Thursday, 15 August 2013

Union Supports Distributed (online) Learning--with Conditions

Teacher unions in Canada have had concerns about developments in online learning, but have generally been supportive if they have felt conditions were appropriate. Most provinces have relatively small numbers of students in online programs and they are integrated into the schools with face-to-face programs.  The Nova Scotia Teachers’ Union has provisions in the collective agreement that make working conditions for teachers in online programs equivalent to those in face-to-face classrooms.

In the U.S., most of the online programs are run as Charter Schools and the staffs are not unionized.  In fact, online learning has been seen by opponents of unions as a way of breaking unionization in education.

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation adopted policy at the Annual Meeting of 2001 that supported DL—if conditions are appropriate.  This was at the beginning of the expansion of the number of students in DL programs from 2200 to about 80,000 last year.  (That is the number of students taking at least one course—many are taking only one.)

Unfortunately, many of the conditions for success identified in the BCTF policy do not exist in practice.  Limited funding in the school system as a whole has led to districts finding resources by squeezing staffing in the DL programs, leading to deteriorating working conditions for DL teachers.  When the BC government legislated class size limits for face-to-face programs, they explicitly excluded DL from limits.

This is the BCTF policy adopted in 2001 and still in place.

51.11 - Distributed Learning

That BCTF policy on distributed learning be:

1.      Distributed learning remains a positive offering within the BC public school system when fully supported by adequate staffing, funding and resources within provincial guidelines.

2.      Distributed learning should not be used in place of sufficient staffing or adequate facilities.

3.      a. Distributed learning and electronic delivery of public education programs should be delivered under the provision of the collective agreement.
b. Distributed learning programs and courses in BC public schools should be equivalent to other programs and courses in curriculum, assessment and reporting.

4.      Policies on distributed learning should be adopted by any school district that intends to use distributed learning for any of its students, either in its own district, or in conjunction with another district that runs programs:

a.        the teacher local should be involved in the formulation of the policy;

b.       the policy should include criteria and processes for making a decision on whether distributed learning is an appropriate placement;

c.        the policy should consider the social purposes of education, as well as the educational development of individuals.

5.      The school district in which any public school student lives should receive funding for that student. Decisions on requests to place the student in a distributed learning program should be made by the school district according to established criteria and processes. If a school district believes that an out-of-district distributed learning placement is most appropriate, then it should make enrolment and financial arrangements with the other district.

6.      Development of learning resources for distributed learning should be directed by the Ministry of Education, and BCTF members, identified through the BCTF process, should be involved in the development of the resources and compensated according to their rate of pay under the collective agreement provisions that apply in their local.

7.      Distributed learning programs should not include marketing learning materials, courses and programs outside of BC.

8.      There should be no financial or other incentive for parents or school districts to enrol students in one program over another.
(01 AGM, p. 42-43)

9.      That locals should ensure that all distributed learning courses and programs are being offered by qualified teachers who are members of our bargaining unit.

51.13 - That locals be encouraged to develop policies on distributed learning that include a statement of where distributed learning may be used appropriately, the appropriate conditions for the work of teachers using distributed learning and transparency in budgets for distributed learning and that locals use these policies in attempts to influence school district practices.
(Jan./Feb. RA 03 p. 17)

51.15 - 1. That the BCTF opposes allowing Grade 10–12 students in the public schools taking courses in the independent distributed learning programs.

2.      That the BCTF supports legislation and policies that ensure quality public school distributed education programs.

3.      That public education programs, such as distributed learning, should be carried out through public institutions, not private societies.

4.      That distributed learning programs not be promoted as better than classroom-based programs or be used to replace classroom-based programs in schools.

5.      That locals be made aware of the possible implications for staffing, transfers, and layoffs from some distributed learning programs not meeting the ministry conditions by May 31 and thus not able to offer distributed learning programs.
(May 06 Ex., p. 12)

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Research reports on Distributed Learning in BC are available on the BCTF website:   http://www.bctf.ca/publications.aspx?id=5630#Technology

 

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