Virtual School Meanderings

November 26, 2021

Don’t miss your chance! Spring CUE 2022 Sessions Submissions are closing soon.

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 8:07 pm
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An item that may be of interest to our California-based readers.

Dear Michael,
The submission window for Spring CUE 2022 is rapidly approaching.  If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to submit your proposal for a session, and bring your best techniques, ideas, and classroom practices to Palm Springs to share with your fellow CUE Community members.
Go to – put in that great idea!
The window closes Monday, November 30.

November 25, 2021

[REPOST] Dean Shareski Touts New CANeLearn Report Examining Preparations for the 2021-22 School Year

This entry was originally posted on the Canadian eLearning Networks blog at

The current state of education in Canada might be best described as “tired.” With 18 months of a pandemic behind us, it is still uncertain as to when, or if, life will return to pre-pandemic times. (I purposely avoided the word “normal” or “new normal.”) This uncertainty has been particularly difficult for schools and educators. This is hard.

Those of us with a keen interest in online learning are watching carefully to see how provinces, territories, districts, and schools will emerge. The disruptive nature of technology has been on full display and has received mixed reviews. Many are anxiously looking to see schools adopt and improve on many of the practices that began in early 2020, others are seeking to return to a time where distance learning was either a last resort or an option for a small minority of learners.

This report offers a clear, thoughtful, and unbiased look at how every province tackled this dilemma. It’s worthwhile to compare the paths that each jurisdiction took from March of 2020 to the fall of 2021. The decisions that were made early on were largely uniform across Canada as emergency remote teaching took centre stage. Things began to diverge somewhat across the country as provinces prepared for a new school year. As outlined by the authors, Phase 2 or 3 is where we are now, depending on jurisdiction, and represents the greatest differences in various approaches to online learning.

The Canadian eLearning Network has done the hard work of collating various data and begun to plant the seeds to ask the really important questions such as:

  • How did provinces arrive at the decisions around online learning for the 2021-22 school year?
  • How effective was online learning in 2020-21?
  • How much did teacher, student, and parent voices influence decisions?
  • Have the past 18 months helped districts to create a new and better vision for online learning?

Having experienced and seen the benefits of online learning from both an instructor and working with districts across the country, Canada is well positioned to build upon their success and learn from their failure to create the best learning opportunities and environments for all learners. CANeLearn continues to provide information that is difficult to gather with reports such as this one. If you’re looking to understand the current context of online learning in Canada, this report will provide that for you. Beyond understanding, this report should lead to essential conversations and action.

Dean Shareski
Educational Consultant
Advanced Learning Partnerships

To read more, click here for the full report.

The full project website is available at

November 24, 2021

[REPOST] 18 Months In, Have We Learned Any Lessons?

This entry was originally posted on the Canadian eLearning Networks blog at

Toggling Toward a ‘New Normal’

As the 2020-21 school year progressed, it was evident lessons that could, or should, have been learned during the rapid transition to emergency remote teaching in Spring 2020 had not been heeded in all provinces and territories. The reality was that some jurisdictions simply did not put in place the necessary planning or preparation to allow the 2020-21 school year to proceed in the expected ‘toggle term’ fashion – as envisioned by Phase 3 of the educational response to COVID-19 (see Figure 1 above). While some schools remained open throughout the entire 2020-21 school year and others offered robust online learning instruction, some jurisdictions experienced province-wide school closures for up to 19 weeks with limited success with remote learning due to a lack of planning and teacher training. Even those schools that remained open, often used a model of hybrid learning that boards/districts and teachers were unprepared to implement with the level of fidelity needed to ensure that students had an equitable learning experience to the in person, classroom-based context (Stewart, 2021; Wong, 2021b).

While it may be safe to say that in many jurisdictions teachers lacked the training and were unprepared to transition to remote learning, this was not the case in other jurisdictions. Some provinces and territories were potentially much better positioned to provide continuity of learning than others. For example, Nova Scotia extended their December 2020 holiday break for students by one week, and set province-wide teacher professional development during the first week of January 2021 that covered a variety of topics (including social emotional learning and technology). Further, guidelines were announced for the 2020-21 school year that established minimum hours for synchronous remote learning and asynchronous learning. The Ministry of Education also provided all teachers access to their eLearning site and distributed assistive technologies for students requiring them.

