Pandemic’s e-learning evolution heralds the end of snowy days

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Snow days are over for southwestern Ontario’s largest school board, The London Free Press has learned.

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Snow days are over for southwestern Ontario’s largest school board, The London Free Press has learned.

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When COVID-19 closed classrooms, it forced the adoption of technology that allowed students to learn at home – and its successful use means the Thames Valley District School Board is now cutting days unplanned holidays that were a winter rite for generations across the region.

The change will not be popular with students – and it is receiving a frosty reception from teachers, too.

“They are actually canceling out snowy days as we know them,” said Craig Smith, president of the Thames Valley local chapter of the Elementary Teachers Federation. “This council unfortunately chose to play Grinch.”

Officials say teachers at the board’s 160 schools will now be required to offer online activities to their snow-covered students, but not “synchronous learning” on days when heavy snowfalls close schools. Riley Culhane, associate director of the board, said the continued use of the “virtual classrooms” that were needed during the pandemic made perfect sense.

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“Our teachers, students and families have done a wonderful job in accessing distance learning,” he said. “All of our teachers have virtual classrooms and they will continue to have virtual classrooms in order to access learning when they are not in school. What we are asking is if a school is closed for a snowy day or for any other installation emergency, that members publish independent learning activities that students can choose to access.

“Students will not be penalized if they do not access these activities.

The plan affects both high school and elementary school students, he said.

But, Smith said, the school board is sending a “confusing message” because any work done on these days cannot be rated or rated.

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“This begs the question, why are we doing it in the first place? He said, adding that over the past decade there have only been a handful of local snow days. Not all Ontario boards are following suit due to concerns about equal access to online resources, he said.

“Sudden changes have implications for equity without ensuring that all students have access to the right devices and fast internet connections,” said Prachi Srivastava, professor of education at Western University who studies international development and equity in schools. “It means long-term planning to make sure the infrastructure is accessible to everyone. “

Education lawyer Annie Kidder, who heads People for Education, says providing students with access to online education during snowfall or other emergencies “makes a lot of practical sense.”

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While blended learning is “deeply problematic” due to the fact that boards must run two separate systems that parents can choose from, it is in favor of children learning at home during weather events. “It seems to me that this is a valuable use of a system that is already in place,” she said.

Former Thames Valley director Bill Tucker, who is now an education professor at Western University, also supports the new Snow Day system.

“While this is not necessarily the ideal situation, from an educational point of view, this approach has a lot of merit,” he said. “I can understand why the administration is considering this approach to deal with snowy days. “

Before COVID-19 hit, he said, much of the logistics associated with online learning were not in place.

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“There are always concerns about the learning gaps that some of our students have developed over the past year and a half,” Tucker said. “Teachers are resilient and they now have the experience of moving from classroom learning to online learning. “

It’s also safer than asking parents, students and staff to risk traveling in bad weather, he said.

Online learning expert Ken Turner, a qualified teacher who has been teaching online for 20 years, wonders if Thames Valley e-learning is user-friendly enough to deserve the change.

“Are they going to continue with a platform that has created a lot of hostility among parents and students?” he said. “I’m saying if nothing has changed, then save the snowy days. Perhaps these could be used to prepare students and parents for future use of online learning.

The Thames Valley Board of Directors covers one of the largest geographic areas of any Ontario Board of Directors. Officials note that it stretches “from Rodney to Tavistock and from Glencoe to Norwich”.

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