Dr. Rob Graham was awarded the 2015 Canadian Association for the Study of Education award for excellence in research in the field of teacher education. During his doctoral studies at Lancaster University in the UK, he developed a unique theoretical lens for studying technology in education he calls Techno-Resiliency. His research has received national and international attention with his book entitled, Techno-Resiliency in Education: A New Approach For Understanding Technology in Education published by Springer Publishing (USA). As former assistant professor in the Schulich School of Education he has taught and developed several courses related to technology-enhanced learning and teaching. Notably, he is a 2015 Nipissing University Distinguished Alumni award recipient.
Today more than ever we are being challenged to refocus our thinking about many aspects of our daily living. One aspect in particular that has come under scrutiny is the notion of education and schooling. For me, my best childhood school memories mostly revolve around the extracurricular sports events and the end-of-year school trips. I would argue that for most of us it is those ‘social learning’ times that involved being with friends that are at the forefront of our school memories. However, the school day is also packed with learning. With the recent announcement that Ontario educators will soon be offering a level of learning support online (sometimes called technology-enhanced learning) while schools are closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many who wonder what this will look like and some who fear it may lead to the demise of a traditional face-to-face learning environment.
However, in my mind, the online learning response to longer-than-originally-anticipated school closures by the Ford government is a responsible one that recognizes the need to support students and families, and keep everyone safe, in these very challenging times. The result will be many educators and families who will be forced to exhibit a level of what I have called “techno-resiliency’’ in order to bring effective school learning to a virtual world. Techno-resiliency is the ability to find creative solutions with limited resources and supports to make learning better with the integration of technology. To assume that a classroom-based learning experience can be easily transposed to an online platform shows a disregard for the very different skill set that both teacher and learner must have to navigate learning resources online. Some may also argue that a move to online learning is also a move away from a total education experience that involves learning and exploring with others. The fact is, in the upcoming weeks and possibly months, there will be many forced into what may be an uncomfortable learning reality. If it is true that growth only takes place from being pushed into uncomfortable realities, there should be some considerable personal growth for all during this period of time.
Aside from exposing significant technological challenges and skill discrepancies among both students and teachers who are forced by world circumstances into this situation, a move to an online platform will also expose levels of inequity across our society. There are still many families in regions of Northern Ontario who have no reliable or cost-effective Internet service. Furthermore, there are still others who may lack the finances to provide current devices and platforms for their children to work online. However, there is another level of inequity that exists with a move to online instruction of the school curriculum that few may have considered. For individuals and families with children who have intellectual and/or physical challenges, the move to online learning is exponentially more complex. Although there has been much progress made in the field of assistive/adaptive technologies (hardware and software technologies specifically designed to support individuals with challenges) I am not sure these will be made available for vulnerable learners at this time. Imagine the sheer complexity of having to identify needs and delivery supports to address them on an individual level! Furthermore, many of these devices require some deeper level of understanding, context and training in order to use them effectively. For these families, the supports that are offered on a day-to-day basis within a school environment simply cannot be replicated to help these families take advantage of online learning opportunities that may be made available to children over the next term.
While the move to online learning supports by the Ford government will be fraught with challenges and levels of inequity, I do believe it is a need that must be addressed. Ironically, out of these desperate times, I know there will be higher levels of creativity, collaboration and high levels of techno-resiliency displayed by students, parents and educators alike. I am also optimistic that going forward this push towards an online form of technology-enhanced teaching and learning may be an important stimulus that aids in moving our school system and educators towards offering a more effective technology-enhanced learning experience in the future. Unquestionably, there is both potential and limitations with this approach and to attempt to integrate and utilize it effectively in such a short period of time is a herculean endeavour. For those that fear it will replace the traditional face-to-face classroom, I suspect going forward it will only serve to augment and to strengthen it.