Similarly, British Columbia delayed implementing changes to its online learning programs (Government of British Columbia, 2021a) which enabled many of the 69 public and independent online schools to enroll students whose parents/guardians preferred them to learn from home (Barbour et al., 2020a). British Columbia also continued with student cohorts or ‘learning groups’ for in-school learning and for secondary students a hybrid learning model was implemented with cohort groups alternating in-school attendance and remote learning. Teachers were required to transition learning materials to a learning management system (such as Moodle, Google Classroom, or Microsoft Teams). As such, teachers were able to track student progress whether they were attending at school or while they were learning remotely. It is also worth noting that there were no province-wide school closures in the 2020-21 school year.

Arguably, both British Columbia’s and Nova Scotia’s provincial models could support ‘toggling’ between in-school and online/remote learning options as described in Phase 4 of Figure 1. However, it is not entirely clear to what degree that might have occurred or how effective the practices were. Some of the initial information indicated that British Columbia saw a slight increase in classroom attendance (Montreuil et al., 2021), as well as the number of students traditionally learning online (i.e., approximately 10 percent of the student population), but also found large gaps and decreases in both attendance and achievement for Indigenous students.

Preparation to Open for Fall 2021

It is important to remember that at the time each of these jurisdictions were determining and/or adjusting their plans for K-12 education, it was against the backdrop of the status of the pandemic in their individual province or territory. Health Canada (2021) began presenting the number of active COVID-19 cases in graphical format on their website in late July 2020. Table A-1, as well as Figures A-1 through A-4, in Appendix A indicate the number of active cases in each jurisdiction across Canada on the first day of June, July, August, and September for each province and territory. This data is not presented to parse trends with regard to infection rates throughout the Summer 2021 planning period, or to suggest specific differences between the provinces and territories. However, as the active case rate would have been an important factor influencing each jurisdictions’ plans and actions, it is important that the reader have ready access to this data.

As one example, it was against the backdrop of these active case rates during the summer 2021, as well as the active case rates throughout the 2020-21 school year (see Appendix A in Nagle et al, 2021), that provinces and territories made the public health decisions described in Table 3 that could impact the instructional model during the 2021-22 school year.

Table 3. Factors impacting the instructional model

Jurisdiction Vaccine Masks Distancing Cohorts Class Size Activities
BC None Required for grade 4 and up Not required Can resume
AB None Not required Not required Can resume
SK None Required for unvaccinated Not required None
MB None Indoors Where possible K-6 Follow public health guidelines
ON None Required Where possible None Can resume
QC None Not required Not required None Can resume
NB None Required None “Greater freedom”
NS None Required Required None Not specified Can resume
PE None Recommended Follow public health guidelines
NL None Not required Not required None Not specified Can resume
YT None Required Required None Can resume
NT None Required Required


Recommended On hold
NU None Up to local public health officials Where possible Recommended On hold

Based on the active COVID-19 cases, some jurisdictions were banking on limited spread of the virus in schools. This hope was based on data from the last school year, which may not have factored in viral variant spread in the student population (i.e., the largest pool of the unvaccinated). The pressure was on for swift vaccination to counter further disruption, yet at the time of publication some schools across the country were closing (CBC News 2021a; Moore, 2021; Watson, 2021).

Even with a more relaxed approach to public health precautions, Table 5 illustrates that most jurisdictions still did not make systematic preparations for hybrid learning or remote learning (beyond what was experienced during the Spring 2020 or the 2020-21 school year).

Table 4. Fall 2021 Learning Options by Jurisdiction           

Jurisdiction Learning Options
BC Full in-person instruction; with distance learning an option
AB Full in-person instruction
SK Full in-person instruction; additionally secondary students will be able to obtain credits through a variety of educational avenues
MB Full in-person instruction; remote learning available for students who are immunocompromised
ON Full in-person instruction; remote learning required based on Policy/Program Memorandum No. 164
QC Full in-person instruction
NB Fully in-person instruction, but policies may be adjusted depending on epidemiology
PE Full in-person instruction, but policies will be adjusted depending on level of risk; remote learning available to high risk students
NS Full in-person instruction, but policies may be adjusted depending on epidemiology
NL Full in-person instruction; remote learning for students who cannot attend due to medical reasons
YT Full in-person instruction; supports, tools, and training available for blended learning and remote learning
NT Full in-person instruction; remote learning is available for students with medical concerns
NU Full in-person instruction (unless advise by public health officials)

