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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 20, Number 2, October 2007

Working conditions of BC teachers in distributed learning

Investigating current issues, concerns and practices

Online learning, officially called Distributed Learning (DL) in BC K–12 schools, has been growing at a rapid rate. In addition, frequent changes in Ministry of Education policies on DL and relentless changes in the technology are having an impact on the working conditions of teachers working in these programs.

To find out about the working conditions and identify important issues for the BCTF, the Research Department conducted a survey of teachers in distributed learning programs in the 2007–08 school year.

The survey reveals the complexity of teacher workload, a rapidly changing and competitive work environment, and the impact of policy and legislation changes, in particular as related to education funding. The study also hints at the impact of the shifting landscape on students, changing work patterns for teachers, and the increasing need for active, supportive involvement of the Federation in the area of distributed learning.

Understanding class size and composition in a distributed-learning context was one of the initial research questions. The study showed that talking about class size and composition separately from overall workload did not make sense. Rather, class size and composition were best understood in the context of the course-delivery method, the ranges of grades taught, number of students, and variety of courses. Continuous intake means that often each student is in this sense a separate class, making class size a poor indicator of workload.

Workload is also linked with teachers’ ability to modify and develop online curricula, which in turn is related to the timeliness and adequacy of training and professional development. Being able to take the time and having the skills necessary to do course modification and development work were issues raised in the study. Not surprisingly, rapidly changing delivery platforms and software tools were also workload issues.

While many teachers (60%) undertake course modification and course development work, comparatively few are compensated for this work (modification: 20%, development: 42%). Although only a few DL teachers (17%) indicated that issues related to copyright ownership had arisen, interviews indicated there are no clear and consistent guidelines for managing copyright ownership.

Teachers working in distributed learning recognize the role DL can play for students whose needs are not met in a face-to-face classroom setting, but respondents expressed the concern that the typical students who enrol in DL are those at the upper and lower ends of a bell curve and that DL was increasingly being used as a dumping ground for high-needs students. Repeatedly it was stated that DL is not for all students, but fills an important need in the overall public education system.

It was when talking about the role of DL in public education that the perception of tensions between teachers working in DL and their non-DL colleagues were raised. It was thought that more awareness of the work of DL teachers and more explicit support from the Federation was warranted.

This study is a step toward understanding the issues faced by teachers working in distributed learning.

To read the full Research Report, please follow this link:


– Colleen Hawkey and Larry Kuehn, BCTF Research Department

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