But some students will not succeed, especially those students with special education needs. Learning for all promotes a safe, supportive, and inclusive society of learners, where no students are left behind.