Both Table 3 and 4 demonstrate a pattern for the continuation of putting all efforts and focus to in-person instruction, again with minimal focus on preparing for a ‘toggle’ described in Phase 3 in Figure 1. Indeed, with continuing disruptions and school closures, such as the October public employee’s strike in New Brunswick (Brown & April, 2021), the argument could be made that few jurisdictions are even thinking about a ‘new normal’ and the ability to actually pivot swiftly between in school and remote learning with limited impact on student engagement and learning. In Ontario, in the government’s guide to reopening schools (Davidson, 2021), school boards were required to consider remote learning when schools closed due to inclement weather. The need to effectively plan for and train teachers for a model of ‘toggling’ between in school and remote could not be more clear.

There are several specific examples in the Fall 2021 that are worth noting that could be examples of a move to supporting the ‘toggle’. For example, British Columbia continued to delay the implementation of changes to its online learning programs (Government of British Columbia, 2021a) which enabled many of the 69 public and independent online schools to enroll students whose parents/guardians preferred them to learn from home (Barbour et al., 2020a). In Nova Scotia when the new school year launched, 75 percent of parents surveyed reported having reliable bandwidth in their homes based on improvements made the year before, and, coupled with a clear direction to upskill teachers with the one-week province-wide teacher training in January 2021 and the provincial online tools and curriculum resources provided to all teachers, Nova Scotia arguably also had the ability to ‘toggle’ and adapt to changing circumstances as described in Phase 4.

In stark contrast, in Ontario the concurrent teaching model – where classroom-based teachers teach students in the classroom and simultaneously to remote students logged into web conferencing software that live streams the classroom – began emerging during the 2020-21 school year. It was dubbed as ‘hybrid learning,’ but as discussed earlier the Ontario model was the concurrent teaching model of hybrid.[1] This ‘live’ broadcast teaching model with students in the classroom and others logging in by video remotely was planned for by many boards after the Ministry of Education announced that all school boards in the province would offer a remote learning option during the 2021-22 school year (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2021; C. Wilson, 2021). While many boards already offered optional online learning programs that were quickly doubling in size, some boards were unable to offer an online program that covered the full curriculum (King, 2021; Simcoe County District School Board, 2021). Further, many school boards lacked the necessary funding to create or offer an online or remote learning program (Wong, 2021b). In essence, the concurrent teaching or hybrid learning model was the only way that many school boards were able to meet the Ministry’s remote learning policy requirement that was within the board’s financial means. Even before the start of the new school year, the model had fallen under criticism (Stewart, 2021) and recently teachers unions are speaking out about its negative impact on both teachers and student learning (Fox, 2021a).

There were some jurisdictions who provided good detail and direction in their announced plans at the start of the 2021-22 school year. Interestingly, both Nunavut and the Yukon are examples of jurisdictions where the Ministry plans were detailed and descriptive, but more importantly outlined a variety of instructional options to accommodate all possibilities associated with a realistic understanding of the toggle nature of the 2021-22 school year. For example, Nunavut has a 35-page document that outlines a variety of strategies to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into schools, how to respond when COVID-19 is detected in the school, how to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 once it is present, and how to address potential learning disruption to individual student’s, complete classes, or complete schools (Nunavut Department of Education, 2021a). Further, recognizing that the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years were both disrupted and that unequal levels of learning may have occurred, the Nunavut Department of Education (2021b) released Learning to Be Together Again Support for Nunavut Schools in 2021-22, which began with a focus on ‘recovery learning,’ or the “responsive process that enables students to transition back to in-class learning, while addressing mental and physical well-being and student achievement” (p. 5). The goals of recovery learning are to determine where students are in their understanding and then to offer students flexible avenues to help them achieve where they need to be. In addition to the recovery learning aspects, the document also focused on how to incorporate blended learning and remote learning – depending on the local epidemiology.

Similarly, the Yukon (2021a) in their School during COVID-19: Guidelines for the 2021–22 School Year provided clear guidelines for “What school looks like for ALL students” and “What school looks like at individual schools” in the case of 100%, 50%, 20% and 0% school capacity. Essentially, there were detailed descriptions for the public health measures in place for in-person learning, how schools would operate and learning would occur when there was a need for hybrid learning with half capacity and very low capacity, and then the planning needed for remote learning to occur. Additionally, even when there was no disruption, the document outlined measures that would be undertaken to incorporate more blended learning into the classroom, which it was argued would make hybrid learning and remote learning less of an adjustment. These types of plans were much more realistic in terms of how the 2021-22 school year was likely to progress, as compared to the perspective that “students must return to class… barring ‘only the most catastrophic of circumstances’” (CBC News, 2021b, para. 1).

