One year after an emergency pivot to remote learning provincewide, a trio of academics at the University of Manitoba wants to find out how teachers have adopted educational technology into classrooms and adjusted their roles in response.
Bruno de Oliveira Jayme, Shannon Moore and Joanna Black are seeking teacher recruits for a new research project on online learning throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
"While we recognize there are some benefits for some students, we are worried about how COVID might be used as an opportunity to push for more online learning without substantive research about it," said Moore, an assistant professor of education and co-investigator on the project.
"I, personally, have been very concerned about some of the embrace of technology, even before COVID… It can seem fun and new and exciting, but is it entertainment or is it truly education?"
Upwards of 200,000 K-12 students participated in remote learning during the first lockdown last spring. Since then, thousands of pupils have continued to learn from home — be it during self-isolation stints or on a more permanent basis, via division-run virtual schools, InformNet and Manitoba’s remote learning support hub.
The province recently unveiled plans to launch a bilingual online high school and explore continuing a K-8 online platform, post-pandemic.
The objective of the U of M research is to highlight teacher expertise on the subject; the researchers want to hear the experiences of 21 K-12 educators who taught in spring 2020.
"We work so hard with our teacher candidates in showing them that teaching is less about content delivery and more about personal connection with your students; that is nearly impossible to achieve in an online platform," said de Oliveira Jayme, the principal investigator on the project, who doubles as an assistant professor of education.
De Oliveira Jayme and his colleagues want to understand how using online platforms has affected instructional methods and curriculum, consider its effect on creativity and critical thinking, and study the growing role of EdTech companies in public education.
Moore said she is particularly interested in the kind of digital literacy training, if any, teachers have received to accompany the introduction and widespread use of new learning management software and other programs.
Teachers educate students about media literacy, but she said the education system has largely overlooked privacy concerns during the last year in an effort to keep students learning.
The price tag of e-learning continues to be underestimated, Moore said, noting costs related to software purchases, licence renewals and attrition rates.
Meantime, De Oliveira Jayme said an uncritical move to online platforms expands the privatization of public schools, as EdTech companies gain more influence in the school system.
The researchers’ interviews, which will be recorded via virtual focus groups and individual conversations this spring, will be compiled into an eBook.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.