And, they're off!

EDCI 569 Blog Post 2

E-Learning and Blended Classrooms

During one of the synchronous meetings I posed the question to the teachers at Langley’s U-Connect school: How is it going? As a cohort we have been reading the research and debating hypotheticals, whereas they have been living it. I was curious to find out their feedback since this is their daily reality. Generally speaking, their experiences were not a surprise. That is, the blended learning they taught was somewhat successful, but that there were some predictable difficulties. One advantage of the blended classroom was the opportunity to see students face-to-face, because much of their interactions were online and without video. While it would need ethics approval, it would be interesting for those teachers to actively poll their students to find out their feedback about the U-Connect experience, and report it out to the cohort.

Sir Isaac Pitman retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Pitman

Historically, distance education has been around since the 1840s, when Sir Isaac Pitman used the mail system to grade student submissions for learning shorthand. The transition to computers progressed until e-learning replaced the postal system. However, the advent of e-learning and blended learning largely was used in the business world. The next step has been to be used in higher education, and in more recent times in K-12. As a result, the data and effectiveness of blended learning at K-12 level is still formative.

In the last year, the province of Ontario has brought in a change to the graduation requirements to include  two online courses for all high school graduates. This has been criticized and written about, notably from Beyhan Farhadi (2019)  in which she claims to “show how online learning, as an emerging method of course delivery at the secondary level, is producing new geographies of inequality.” In response to this criticism, Michael K. Barbour has appeared in K-12 State of the Nation, as well as reposted in CANeLearn to argue that, “If teachers, schools, school boards, and the Ministry of Education were to focus the design, delivery, and support of e-learning in Ontario to the specific needs of different populations of students, then all students could have success.”

At the same time, Barbour (2019) indicates that, “In order to implement a four-course e-learning requirement, the [Ontario] Government would have to scale the existing system by more than 10 times.” Also, that “In order to scale the existing system to this level, the Government of Ontario would need to invest in significant, additional resources and professional development.” In the article, Barbour cites Ferdig (2009), who reports results that 27 out of 27 at-risk students completed one online course. As of this writing, I could not find the article to cross-reference. While this statistic seems impressive, and it is cited repeatedly by Barbour, its small sample size and claims of universal validity are unverifiable.

Still, it is not a stretch to say that online or blended classrooms can have success. There is need for alternatives to traditional classroom instruction, however, they will address certain demographics just as classroom instruction addresses certain demographics. Just as the province of Ontario has undertaken other initiatives, such as a province-wide ban in cell phones in the classroom, this mandatory two-course online requirement for graduation can only be evaluated as it is rolled out. Citing other jurisdictions, such as Michigan or New Mexico in the United States is limited in its argumentative effectiveness, since all of the six states in the U.S. that have online requirements have only one course as required for graduation.

A report from Global News looked at an annual report put out by the state of Michigan about its monitoring of the e-learning success rates.

Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/video/6444145/concern-continues-over-e-learning-in-ontario

Also highlighted in the Global News article was the report from the state of Michigan, whose schools have a one-course mandatory requirement for graduation, and whose grade 9s and 10s had below 50% pass rates of online courses.

Table B1.    2017-18 Count and Pass Rate of K-12 Virtual Enrollments by Grade Level

Grade Level # of Enrolls % of Enrolls % Change Pass Rate % Change from 16-17
9 89,944 15% 12% 41% +2%
10 102,163 18% 12% 46% -2%

Having colleagues in the cohort doing blended learning right now is valuable, as their feedback becomes relevant. Jerry’s critique with synchronous meetings being very difficult to arrange, as well as the suggestion that more video lessons would be better, whereas his experience has not seen it as working practically. These comments, while anecdotal, are still important to the overall discussion and debate of policy such as the Ontario government is rolling out.

In the end, as reported in the CBC, “According to Ken Montgomery, dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Windsor, e-learning is only effective when there is adequate technology to support it—technology that costs money. Montgomery thinks e-learning has room to enhance digital literacy, but said he’s ‘a bit skeptical as to whether or not that’s the rationale behind this potential move, or if it’s simply about saving some dollars.'”

Ken Montgomery (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Whether the Ontario Ministry of Education is advancing this roll-out for purely educational purposes or fiscal purposes is unknown, but it will be worth tracking whether it results in net job losses of teachers.

References

Barbour, M. (n.d.). Ontario: E-Learning Graduation Requirement – Student Success – State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://k12sotn.ca/blog/ontario-e-learning-graduation-requirement-student-success/
Barbour, M. (n.d.). [REPOST] Ontario: E-Learning Graduation Requirement – Student Success. Canadian ELearning Network. Retrieved February 21, 2020, from https://canelearn.net/repost-ontario-e-learning-graduation-requirement-student-success/
Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2019). Sense of Irony or Perfect Timing: Examining the Research Supporting Proposed e-Learning Changes in Ontario. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education / Revue Internationale Du e-Learning et La Formation à Distance, 34(2). http://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/1137
Farhadi, B. (2019). “The Sky’s the Limit”: On the Impossible Promise of E-learning in the Toronto District School Board [Thesis]. https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/handle/1807/97442
Mar 18, C. N. · P., March 18, 2019 7:42 PM ET | Last Updated:, & 2019. (2019, March 18). “It’s just not possible”: Education officials concerned about
changes announced | CBC News. CBC. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/education-changes-windsor-reaction-1.5061208
Michigan’s K-12 Virtual Learning Effectiveness Report, 2017-18. (n.d.). Michigan Virtual. Retrieved February 18, 2020, from https://michiganvirtual.org/research/publications/michigans-k-12-virtual-learning-effectiveness-report-2017-18/

1 Comment

  1. Leanne

    You may be interested to know that we have polled students about their experiences. The following is what I recall. Overall, most students responded that they liked the flexibility as it gave them freedom over when and where they could complete their coursework and they liked that they still had teacher support. Many students also noted that they felt accepted and safe within the face to face school environment.
    I appreciate your thoughts on mandated online courses. I have concerns about this being a barrier to graduation for some students as well as limiting student voice and choice. Provide the option, let students choose or, if the goal is really to increase students digital literacy, implement it in a manner that will allow success for all students.

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