Opening Days of the 2021-22 School Year

At the start of the 2021-22 school year, the concurrent teaching variation of the hybrid learning model quickly came under criticism after it was announced as an option for the coming school year in Ontario. As a reminder, the concurrent teaching model is one where the teacher manages instruction and student learning for children that arrive to their classroom, while simultaneously streaming that instruction to children who are forced or choose to remain at home and connect to the room remotely. Stewart (2021) suggested that the “relationships teachers build and support in their classrooms… are integral to children’s engagement, learning and wellness [and that a] hybrid model disrupts those practices, and encourages a default to simple, slowed-down, teacher-led approaches” (para. 13-14). This, according to Stewart, reduced the quality of the education received by students both in the classroom and online. This criticism was echoed in the voices of students who were concerned that teachers were preoccupied with technology and processes to try and connect the two groups of students to the classroom, as one chemistry teacher trying to demonstrate an experiment and had “five screens up, two mouses and two keyboards — and it takes her half an hour to set it up.., class time that we could be using to be learning chemistry” (Wong, 2021c, para. 5). Teachers as well expressed significant concerns about the concurrent teaching model as one teacher explains:

before classes start, he must also connect all his online ‘production’ gear, which includes computers, a web cam and a tablet. Then, if he suddenly loses connectivity to his learners at home, he has to quickly troubleshoot. “Meanwhile, the kids in-class? I have to keep them engaged and occupied,” 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 and do it on your own.” (para. 25-27).

None of the plans announced by Ontario prior to the start of the 2021-22 school year offered support, or even envisioned, the hybrid and concurrent models that are currently being used.

While the focus of this report – and the jurisdictional profiles that follow – are about the planning and preparation that occurred during the summer 2021, this report is being published during the first week of November it does allow for some evaluation of how ready different jurisdictions actually were. As described above, the preliminary feedback on the concurrent teaching model underway in Ontario does not bode well on its ability to transition into the Phase 4 or the ‘Emerging New Normal.’ Yet, the actions during the 2020-21 school year in both British Columbia and Nova Scotia showed encouraging signs towards this transition. More study is certainly called for and required across the country.

Given the epidemiological realities of the pandemic, anyone approaching the situation from a realistic perspective understands that the 2021-22 school year will be another year of toggling between various states of in-person and remote learning. With only two months into the current school year, we have already seen school closures and the need for remote learning due local and regional outbreaks from Newfoundland and Labrador to British Columbia to the Northwest Territories (CBC News 2021a; Moore, 2021; Watson, 2021) – and everywhere in between (CBC News 2021c; CBC News 2021d; CBC News 2021e; The Canadian Press, 2021). It is hoped that some of the differences in policy and practice that emerged throughout the 2020-21 school year, and even those announced at the start of this new school year, will become guides for politicians and policymakers across the country as schools continue to grapple with the demands of another toggle school year.

However, it is also important for politicians and policymakers – as well as practitioners – to continue to keep an eye on the emerging new normal. While much of the remote learning provided over the past 18 months has been poorly supported and executed, there have been groups that have benefitted from learning in an online setting (Collins-Nelsen et al., 2021; Fernando, 2021; Miller, 2021). When parents/guardians are free to choose between in-person or online learning (or some combination of the two) without concern about their child’s health, what will the K-12 distance, online, and blended learning landscape look like? How will the remote learning lessons of the pandemic inform policy and practice in the future? What will politicians and policymakers take away from the past 18 months to guide short-term and long-term school closures during the next disaster? These questions highlight the need to continue this line of inquiry, as well as future research under consideration by CANeLearn.

To read more, click here for the full report.

The full project website is available at

[1] For a detailed discussion of various hybrid student arrangements and configurations in the United State, see Arnett (2021).

