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Technology, teacher training and support in the pandemic and beyond

| Educational resources, Funding and resourcing, Teaching profession

When the 2019-2020 school year began, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) members braced for labour unrest that had not been seen since the Mike Harris days. Who would have predicted the events in March, and school closures in Canada for the remainder of the school term? A move to “on line” distance learning, a model which required access to Internet and technology to teach, assess and support students was, for many teachers, unchartered territory. 

Technology is not new in elementary or secondary education. School boards across Ontario and in many parts of Canada have been actively introducing technology in the classroom for decades. Chrome books, iPads, and a variety of online platforms have become the “new norm” in numerous schools.

With distance learning and in-class school models now in full swing, many families are switching to online learning platforms. The potential of a second school closure lurks in the wings. Teachers are adjusting to these new realities but what will the post-pandemic era bring? The rigours of teaching, student relationship building, teaching to different grades, and the new math curriculum in Ontario all come into play. 

Is online classroom learning the latest 21st century phenomenon? A 2015 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed no appreciable improvements with learning since the onset of technology use in the classroom. Teachers vs Tech, the latest book released by Daisy Christodoulou, focuses on reasons why education technology has failed to deliver the transformation to more use of teacher technology by teachers. Consider the Los Angeles Unified School Board decision in 2013 to spend $1.3 billion USD to purchase iPads. Within two years of the roll-out, all but two schools had abandoned using the devices for classroom learning. Internet safety, incomplete curriculum to use iPads and inadequate teacher training were cited as reasons for abandonment. 

Christodoulou argues there is a place for technology in the classroom, particularly direct instruction, but teacher expertise and professional judgement must be at the forefront of technology implementation. Yet, it seems distance learning and classroom online technology are now part of our reality and here to stay. 

In 2017, we (Bev Fiddler and Mike Clarke) launched a technology project funded through the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program (TLLP) of Ontario to purchase iPads. Working with grade 1 and 2 teachers in our school, we used math curriculum, lesson planning and iPads to support learning through direct instruction. We also used an assessment program (IXL) to assess student learning and created a teacher-friendly workbook for math learning at any grade. When we applied for the TLLP grant, we set out to identify our own goals for carrying out and completing the project – learn about iPad and technology use in the classroom, and share our newfound knowledge with other teachers. 

Throughout the project, developing understanding about specific math apps was crucial. Some math apps can support more than one strand of mathematics and, in some cases, up to three. Most math apps support more than one grade level. We needed to create lessons/instructional strategies for teachers when using iPads as purposeful tools in student learning. 

One of our goals was to create a supplementary lesson plan book which was included with the workbook. Screenshots and voiceovers to teach app concepts are easy for teachers to use, and a great way for students to learn. Videos can be easily posted using Google Classroom and be made available to students with access to a device and the Internet. 

Now that more teachers are using online teaching methods, there will be more lessons and activities that can be shared in a variety of forms. Our workbook can become a growing resource with more contributors and expertise. Synchronous learning may be required due to the pandemic, and collaboration between colleagues remains vital for its success and our well-being as educators as our students have varying levels of experience, access, and comfort with technology. The push to have technology devices in the classroom and online platforms without appropriate support for teachers does not benefit students. Presuming technology is the panacea which will respond to achievement gaps and poor student engagement is not supported with scientific data. Careful planning, support and shared educator learning are the keys to success. 

Bev FiddlerElementary school teacher K-8 elementary school in Oshawa / Member of the Durham Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)
Mike ClarkeElementary school teacher K-8 elementary school in Oshawa / Member of the Durham Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)