At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, elementary schools across Calgary abruptly switched to online learning platforms. Google Classroom, a web-based education service, was quickly adopted as a new tool for instructors, parents and students to study from the comfort of their own homes.
What began as a means of keeping students and teachers in touch during tough times has had a lasting impact in at least one school, where technology in education is impacting students and changing the way in-person lessons are being taught.
Anita Vahaaho, a grade five teacher at Edgemont Elementary School, explains that before the pandemic, technology was only used once a week for special projects, which is drastically different from today, where it is used almost every day.
She says that students typically work on the computer each day, watching videos, working on assignments and participating in research activities.
“It’s been huge, you know,” says Vahaaho. “That change, being able to switch from in-class to online at a moment’s notice.”
According to Vahaaho, using e-learning services like Google Classroom makes it simple for students to access essential information outside of class. It is also a way for them to get caught up on the lessons they may have missed or go over the ones they feel less confident about.
She says these tools make it easier for students, parents and teachers to stay connected, especially when students are sick or can’t make it into school.
“The expectation is that it’s more digital, that we can provide those tasks when they need them,” says Vahaaho.
Danielle Kapocyznski, a grade two teacher also teaching at Edgemont Elementary School, explains that Google Classroom often benefits parents more than students, allowing access to their children’s lesson plans and assignment due dates.
She says that having these resources available ensures that parents stay informed of student progress.
“There’s really no excuse not to know what’s happening in the classroom anymore,” says Kapocyznski. “The best use of Google Classroom in an elementary capacity is that it informs parents of their kids’ daily activities.”
Although technology provides many benefits for teachers, students and parents, a lack of accessibility raises concerns about the future of education.
Vahaaho shares her biggest worry with online learning, explaining that it comes from the concern that not all students have access to forms of technology at home and risk falling behind.
“The learning aspect isn’t as intense or good necessarily, compared to being in a classroom in person,” explains Vahaaho.
Kapoczynski also shares similar worries as Vahaaho. She says that for younger students engaging and gaining an understanding of e-learning services has proven to be an issue.
“It can be limited in what activities you can post and student engagement,” she explains. “With younger kids, there needs to be more interactivity and more options.”
Adjusting to returning to work after the pandemic wasn’t easy for many, and with technology becoming an essential education tool in the classroom, this continues to be a challenge for teachers.
According to Kapocyznski, if teachers had better digital ways to submit feedback to students, it would help students better understand required assignments and lesson plans. She also says that schools should focus on more technology-based tools in classrooms such as videos and coding, especially with younger children.
“There’s just that diversity with technology that could help students be successful in the future on how they demonstrate their understanding,” says Kapocyznski.
With online learning resources continuing to be persistent in education systems across the city, Vahaaho believes that it’s up to teachers to find ways to adapt and work with technology for the benefit of students.
“It’s definitely different; I know for me it’s been a huge learning curve,” she says. “Technology is always gonna be there, it’s always evolving and ever-changing, and we have to understand that it should be there; kids should be learning how to use it.”