November 23, 2021

[REPOST] Pandemic Pedagogy to Date: What We’ve Learned Thus Far

This entry was originally posted on the Canadian eLearning Networks blog at

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the term ‘emergency remote teaching’ emerged to describe what was occurring in education at all levels as schools shuttered their doors to in-person learning. Hodges et al. (2020) described emergency remote teaching as:

a temporary shift of instructional delivery to an alternate delivery mode due to crisis circumstances. It involves the use of fully remote teaching solutions for instruction or education that would otherwise be delivered face-to-face or as blended or hybrid courses and that will return to that format once the crisis or emergency has abated. The primary objective in these circumstances is not to re-create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide temporary access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably available during an emergency or crisis. (para. 13)

This was contrasted with online learning, which was based on purposeful instructional planning, and a systematic model of administrative procedures and course development. Online learning also requires the careful consideration of various pedagogical strategies combined with the purposeful selection of technology tools, and the determination of which are best suited to the specific affordances and challenges of local delivery mediums, typically lacking in the pandemic’s remote teaching. Finally, careful planning for online learning also requires that teachers be appropriately trained to use the tools available and apply them effectively to facilitate student learning.

Emergency remote teaching is the first of four phases of educator’s response to the pandemic as described by Barbour et al. (2020c) (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Four phases of educational response to COVID-19 in terms of remote and online learning adoption.

Phase 1: Rapid Transition to Remote Teaching and Learning. Schools making an all hands on deck movement to remote delivery, often relying on synchronous video, with massive changes in just four weeks. Educators do whatever they can to have some educational presence for all classes online.

Phase 2: (Re) Adding Basics. Schools must (re)add basics into emergency course transitions: course navigation, equitable access addressing lack of reliable computer and broadband, support for students with disabilities, academic integrity. Schools must start to more fully address the question of quality of emergency online delivery of courses, as well as true contingency planning.

Phase 3: Extended Transition During Continued Turmoil. Schools must be prepared to support students for a full school year, and be prepared for online delivery – even if starting as face-to-face. During this phase, districts put plans in place to determine the mode of instruction based on the current realities of the pandemic. These plans should include adequate professional learning for teachers to ensure they have the skills and pedagogical knowledge to be able to implement the different instructional plans effectively.

Phase 4: Emerging New Normal. This phase will have unknown levels of online learning adoption, but it is likely that it will be higher than pre-COVID-19 days. Schools must have new levels of online learning infrastructure  to reliably support students. Additionally, as teachers and students become more comfortable with learning using these tools, the chance that they will continue to use them post-pandemic increases significantly.

During the second phase, schools and teachers begin to shift focus to prescribed curriculum, incorporate suitable resources, and address equity issues (as the immediate sense of urgency has passed), but the type of distance education being provided may still be in the “emergency remote teaching” stage. Although Phase 2 may have also settled somewhat into more of a temporary ‘remote learning’ stage, because it is still assumed that remote learning would be abandoned once the crisis is over. Phase 3 is a period where schools ‘toggle’ between in person learning to remote learning as “states of lockdown and openness, depending on their sense of epidemiological data and practical feasibility” persist (Alexander, 2020, para. 32). Once again, it is remote learning – and not online learning – because it is still viewed as temporary in nature. At some point, once the crisis has passed, schools will emerge into Phase 4 where there we will be a ‘new normal’ proportion of online learning that exists within the K-12 system.

Closure in Spring 2020

Spring 2020 was the first time in modern history that all schools across any province or territory were closed for an indefinite amount of time. As Nagle et al. (2020a) reported, emergency remote teaching flourished as jurisdictions all across Canada scrambled to provide online tools, course content, and devices to all teachers to provide some modicum of continuity of learning for students when schools suddenly closed in March (see Table 1).

Table 1. Key emergency remote teaching dates

Jurisdiction School closed Remote teaching began Year-end-status
NL March 17 April 2 Ended early on June 5
NS March 15 April 8
PE March 23 April 6
NB March 13 April 2
QC March 16 March 30 Re-opened May 11 outside Montreal
ON March 23 April 6
MB March 20 March 30
SK March 20 March 30
AB March 16 March 20
BC March 17 March 27 Re-opened June 1
YT March 18 April 16
NT March 16 April 14
NU March 17 April 21

The remote teaching that began during Spring 2020 was emergency remote teaching (or consistent with Phase 1 as described in Figure 1). It was an attempt to connect with students remotely to create some type of educational presence. As improvements to the learning experience were made (e.g., digital devices distributed to students, resources published on websites, digital tools employed, and some training offered to teachers), equity of access and the quality of practice improved somewhat, this ‘remote learning’ could be described as transitioning to Phase 2 – although this transition was not consistent across all jurisdictions.

