Location-agnostic teaching and learning during a pandemic and beyond: mitigating school year disruptions with a novel approach to place-based environmental education

Millward, Andrew A. | $25,000

Ontario Ryerson University 2021 SSHRC

This research partnership between the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) and the Urban Tree Lab at Ryerson University addresses a once hidden crisis affecting school boards across Canada. This crisis—rigid education delivery that is susceptible to school year disruptions—has become apparent due to the COVID‑19 pandemic. The TDSB and other school boards across Canada urgently require comprehensive research into education delivery that can be seamlessly deployed during times of extraordinary circumstances, as well as during periods of stability. While most Canadian schools anticipate a return to in-person learning, it is crucial to understand if disruptions to education delivery can be mitigated as teachers alternate between classroom types—virtual and material—while yielding consistent learning outcomes. Findings will apply to in-class as well as remote modes of teaching and learning that arise due to prolonged or short-lived school year disruptions. Environmental education (EEd) will be the focus because of its known ability to blend multiple subject areas in an interdisciplinary manner. This will open participation in this study to teachers from different subject areas and will position the results of this study to be applicable outside the EEd context. Moreover, EEd modules that bridge diverse subject areas and that have been developed to be place-based and location-agnostic are readily available to support this research.

The purpose of this research is to understand how the impact of school year disruptions can be mitigated when in-class and remote teaching and learning methods are intended to be seamlessly interchangeable. This research aims to take a novel approach to the well-established effectiveness of place-based education (PBE)—learning about and from what is local—by pairing PBE with location-agnostic teaching and learning resources. This approach decouples PBE from fixed localities (location-agnostic) and seeks to understand if the impact of disruptive events to education delivery can be mitigated to consistently demonstrate benefits of PBE, regardless of classroom circumstances. This investigation has four primary objectives: (i) identify the effect of school year disruptions on education delivery; (ii) understand how alternating between classroom types within a school year can compound these effects; (iii) capture teachers’ experience of whether and how place-based, location-agnostic teaching and learning approaches can mitigate these effects; (iv) develop recommendations for current and future education delivery approaches.

An interrupted time series (ITS) approach will frame this study. Thirty teachers from across diverse sociodemographic TDSB school catchment areas will form the participants of this research. Teachers will first complete a semi-structured survey that collects experiential data describing the impacts of education delivery disruptions on teaching and learning. Next, teachers will be introduced to place-based, location-agnostic EEd modules and tools appropriate to their particular subject area. Over a 12-week period, teachers will deliver the EEd modules to their students. Following the sixth week, an interruptive event will be introduced that will simulate a back-to-school or back-to-remote teaching and learning disruption. Teachers will then continue to deliver the same EEd module from where they left off at the time of the event, but within the new education delivery scenario. After 12-weeks, a semi-structured survey and multiple focus groups will capture teachers’ experience of whether and how location-agnostic, place-based EEd can mitigate classroom disruptions while maintaining consistency in teaching and learning outcomes. Data from each stage will be compared and contrasted.

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