Classroom learning has many advantages over the e-learning experience, teachers say. Michael Swan

Virus exposes online concerns

By  Paula Ducepec, Youth Speak News
  • July 15, 2020

When COVID-19 necessitated the shut down of schools for months, Canadian educators were forced to reinvent their course delivery on the fly.   

Online learning became the mode of communication and teaching, but it was hardly a smooth transition and has left some teachers wondering about its effectiveness.

During the first few weeks of the shutdown, Luceza Shih, a Grade 11 and 12 chemistry and biology teacher at Madonna Catholic Secondary School in Toronto, mostly posted materials for her students on Mondays and Fridays to afford her time during the week to hone her digital teaching craft. 

“During the week, I reply to all inquiries while prepping. I needed all that time because I had to learn how to use Google Classroom and make fillable assignments by watching a lot of YouTube videos,” said Shih. “It was a lot of trial and error.” 

Many gained a new appreciation for the importance of human interaction. 

“Teaching and learning is inherently personal,” said a Toronto Catholic District School Board  high school teacher who spoke to Youth Speak News on the condition of anonymity, expressing concern their opinion may have professional repercussions. “The simplest of lessons can develop into what we teachers refer to as the ‘a-ha!’ moment. A moment where reality and discovery come together to create real learning.”

The final three months of class led this teacher to conclude  “that this moment is not possible to achieve through online education.”

Educators have for some time raised concerns about online learning and it was a key issue during labour negotiations in Ontario as the province sought to make e-learning part of the curriculum.

The pandemic showed the limitations of online learning and the toll the lack of personal connection took on teachers and students..

“Even my reliable and responsible students before now felt so overwhelmed and did not know what to do and broke down often at home,” said Shih. “Parents had to ask me if their daughter can opt not to do any more work as they are suffering emotionally and mentally.” 

Christian Sforza, a St. Michael’s Choir School 2020 graduate, said “being removed from your natural environment removes your natural motivation to succeed. We’ve missed out on so much, simple things like sitting next to your friends in class, going out for lunch, field trips, inside jokes. All became immensely difficult, if not impossible, to experience.” 

The Ontario government is preparing for three options for the return of classes in September: in-class learning with safety measures in place, a combination of online and in-person classes, or continued distance learning. A decision is expected in August. 

The anonymous teacher is clear that being in front of a class full of students is the preferred option.

“Online learning is counter-intuitive to Catholic education. Empathy is patiently and sincerely seeing the world through the other person’s eyes. When people are together, learning and discussing, a moment of learning is created, and at that moment, when your ideas are acknowledged by someone else, you feel valued as a human being.”

(Ducepec, 22, is a student at the University of Toronto studying anthropolgy.)

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