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Virtual Learning Brings Out Real Life Inequities

By Michelle Fung, OCT

MARKHAM, ON 一 3 days before Monday, April 6, the originally set date for return after the Ontario school closure, Stephen Lecce, the minister of Education, had announced that online learning was going to be the norm going forward. We weren’t going to be back in school on Monday.

This was one of the most stressful weekends of our career, but little did we know what was coming. During the weekend, teachers were scrambling to digitize their entire teaching program before online learning occurred. I was going through my resources, typing them up, making new Google Slides, recording voice clips, finding relevant pictures, and fool proofing them again and again to ensure that students of all ​learning needs can learn independently. Because what’s different is that in online learning, I cannot be at a student’s side guiding them through the lesson or work. I teach French, so that’s another layer of complexity. While these 3 months have been harrowing for many parents, they were definitely taking a heavy toll on all teachers. How would my at-risk students parse through a text without my help? What about my students who have IEPs? What about my students who are undiagnosed? What about my students whose families are too busy for them?

We tend to think that kids will flourish in online learning because they play Fortnite for hours on end, but that’s not what being technologically savvy means. They still don’t know how to search using Boolean operators, how to insert special characters, how to type (and not​peck the keyboard), how to use keyboard shortcuts, the list goes on. That’s just one of the reasons why covid online learning was not truly “online learning”.

It was “emergency pandemic crisis learning”.

I had about 30-50% engagement rate in all my classes. My activities were designing a dream house, and selling it, or doing a choice board of 6 activities, or creating a review. Because Lecce has stated that marks will not be affected unless they bring up the pre-March break mark, there were many students who I have never seen again since Friday, March 13.

The low level of engagement stems from many factors. For example, Lecce had promised to allot tech to students who need it. I had students who didn’t receive a device until late April. Rural Ontario was out for the count: their Internet was so spotty that parents couldn’t even work from home.

This emergency pandemic crisis learning really shone the spotlight on how unready Ontario is to adopt online learning as a model:

  • Students’ Internet connections and devices were inaccessible

  • Families were unavailable to help their children

  • Students’ knowledge of tech was not consistent across the province

Not only were teachers stressing about these factors that were out of their control, we were also extremely concerned about the continued bashing from Lecce on the use of video in “synchronous learning”. The truth is that for online learning to work, learning must be ​asynchronous.​ Asynchrony is the only way to ensure all students’ access to learning because they can access it on their own schedule. The whole purpose of online learning is to be flexible. Synchronous learning completely defeats the purpose of that.

Which, by the way, is funny because teachers have already been using synchronous learning since Monday, April 6. We have been collaborating together on Google Slides and chatting one-on-one (or small groups) in Google Hangouts. Some teachers who weren’t familiar with that tech opted to open a Google Doc. They were all synchronous.

And those 3 months were all completed, report cards and all, with no Professional Development from the Ministry of Education.

So is Ontario ready for online learning? Certainly not. Let’s fix the Internet infrastructure and accessibility issues before we progress further.

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