For Toronto mom Sandra Huh, the pandemic ‘hybrid’ model of school learning is a lot like a swim instructor teaching those in the pool, those watching from the deck, and others. not even by the pool – all at the same time.
With a new school year underway next month, several Ontario school boards are returning to the so-called blended learning model, where an educator simultaneously teaches students in the classroom and those who log on from home. In some cases, even distance students learning on their own schedule are part of the classroom.
The system was extensively tested in K-12 schools last year as a distance learning option during the COVID-19 pandemic and is back on the table this year after the province announced that the e-learning would continue.
But critics – including parents, teachers and some education experts – say it forces a teacher to do too many things at once and compromises the quality of learning for students. They want virtual and in-person learning conducted separately by dedicated teachers for each, rather than combined in the same classroom.
Continuing his swimming analogy, Huh says that an instructor in this scenario would have to do multiple things at once: “Teach in each section of the pool. To figure out how to protect them. Teach them. Keep them engaged. How do you do that when there is so much going on? “
Perhaps a child is in danger of drowning as the students on the bridge start to fidget, said Huh, whose nine-year-old son Ashton learned remotely as part of York’s hybrid system. Catholic District School Board last year.
“There are all kinds of things going on in a given classroom, but especially in the hybrid model,” Huh said. “How do you get the teacher to be able to do all of these things at once?” “
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“Pandemic emergency circumstances”
Several school boards using the hybrid model this fall say it allows distance learners to stay in touch with their classmates and teachers at the school they would normally attend. They say the model provides flexibility to switch from in-person learning to online learning under the same instructor, if needed.
This connection and flexibility are the main reasons the Upper Canada District School Board is returning to blended learning again, says Susan Rutters, the board’s superintendent of schools. Additionally, the alternative that some are clamoring for – stand-alone virtual classrooms for distance learning students – requires additional staff and funds.
Even before the start of the pandemic, Upper Canada – the Eastern Ontario council representing the surrounding region but not including Ottawa – was struggling to find substitute and substitute teachers, she said. said, adding that the province had not earmarked funding specifically for virtual separate schools.
“From a practical standpoint, our ability to staff an entirely separate virtual program would be very, very difficult to achieve,” said Rutters. The hybrid model was Upper Canada’s best option under these circumstances.
“I would definitely never say she’s a perfect model [or] that this is a model that we or most boards, any board, would really choose outside of the circumstances of a pandemic emergency, ”she said.
“Never a good solution”
The hybrid model was used before the pandemic, but generally for post-secondary students or older high school students and generally in specific circumstances, such as providing access to advanced or specialized courses not offered locally.
Elsewhere in Canada, some school boards implemented the hybrid system for high school students last year. In Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, it was used to alternate high school cohorts between in-person and distance learning. Some Calgary schools have used it if a teacher or some students had to isolate themselves at home while others continued to learn in person.
“This has never been a good solution,” said Karen Brown, newly elected President of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. The union’s approximately 83,000 members include public elementary teachers, education support staff and designated early childhood educators.
“[Hybrid] may be handy for some parents as they have students at home, but when it comes to the quality of education it is not the best that our members can offer as their attention is divided which means the ‘Your child’s learning is divided,’ said Brown.
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The process for staffing classrooms typically begins four or five months before the school year, but during the pandemic, Ontario school boards gave families much more time to choose between classroom learning. or remotely, explains Sachin Maharaj of the University of Ottawa. This decision can lead to struggling with last minute changes.
Some boards are opting for the hybrid model to avoid the difficulty of staffing in-person and virtual classrooms on short notice, said Maharaj, an assistant professor of education who studies board-level decision-making.
However, boards that choose the hybrid must be transparent with families about the tradeoffs made by the model, he said.
What did Maharaj learn from research on teachers and parents who experimented with the hybrid system last year?
That the students fell into two camps: distant students left with lesser alternatives while those in class “were doing the types of experiential activities that just cannot be replicated online,” he says, or students in the classroom. person looking at their laptop all day while sitting at school.
“In person and online are just two very different modes of teaching and both can be done well, but when you ask teachers to do both simultaneously, I think it comes at a cost: that cost being… the quality. learning experience for students. “
Maharaj says that at the very least, instructors need specific training for the hybrid approach and properly equipped in-person classrooms for clear interaction with distance learners.
“What we are seeing in many publicly funded school boards is that this is not the case,” he said. “Teachers often get nothing more than a laptop, maybe an extra webcam or microphone… and then they are told to find out.”
He fears that those who continue with the hybrid model will have a harder time catching up with students for the learning loss that has developed or worsened since spring 2020.
“As we move into the next school year, our attention should be focused on reducing these gaps, reducing these inequalities,” he said. “A blended learning approach is just going to make it a lot harder to do … because [teachers’] attention will be divided between the two different modes. “
Playing second violin
After guiding her oldest child through a dedicated first-grade virtual classroom last year, Samantha Lawrence is alarmed that her daughter Audrey’s York Region school board is switching to the hybrid model this fall. She is particularly worried because she will now have both a second grader and a kindergarten student, her middle child Taylor, enrolled in the school.
The mother from Stouffville, Ont., Says she believes the children will benefit greatly from in-person learning. However, if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, she is considering home schooling – while juggling toddler Charlie – instead of having them learn remotely in a hybrid classroom.
Lawrence wants to revisit virtual classes dedicated to distance learning – she thinks the hybrid model is not good for students at home or at school.
“Face-to-face students are not getting the kind of quality education they deserve,” she said. “Kids online really are a second fiddle.”