Preparation to Re-open for Fall 2020

During the summer of 2020 little public consideration was given to planning for a return to remote learning in many of the provinces and territories. The spread of COVID-19 had ‘flattened’ or begun diminishing in most jurisdictions and Ministry plans shifted to focusing on a ‘safe’ return to school buildings. This included efforts and planning focused on designing school building entries, student flow through buildings, cleaning protocols for all surfaces, setting requirements for student social distancing as well as the organization of students into cohort groups and timetables for their classes and courses. In short, little planning or preparation (e.g., teacher training, creation or expansion of digital learning spaces, investment in expansion of robust online learning programs, etc.) was provided with the focus clearly on a return to classrooms despite epidemiological modelling that pointed to continuing school closures.

As full-time distance/online learning has been available to K-12 students in most jurisdictions for some time, many education authorities provided parents/guardians the option to enroll their students in existing full-time distance, online learning opportunities (see Table 2).

Table 2. Learning Options Planned for Fall 2020 by Jurisdiction (Nagle et al, 2020b)

Jurisdiction Learning Options
BC Fully in-person learning with distance learning an option
AB Fully in-person with distance learning an option
SK Fully in-person; remote learning for elementary and asynchronous and for secondary, synchronous blended learning through the Online Learning Center
MB Fully in-person; blended options for any student sick with COVID-19 or secondary students
ON Fully in-person for grades K-8; remote for grades K-12 with either offline packages or online synchronous and asynchronous learning for grades 9-12 with asynchronous and synchronous learning
QC Fully in-person for elementary; fully in-person or blended for secondary
NB Fully in-person; remote paper-based for grades K-2; similar with some online technology for grades 3-5; technology-based asynchronous and synchronous for grades 6-8; blended with asynchronous and synchronous for grades 9-12
NS Not specified
PE Fully in-person
NL Fully in-person instruction; remote learning for students home due to COVID-19
YT Fully in-person for grades K-9;

Fully in-person in rural areas for grades 10-12; Whitehorse area offers a blended asynchronous and synchronous approach

NT Fully in-person for K-9; grades 10-12 can choose fully in-person or blended
NU Fully in-person

In most cases, these distance/online learning opportunities were provided by existing providers – some of whom had a history of providing supplemental and full-time learning opportunities for over two decades. There were also instances where school boards and districts established their own distance education programs over the summer of 2020 – sometimes in partnership with an existing K-12 distance/online learning program and sometimes on their own. However, for a variety of reasons (e.g., presence of immune-compromised family members in the household, general public health concerns about the community or region, concerns about the disruption from sudden school lock-downs and/or the back and forth between in-person and remote learning, etc.), many parents/guardians decided their children would complete all of their learning at a distance online. This parental choice often overwhelmed existing distance/online learning programs who were unprepared for the level of growth that was experienced, and, for newly created district-programs, it was crushing. In both instances, the unexpected growth often resulted in a poorer quality of distance/online learning compared to previous years (e.g., larger class sizes, last minute hiring of teachers, lack of time to properly train new teachers, etc.).

While most jurisdictions allowed parents to choose between full-time distance/online learning and full-time classroom-based learning, few jurisdictions announced school opening plans for Fall 2020 that included options for hybrid forms of learning, where some students learned in school while others remained at home. Those jurisdictions that did announce plans for remote learning generally only included a description of the conditions under which schools would transition to it. In terms of how remote learning was to be operationalized, it was generally expected to be a continuation of how the 2019-20 school year ended. Further, in most cases school districts and boards were left to determine their own hybrid learning plans, including what form hybrid learning might be used. In reality, little attention was paid to Phase 3 in the model which envisioned a ‘toggle’ year shifting between in person and remote learning.

The 2020-21 School Year

While the continuing pandemic and requirement for physical distancing put restrictions on how the return to school would occur, the predominant theme and planning for most provincial and territorial government leaders remained focused on keeping schools ‘safe’ and the continuation of in-person learning. Announced efforts were focused on designing entries, flow through buildings, cleaning protocols, social distancing, and rules regarding the wearing of masks while in school buildings. To manage this, in many jurisdictions students were organized into cohort groups to minimize the number of contacts (Nagle et al, 2020b). As well, timetables for classes (e.g., school entries, recesses, class and course transitions, etc.) were planned to limit class size which did have implications for remote learning. The focus throughout most of the school year was on meeting federal and provincial/territorial health regulations and re-establishing both social and economic balance, with keeping schools open being the lynchpin. While Saskatchewan and British Columbia delayed planned school opening dates by two to five days to better prepare school buildings and protocols, Ontario was the only jurisdiction that planned a differentiated start date based on the modality of instruction. The delay for those beginning the school year in a remote learning context was twice as long or more than compared to students who began their school year in the classroom (i.e., who also had a planned delay of one week). Part of this delay was due in part to the increase in the number of parents demanding online learning at the last minute and provided time for school boards to address that demand.

