Back to School: In-Person or Online?

Today I was interviewed by Angela Kokott on 770 CHQR Global News Radio and discussed back to school for Fall 2020. Here’s my reflections about today’s discussion and some suggestions to help parents  prepare for a new school.

Going back to school will not look like it did last year or the year before. Many families are faced with making a difficult decision about the mode of schooling to select for Fall 2020. Making a decision is difficult with limited information and so many unknowns.

  • What will school look like if we choose to go back to school in-person and in the building?
  • What will school like if we select online learning?

Each option will be different from any past experiences. Learning in the classroom will have many health restrictions and this will change the ways students will be grouped and will move and interact throughout their day. Parents will need to consider back-up plans for days when a child has an elevated temperature or sniffles. There will need to be plans for when a child or adult has a positive COVID-19 test result. A typical day at school will look and feel different.

Online learning in the Spring 2020 was a crisis response and was not a model of what quality online learning can be when it is planned and intentional. Families might wonder if online learning is a good option for their family. Families will need to consider if they have supports in place to accommodate online learning? Some of these supports might include, a workspace for the child, adequate technology, adult supervision as well as other specialized supports to accommodate individual learning needs. Parents might wonder if online learning might involve excessive screen time and live webinar style sessions with the teacher and the class. How might this impact Internet access at home if sharing connections or technology with siblings or parents also working from home? How will students interact with peers? Will the teacher assign group work or will all the work be independent and self-directed? How will online teachers accommodate students and families when they are not feeling well? Will the school provide curb-side pick-up service for text books and other school-issued resources or will they deliver to the home? Can parents volunteer and help in online classes? There are so many questions.

Parents could use more information about what to expect with each option. It would be great to have an orientation or video-tour to help parents learn more about what a typical day might look like if choosing in-person classes and how families might prepare for periods of school closure.

It would also be great to have a video tour of a typical day in the online environment to reassure parents that class sizes will remain manageable in online, screen time will not be excessive, that there will be a balance of synchronous and asynchronous learning, and that students will be working closely with peers and developing relationships with their teachers and classmates.

From a research perspective, I can reassure parents that online can be just as effective as in-person learning. Online credentials are as respected as face-to-face credentials (Donovan et al., 2019). Online learning can be highly interactive and you can develop strong relationships online (Garrison, 2017; Young & Bruce, 2011). Online learning is best with a range of activities that are whole group and all together as well as activities that can be done independently or collaboratively in small groups (Brown et al., 2013; Brown & Eaton, 2020).


Brown, B. & Eaton, S. E. (2020). Using a community of inquiry lens to examine synchronous online discussions in graduate courses (Chapter 10). In L. Wilton, & Brett C. (Eds.) Handbook of Research on Online Discussion-Based Teaching Methods (pp. 229-262), IGI Global.

Brown, B., Eaton, S. E., Jacobsen, M., & Roy, S. (2013). Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(3).

Donovan, T., Bates, T., Seaman, J., Mayer, D., Martel, E., Paul, R., . . . Poulin, R. (2019). Tracking online and distance education in Canadian universities and colleges: 2018. Canadian National Survey of Online and Distance Education, Public Report. Canadian Digital Learning Research Association.

Garrison, D. R. (2017). E-learning in the 21st century: A community of inquiry framework for research and practice (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Young, S., & Bruce, M. A. (2011). Classroom community and student engagement in online courses. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(2). Retrieved from