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'A lot of frustration:' Popular online learning platform to be phased out in Peel public schools

A child studies in front of a tablet screen in this stock photo. (Pexels) A child studies in front of a tablet screen in this stock photo. (Pexels)

A popular online platform that many public school teachers use to communicate with parents and post learning materials for absent students could soon be scrapped in Peel Region.

The Peel District School Board sent a memo to staff on April 13 advising them that Google Classroom will no longer be available as of Sept. 2024 and that all users will have to “transition” to the D2L Brightspace learning platform, for which the Ministry of Education has a licence.

The board tells CP24 that it has determined that the new platform offers “superior privacy and security protection” as well as the “full suite of end-to-end tools that will benefit our students and educators most.”

But teachers who are reliant on Google Classroom to do their jobs say that they should be allowed to use their own judgement when it comes to which tool works best to support student learning.

“I think that I can speak on behalf of the vast majority of teachers that would say that it (D2L Brightspace) is insufficient. It is an inferior product and people I think are baffled that the board would mandate the use of a software tool that is not as easy to use,” Ryan Harper, who is the president of the Peel chapter of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation, told CP24 this week. “It was designed for post-secondary institutions. It's not designed for secondary schools or elementary schools. But it's being forced upon both elementary and secondary school students in the Peel District School Board.”

Harper started an online petition earlier this month, calling on the PDSB to allow teachers to make their own choices about which online learning platforms to use in their classrooms.

That petition currently has more than 3,500 signatures.

Speaking with CP24, Harper said that Google Classroom has been widely used in Peel for the last decade or so but became particularly entrenched during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said that the interface is “much more user friendly” than D2L Brightspace and is more accessible, given that most students and parents already have Google accounts.

“For students in special education classes and for English language learners it's far more complicated (D2L Brightspace) and there will be some students in some classes in the Peel board, special education classes in particular, that will essentially not be able to use virtual learning environments moving forward as a result of this decision,” Harper warned. “It is frustrating. There's a lot of the narrative (among teachers) that this kind of thing just keeps happening over and over again and every few years it’s someone's new idea to mandate some new tool that everyone needs to learn and when that new tool is inferior to the existing one, it really creates a lot of frustration when decisions are being made by people who are not in the classroom.”

For its part, the Peel District School Board says that it has been communicating with staff about the transition since 2019, putting an earlier plan to phase out the use of Google Classroom on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It says that as of February 2021, approximately half of the classrooms were already using D2L Brightspace and that “resources and supports are currently available to staff” to continue with the transition.

It also says that the new platform offers parents and caregivers with multiple children a single Virtual Learning Environment, which is something that has long been called for. The technology also has a number of “integrated components” not yet available on other platforms such as a grading function and a portfolio to show a student’s work, the board said.

“The Ministry of Education has secured a license with D2L Brightspace, an Ontario-based company, and has committed to providing the platform at no cost to the school boards. Peel District School Board will join a number of other Ontario school boards that are using D2L Brightspace in a fiscally responsible manner,” a statement from the board notes. Top Stories

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