As the new school year launched, it became apparent that the increase in community and school COVID outbreaks were not thoroughly planned for, despite epidemiological modelling that suggested increasing transmission with children back in school and parents at work, not to mention the increase of indoor gatherings as the weather got colder (Gillis, 2021).[1] Looking back, there certainly was limited teacher training in preparation for the hybrid and remote learning that was to come. It seemed the focus on getting students in school buildings took away attention to continuity of learning based on what might (or as epidemiologists warned was likely going to) happen. In retrospect, temporarily delaying school openings at the start of the school year, or after the return from planned closures (e.g., summer and/or winter holidays or spring break), to support planned teacher training might have helped improve continuity of learning during forced closures during the school year.

During the 2020-21 school year several new learning models were created that combined aspects of the different mediums to accommodate various public health measures (e.g., mask wearing, physical and social distancing, restricted class size, etc.). The measures related to physical distancing and restricted class size forced some schools to adopt learning models where students were only in the physical classroom a certain portion of time, or different groups of students were in the classroom while the rest of the students were at home and learning remotely. While in-person and distance/online learning existed before the pandemic and research had identified effective learning models, the remote learning models – as well as the hybrid learning and concurrent teaching – that emerged during the pandemic were not well known and had little or no research into their efficacy. Figure 2 provides a description of the five different learning models through which K-12 education was provided.

Figure 2. Various learning models available during the 2020-21 school year

In-person learning is the traditional model of learning where students are enrolled in a brick-and-mortar school and engage in their learning with teachers located at their school in a typical classroom setting.

Distance/online learning is also a traditional model of learning that has existed for the past two and a half decades where the student and teacher were geographically separated, often for one or two courses.

Hybrid learning was a model where one group of students, or a cohort, learned in-person in their classroom some of the time while another group of students were learning at home, both instructed by the same classroom-based teacher. In most instances the two cohort groups would alternate between in-person and at-home learning (e.g., one day in-person, the next day at a distance, etc.).

Concurrent teaching (a form of hybrid learning also called co-seating or co-locating) was a model where the classroom-based teacher taught some students who were in-person with the teacher in the physical classroom (i.e., ‘roomies’), and at the same time the teacher’s instruction was being streamed live through a web conferencing software to other students logged in at home (i.e., ‘zoomies’).

Remote learning was a model of distance/online learning designed to be temporary in nature, and was generally only used when in-person learning was not an option due to the local/regional epidemiology. (Nagle et al., 2021, pp. 5-7)

The five earlier CANeLearn reports were all designed to simply document public actions and pronouncements of various jurisdictions during these phases and were not designed to assess the educational response various governments have made during the pandemic (in fact much of the commentary about these responses in this report is provided as new perspectives on these actions and pronouncements). For example, there has not been a systematic examination of whether teachers reported to not being adequately trained to design, deliver, and support learning remotely (as there has been in the United States – see Diliberti & Kaufman, 2020 as one example). While Ministries of Health provided reports of community spread of the virus, there have been no systematic research studies into whether reopening schools increased the spread of COVID-19 (as there has been in both Europe and the United States – see Casini & Roccett, 2021; Courtemanche, 2021; Goldhaber et al., 2021; Harris et al., 2021; Riley et al., 2020 as example). Additionally, there has been no discussion of the spread of the disease in schools included in any of the previous CANeLearn reports. However, as was noted in the CANeLearn report on the 2020-21 school year (Nagle et al., 2021), that research from other jurisdictions did find that teachers were generally unprepared to engage in remote learning and that reopening of schools for in person learning did contribute to community transmission.

