After a Grade 10 year with province-wide transitions to virtual learning, Evelyn Jia was looking forward to returning to school in person this fall.
However, the 16-year-old and her peers continue to struggle with their schooling on a daily basis, she says, because her school board in Mississauga, Ont., Has opted for a blended learning model: with a teacher simultaneously instructing students. students in person and those connecting from home.
Teachers handling the extra technology needed to integrate distance students, coupled with recurring connectivity issues, are time consuming, says Evelyn. As a result, the classroom is not productive for those in school or for those at home.
Take the chemistry.
âThe teacher has five screens, two mice and two keyboards – and it takes her half an hour to set it up,â Evelyn said. “It’s a half hour of class that we could use to learn chemistry.”
Familiarity, flexibility cited as advantages
Ontario school districts using the hybrid concurrent teaching model this year say it’s the way to keep distant learners in touch with familiar teachers and their regular school communities. It also allows for greater flexibility if sudden changes between in-person and distance learning are needed.
However, the model – which some school boards have adopted in response to the continuing provincial mandate that requires them to offer virtual learning – continues to attract strong criticism from students, parents, educators and more, who see it as its goal. sustained use this year unacceptable at this stage of the pandemic.
Grade 11 student Kaden Johnson notes the difficult battle distant students face to learn virtually alongside their peers in person.
âSometimes the audio doesn’t work so we can’t hear people,â said the 16-year-old student from Mississauga. âThe teacher should try to solve this problem and their students in person should just sit there and wait. [Meanwhile], we don’t even know what happens if there is no Wi-Fi at school.
“If I fall behind or make mistakes, I can’t always get back to where I was before or even where I could have been.”
“Always feel like you’re neglecting someone”
This is the third school year that students experience at least a partial disruption in their education due to the pandemic.
For Rachna Venkatesh, Grade 9 was the last time she had a full, normal year in high school. Now in Grade 12, she worries about the âlearning tradeoffsâ that students have faced under the hybrid model, especially as she prepares to move on to post-secondary education.
âI’m considering doing health sciences in college, and if I’m not able to understand a lot of the content being taught due to all of these blended learning issues, then when I go into my freshman year of college, I’m kind of lagging behind, âsaid the 16-year-old, who attends the same school as Evelyn.
High school science teacher Jason Bradshaw echoes these student concerns. He teaches at the Peel District School Board in Mississauga and tries to prepare engaging lessons for his students in person and remotely, but it’s often an impossible task.
âIt takes me at least twice as long in the morning just to prepare for my classes,â Bradshaw said.
In addition to setting up regular labs and experiments before class starts, he also needs to hook up all of his “production” equipment online, which includes computers, a webcam and a tablet.
Then, if he suddenly loses connectivity with his learners at home, he needs to quickly troubleshoot.
âIn the meantime, the kids in class? I have to keep them engaged and occupied,â Bradshaw said. “It’s really the job of at least two people, maybe three people, if you consider the tech support that’s involved. But you have to try to do it yourself.”
Hybrid education really means trying to create two different but equal classroom experiences at the same time. Today that meant setting up a series of lab stations for in-person students and a video playlist (mostly self-produced) for online students. #OntEd pic.twitter.com/A05kVrYsSJ
While much attention has been paid to the difficulties younger students face under the hybrid model, Bradshaw points out that high school students, especially those in a key transitional year like Grade 9, are also at a critical period of learning.
“They always need and deserve a teacher who will give them their full attention, especially for difficult subjects like trying to learn science and chemistry,” he said.
“They don’t get the best of what we teachers would like to be able to offer. You always feel like you’re overlooking someone in this hybrid model because you can’t be in two places at once.”
“Minimize disruption and maximize security”
The Peel District School Board cited “educational, social, and health and safety benefits” for its adoption of blended education for high school students. These include teaching by the same educator, whether in person or online, as well as continuity of learning for students suddenly isolated due to exposure to COVID-19 or if schools are run. towards virtual learning by public health officials or the Ministry of Education. , said the board of directors in a press release.
Similar reasoning has been proposed by the York Region District School Board, which uses the hybrid in elementary and secondary schools.
A spokesperson cited “feedback from families” wanting to stay connected to their local community school and the flexibility to switch from in-person classes to online classes as the main reasons for adopting the hybrid.
The board said its decision was also influenced by “conversations with groups of employees,” ongoing infection prevention and control measures and the need to meet government funding allocations.
For its part, the Ontario Ministry of Education said the goal for this school year was “to minimize disruption and maximize safety” in its overall plan to reopen.
The government ârecognizes that returning students to full-time in-person learning is essential for their health and development,â said Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Stephen Lecce, Ontario Minister of Education.
However, “in order to respect and support families’ choices as well as possible, distance education will continue to be offered for this school year,” she said.
“Inexpensive” remote option
Ultimately, the persistence of the hybrid model is a consequence of funding decisions made at the provincial level, says Bonnie Stewart, assistant professor of online pedagogy and workplace learning in the University’s Faculty of Education. from Windsor.
âAlmost no one chooses the hybrid because it’s the optimal learning situation,â she said. âIt’s chosen because it’s financially viable: school boards can afford it because they ask teachers to do two tasks at the same time.
“When you refuse to fund virtual, but force school boards to offer virtual, you are essentially creating a situation where you are asking them to do what they can do on the cheap.”
WATCH | Why the current hybrid system makes it âreally, very easyâ to lose track of students:
Hybrid is originally HyFlex (flexible hybrid), first introduced for small classes of mature graduate students as a flexible option for those who might need to connect remotely or perhaps later due to parenting or other responsibilities, Stewart explained.
Online education of this type requires both a significant financial investment and specialized education.
âIn Ontario schools, we don’t have a flexible situation. What we have is a collapse of two totally separate class responsibilities into one model for one teacher, and that reduces the learning situation to a diffusion, âsaid Stewart.
“The hybrid situation is by no means a prioritization of learning or education.”
Protests like these are happening all over the city. Here, SATEC staff know that blended learning hurts children and is not sustainable. It has to stop now. #nohybrid #hybridhurtskids pic.twitter.com/dzEjJtVV6M
No hybrid press conference and community forum in York Region. @YRDSB teachers, education workers and community supporters have a clear message to administrators: stop the hybrid. #nohybrid pic.twitter.com/XQ89NYuQIo
Despite reluctance against the model, including recent protests in Toronto and York Region, school board officials have not budged on the issue.
âWith all the attention we’ve paid to this and how well we’ve approached it, the fact that the hybrid system has been in place for so long really doesn’t feel like it’s being listened to,â said Kaden Johnson, Grade 11 student.