Classroom Technology

Is Requiring Online Courses a Good Thing? Teachers in Canada Aren’t So Sure

By Mark Lieberman — December 16, 2019 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Many educators believe online courses are an inevitable component of a student’s school experiences. To that end, five U.S. states and a handful of other schools and districts require high school students to take at least one online course before they graduate, according to the Digital Learning Collaborative.

That requirement has been fairly uncontroversial in the U.S. so far. But in Ontario, a proposal for a more robust online course requirement—two virtual courses before graduation—has drawn stern objections from the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, a labor union that is currently engaged in tense negotiations with the government over wages and policies that have led to multiple day-long strikes, including one this week.

Last March, Ontario’s provincial government announced that high school students would be required to take four online courses before graduation. The goverment has since lowered the proposed requirement to two, but maintains that the policy will “better prepare students for the demands of the future.”

The teachers’ union acknowledges the benefits of online learning, which include providing more course options for students at smaller schools and more opportunities for teachers to branch out from subjects they’ve been teaching. But members are calling for the government to rescind the requirement while maintaining optional online courses. Their objections to required online courses are a reminder of the tensions policymakers face in wanting to expose students to online courses, while struggling with whether to mandate those experiences.

Here’s a summary of the union’s concerns:

Some students aren’t prepared for the unique challenges of online courses. A majority of the respondents to a teachers’ union survey of more than 600 Ontario teachers and other school employees said they’re worried that some students who lack motivation and skills in independent learning and time management will be at a disadvantage if online courses are required.

“The students who succeed in e-learning courses are most often students in upper-level or university classes,” the survey says.

Some students will have easier access to online courses than others. The proposal from the government offers few implementation details. If new online courses are to be taught by instructors who currently teach face to face, educators worry that the number of in-person offerings will drop as a result. Members have also raised concerns about low-income or rural students who lack adequate Wi-Fi access to complete work for online courses at home.

Technical infrastructure might not be prepared to support a burst of new online courses. Surveyed Ontario educators said they’re already seeing strain on computer networks and internet speed as a result of existing e-learning courses. Requiring multiple online courses for all high schoolers could mean those problems magnify quickly. Districts in the U.S. sometimes turn to private providers for technical support, but such partnerships can be controversial among educators.

Online courses could lead to academic integrity violations. At minimum, survey respondents want more training and workshops around cracking down on plagiarism in online course environments. “Due to the volume of cheating and plagiarism reports from various respondent groups, it is clear that students are taking advantage of the online learning medium to pass around work, cheat on tests and more,” the survey says.

Offering online courses is a lot of work. Administrators and technology staff have to do a lot of legwork to get a course off the ground, and teachers spend more time tracking down absentee students than they would in a face-to-face class, according to the survey.

“Educators reported they are constantly chasing and tracking down students, communicating with parents and more,” the survey said.

The survey does offer one theoretical solution, though: establishing a “designated learning space” in each school where online learners can get situated. As with all such projects, though, it would require more funding.

Image: Getty

Related Tags:

A version of this news article first appeared in the Digital Education blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Classroom Technology The Future of Blended Learning: What Educators Need to Know
More than two-thirds of educators expect their use of blended learning to increase during the 2021-22 school year.
8 min read
onsr edtech blended
Classroom Technology Why School Districts Are Unprepared for COVID-19 Disruptions, Again
Bad state policy, misplaced optimism, and a focus on full-time virtual schools left districts scrambling to educate quarantined students.
11 min read
onsr edtech hybrid
Classroom Technology Opinion Some Teachers Are New to Laptop Integration. Here’s How to Manage It
Let students help set expectations and make sure both you and they know how to use the tools are just a couple suggestions educators offer.
15 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."
Classroom Technology Opinion 20 Suggestions About Teaching in a Class Where All Students Have Laptops
One tip from experienced teachers: Working in a one-to-one classroom is more about a shift in teaching and learning than the use of devices.
11 min read
Images shows colorful speech bubbles that say "Q," "&," and "A."