As was also noted in the CANeLearn report on the 2020-21 school year, jurisdictions that enacted quick, stringent, and sustained restrictions had lower case counts and death rates than jurisdictions that were slower to bring in restrictions or brought in looser restrictions (Ismail et al., 2021; Kochańczyk & Lipniacki, 2021; Larosa et al., 2020), and also had fewer restricted days overall (e.g., fewer school closures). Figure 3 provides a calculation completed by the Ontario COVID-19 Science Advisory Table of the number of weeks schools were closed during the 2020-21 school year (Gallagher-Mackay et al., 2021), which is worth considering as readers reflect on the descriptions provided in Toggling between Lockdowns: Canadian Responses for Continuity of Learning in the 2020-21 School Year (Nagle et al., 2021).

Figure 3. Time lost to provincewide school closures for each province or territory across Canada for the 2020-21 school year

As noted in the figure, school closures varied among provinces and territories, but the local impact to students varied more widely than what is summarized above. For example, in British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Quebec schools remained mostly open with only local school closures due to COVID-19 outbreaks (Subramanian, 2021). However, in Ontario province-wide lockdowns were announced January 2021 and on April 12, 2021 all provincial schools returned to remote learning and schools remained closed for the rest of the school year (Nagle et al, 2021). As COVID transmission varied in the provinces and territories, so did health regulations. This ultimately led to, and more importantly directly influenced, decisions for school lockdowns and a return to remote learning.

To read more, click here for the full report.

The full project website is available at

[1] See also Appendix A in Nagle et al. (2021) for the Health Canada data from the 2020-21 school year.

November 22, 2021

[REPOST] CANeLearn Releases New Report Examining the Pandemic Response for the Opening of the 2021-22 School Year

This entry was originally posted on the Canadian eLearning Networks blog at

Pandemic Pedagogy in Canada: Lessons from the First 18 Months

This is the sixth report in a series, noted previously, that highlights the announcements, supports, and policy changes each Canadian jurisdiction made to continue to promote learning throughout the pandemic. The series is sponsored by the Canadian eLearning Network (CANeLearn), a leading voice in Canada for learner success in K-12 online and blended learning. Researchers gathered information for each province and territory through government websites, educational organizations, and current news releases that highlighted each jurisdiction’s strategies to provide supports, resources, and technologies appropriate for the continuation of teaching and learning. A website was created to host the report series, along with an archive of online workshop presentations based on each report.[1]

This sixth report consolidates details found in the previous reports that provided a summary of the publicly announced accommodations made to ensure continuity of learning during the pandemic from the Spring 2020 and throughout the 2020-21 school year. Data were collected by consulting various existing collections of data related to the response from various provinces and territories including important dates, learning models, and health and safety measures. Additional data were gleaned from general internet searches conducted of news releases, major news sources, and general searches which were used to corroborate or extend the above mentioned collections. The authors also made use of the existing networks that had been developed by CANeLearn, as well as the longstanding State of the Nation: K-12 e-Learning in Canada research project (Barbour et al., 2020a; Barbour et al., 2020b).

Following the shutdowns in Spring 2020 and emergency remote teaching, the 2020-21 school year launched with a focus on safe return to in school learning with limited attention to remote access to learning. As the year progressed, it was evident that lessons that could, or should, have been learned in Spring 2020 had not been heeded in all provinces and territories. Some jurisdictions did not put in place the necessary planning or preparation to allow the 2020-21 school year to proceed in the expected ‘toggle term’ fashion – as envisioned by Phase 3 of the educational response to COVID-19. While some schools remained open throughout the entire 2020-21 school year and others offered robust online learning instruction, some jurisdictions experienced province-wide school closures for up to 19 weeks, relying on remote learning that saw limited success and an inequitable learning experience for many students due in part to a lack of planning and teacher training. While many teachers in most jurisdictions were at first unprepared to transition to remote learning, during the 2020-21 school year some teachers were better positioned to provide continuity of learning than others. Several jurisdictions provided specific teacher training for remote learning and school closure, while others expanded the use of centralized e-learning programs to provide online course content and other online tools that teachers could use with their students as they learned from home.

This report goes further than previous reports, describing the face-to-face, online, remote, and hybrid learning options provided across Canada. The report offers comparison and analysis of the different learning models used in the provinces and territories and provides a glimpse at the challenges and issues beginning in the new 2021-22 school year. The report calls for additional research to further understand decisions made by governments, school boards, and schools during the pandemic, the influence of those decisions on the experiences of students and teachers, and the successes and future implications of those decisions.

To read more, click here for the full report.

[1] The website is available at

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