As classes begin across Saskatchewan, thousands of students are choosing to learn online this year.
While numbers will still be approximate until later this month, Regina and Saskatoon's public and Catholic school boards estimate 6,500 students are enrolled in their online programs from kindergarten to Grade 12.
Across the province, school boards have been asked to craft their own policies and programs when it comes to online learning.
Alec Couros, a professor at the University of Regina who specializes in educational technology and media, said teaching online is much different than classroom learning.
"For teachers, it becomes very difficult to establish presence, to establish connection to your students," he said.
"Without adequate training in delivering or facilitating online learning, it becomes very difficult for for it to be successful."
Here's a breakdown of preliminary online school numbers from Regina and Saskatoon:
- Saskatoon Public Schools: approximately 3,000 students.
- Regina Public Schools: approximately 2,000 students.
- Regina Catholic School Division: approximately 360 students.
- Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools: approximately 1,215 elementary students.
As the educational year begins, school divisions have begun restricting the movement of students into the e-learning environment.
For example, Regina Public Schools has put a deadline of Sept. 21 for students to change from in-class education to e-learning.
Saskatoon Public Schools has now closed registration for its K-9 online learning program. Anyone still interested will need to contact the school division directly.
The introduction of online school has been a learning curve for school divisions in the province. Many did not offer distance learning for K-8 classes until this year.
Couros said he's concerned the standard of the classrooms may suffer.
"One of the biggest concerns is certainly whether or not the quality of education will remain as good when we move to an online model," he said.
"Online education has a history of specific pedagogy and specific tools to use. To just pivot very quickly from a face to face teacher who's successful to an online teacher who is also successful is a difficult one to make."
Couros said teachers can fall into a lecture-type style of teaching online and miss the interactive elements.
"When you get on Zoom, it's very easy to slip into a very instructivist or direct teaching style, where you're basically telling students what's what," he said.
"In the classroom, it feels easier to just get kids in groups, to experiment, to use the equipment in the classroom."
Couros is also concerned that low-income families will not be able to afford to participate in online learning.
"For families with more than one child or even a single child, it's difficult to keep up with the technology," he said.
"Not only the technology, but internet access. That's a very real thing."