In class and online at the same time – really distant learning

William Paul  – 2020-10-16
A blended hybrid

As if teaching and learning in the time of COVID-19 are not hard enough, several boards across the province are asking teachers to do both online teaching and in-class teaching at the same time. What happens here is that the teacher works with the kids who are physically in the classroom, sitting at – hopefully – desks separated by 2 metres, working with materials, asking questions when they need to, responding to the teacher, getting help if they happen to be on the wrong track – reasonable teaching when times are very hard for that to happen.

While all of this is going on for the students who are able to attend school, those who can’t get to watch their virtual classmates from their computers – if they have working computers,  adequate broadband capability and so on. They can’t participate directly in the class they’re observing, though apparently, there is some time set aside for the teacher who is supposed to be keeping an eye on the kids in class to answer any questions the students at home might have.

It’s called a “blended” or “hybrid” model. But, it plainly represents two classes of learning opportunity. The Upper Canada District School Board, rolled a model out at the beginning of September. In the last couple of weeks the Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB and the and the York Region Catholic DSB brought out their own versions. In an October 8 letter Dufferin-Peel parents were told “The separate virtual school will no longer exist as all students will rejoin their peers at their home school.”

Not exactly. The letter goes on to say: “Students who are currently in the virtual school will continue to learn remotely, but aligned to their home school.”

Translated into common English, this means: We’re no longer offering online learning where students can ask and answer questions along with others in their group. They can watch others do that in class.


Problems with organization

What’s really happening is that some boards are having a lot of trouble organizing both online and in-class learning. It’s hard to know which families want one or the other. That makes it hard to predict where staff will be needed – either online or in-class. And it’s turning out to be expensive to do halfway decent job of both. So, some kids get to watch others learn.

Not that online learning is a panacea – as you can see from the article by Jeff Bryant published in School earlier this week. A teacher works with a group up to 35 students at a time, some of whom might not bother to attend, wander off, tune out when they don’t understand what the instructor is saying, need things they can manipulate to properly understand concepts – the problems go on and on. But at least they’re getting more or less, direct instruction


Remote virtual synchronous asynchronous blended hybrid….

At the Upper Canada DSB, students are now able to watch classes online and “connect” – not interact-  with class mates. They can also receive printed or online learning materials and assignments. As far as class size is concerned, the board’s Communications Manager, April Scott-Clarke told School that it would be “in-line with our collective agreements.” But teaching two different set of students two completely different ways surely isn’t what can be reasonably expected of teachers. It’s also awful pedagogy – even for such unusual times as we currently face.

Beyhan Farhadi, PHD, currently at the Faculty of Education, York University, a secondary teacher and expert in online learning, wrote to the Upper Canada Board: “ …it is shocking to read that teachers will be required to deliver synchronous online and in-person learning, both of which require full-time design and delivery.” She adds, that in proper online teaching, teachers can still teach small groups and offer one-to one support, rather than an extended lecture.

Another point Ms. Farhadi raises – an important one – is the issue of privacy. The students being recorded as the teacher presents a lesson must have consent forms signed by their parents. As she adds, “…it is also unethical to surveil students who have not consented or opted-into being broadcast live.”

This is one of the issues raised by Elementary Teacher Federation President Sam Hammond. He too says that elementary teachers aren’t lecturers: “Plans by any school board to have a teacher provide both in-class and distance learning simultaneously will compromise the high-quality instruction that students need and deserve. Teachers will also be responsible for providing instruction to those students who can’t be present for live virtual learning. They simply can’t be in two places at one. It’s unmanageable.”


Could it happen here?

I contacted both the Toronto DSB and the Toronto Catholic DSB to see if there are any plans to introduce this “blended model.” Ryan Bird, the TDSB Media Relations Manager said the board would not be shifting to the model “at this time.” The Toronto Catholic Board has yet to respond to this question.

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic DSB seems to have done a bit soul-searching over the past week, after hearing from parents unhappy that their kids would lose proper online teachers. So, it will still offer in-class teaching with the blended model and continue with teacher-led online learning. The pit just seems to be getting deeper.

This mess could have been avoided or at least ameliorated if the Ford government had gone ahead and spent the money needed to reduce class sizes to 15 everywhere. It would have provided for the minimum 2 metre distance between students; it wouldn’t have been perfect but, at least could have given more parents enough piece of mind to try in-class learning for their kids.



One day…let’s hope soon