Experts say Ford’s plan to increase class sizes could ‘pose a problem’ when it comes to eLearning
Doug Ford wants to make high school classes bigger.
And if Ontario’s Premier gets his way, experts warn online courses offered through Ford’s new eLearning plan could become unmanageable for students and teachers.
Ford’s government wants to make big cuts to education by eliminating thousands of jobs for human teachers and replacing them with cheap, online courses that will be modelled after the education system experiments in Alabama.
Studies of the province’s existing eLearning efforts have not been especially promising. One study of eLearning in Toronto schools found students were disengaged from their learning. Another poll found 60% of students across the province had trouble learning online and felt their learning style wasn’t supported by the modules. Many of those students polled also reported they had difficulty communicating with their instructors.
Despite an overwhelming body of evidence that eLearning is no replacement for classes in the real world with human teachers, Ford is plowing ahead with plans to eliminate several thousand teacher jobs and shift to e-learning.
School boards confirm that plans to increase class sizes from 22:1 to 25:1 will mean that eLearning classes will balloon in size too — the exact opposite of what school boards and education experts say needs to happen to improve learning outcomes.
One TDSB document noted 1,543 TDSB students took eLearning Day School classes in the 2018-19 year, with an average of 32 students per class.
A spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board told PressProgress its most recent data from 2019 summer eLearning courses showed an average of 28 students per class. TDSB said its target class sizes for its Day School program is a ratio of 1:31 for university-prep courses, 1:26 for college-prep courses and 1:29 for open courses.
Todd Pottle, Executive Director of the Ontario eLearning Consortium, noted that TDSB’s targets are “not out-of-the-ordinary” across the province.
“Class sizes in eLearning are subject to the same caps as those specified in local collective agreements for regular classes,” Pottle told PressProgress.
Ontario’s Ministry of Education did not respond to questions from PressProgress about whether the province will take special action to cap the size eLearning classes or if they will increase at the same rate as real world class sizes.
Previously, the Ministry itself noted regarding eLearning: “Collective agreements do not recognize differences in the method of delivery of instruction as a determinate of class size.”
Some school boards have already raised concerns about how size of eLearning courses and the near-impossibility for teachers to communicate with so many students in “real-time.”
”To promote student success, it is our understanding from the research that online class sizes must have small in-person ratios,” the York Region District School board noted in a letter to Minister Lecce last week.
”Most courses would need to be synchronous in nature, with teacher supported real-time learning.”
Academic researchers who specialize in eLearning warn the province could be creating a mess.
“If the class caps are significantly larger, it poses a problem,” University of Toronto researcher Beyhan Farhadi told PressProgress.
“Best retention is when teachers, for instance, can make real-time contact with each student and are locally available for access,” Farhadi explained. “The more students the more difficult that is.”
Unmanageably large eLearning classes could also pose a particular problem for some students with special needs.
“Students with learning disabilities, for example, have lots of difficulties with online courses,” Frank Smith, National Coordinator with the National Educational Association of Disabled Students, told PressProgress.
Smith noted that “students with disabilities often have better learning outcomes in primary and secondary education with more attention from staff and teachers.”
Correction: This article originally identified TDSB’s target class sizes as its current average class sizes. This article has been updated to correct this error and to clarify that Ontario eLearning Consortium Executive Director Todd Pottle was commenting on TDSB’s target class sizes, not TDSB’s figure from 2018-19, which showed an average eLearning class size of 32 students.