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British Columbia Case Study - Capturing the Lived Experience of K-12 Educators During COVID-19

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

Written by: Marian Riedel & Alison Taplay

In British Columbia, the rapid shift to emergency remote learning for K-12 education during the initial phase of the COVID-19 global pandemic offered us the opportunity to capture the lived experience of various educational professionals, including teachers, educational assistants, administrators and other support staff. As a joint faculty research project situated at Vancouver Island University (VIU), regional independent schools and school districts were invited to co-create a community-based case study. Our collaboration resulted in a survey with both closed-ended quantitative and open-ended qualitative questions, and focus group questions that were entirely qualitative. Survey and focus group questions were developed within six relevant topic areas identified by community partners: relationships; shifts in practice; wellness and supports; leadership; equity and inclusion; and communication. Survey study data came from 413 responses and focus group data came from 8 conversations with an average of 4.5 participants in each. Survey respondents consisted of 67% teachers (n=276), 12% educational assistant or child and youth care roles (n = 48), 14% administration roles (n = 58) and 8% other K-12 associated roles (n=31). Quantitative survey data were primarily analyzed for mean and mode, while qualitative survey data were analyzed for emergent themes within each of the six study focus areas. Data were analyzed for each community partner case study and summarized in a report for them. The study provided a rich opportunity for VIU to be of service to local schools and communities.

1. What inspired this research study?

Community building and serving the local mid-Vancouver Island and BC coastal community region was a key inspiration. COVID-19 required educators and communities to reconstitute what teaching and learning looked like within a very short period of time. Organizations in the K-12 sector were tasked with a rapid pivot of pedagogical approaches to support alternate, online and emergency remote learning for learners. These changes presented immense challenges for school systems and families in the regions that VIU serves yet, as Gadamer (2004) notes, had a “curiously productive meaning” (p. 347) in that learning occurred between the familiar and strange. Inspired by the principles of self-determination, equity, and social justice, the research team sought to reduce barriers between the university and the K-12 community partners being researched (Maiter et al., 2008). The goals of this project were to enable local districts and independent schools to collect and analyse data in order to capture a range of experiences and learnings in their contexts, facilitate opportunities to connect with other community partners to develop a shared understanding of the experience of alternate delivery in K-12 contexts and to provide recommendations for teacher education and education assistant programs at VIU striving to meet the changing needs of their respective professions. The overarching research questions follow:

  1. What was the experience of transitioning to alternate delivery in K-12? (Phase 1: Case Studies)

  2. What learnings can be surfaced in order to plan for future alternate delivery offerings in K-12? (Phase 2: Cross-Case Analysis)

  3. How can learnings inform content and delivery in teacher education and education assistant post-secondary programs? (Phase 3: Programming Recommendations)

2. Who is on your research team?

The study was undertaken jointly by six British Columbia coastal community partners alongside researchers from Vancouver Island University’s Faculty of Education (Paige Fisher, Rachel Moll, Marian Riedel, Riki Cox, Bob Esliger along with graduate students Coline Pybus and Luan Arbuckle) and the Faculty of Health and Human Services (Leif Rasmussen, Alison Taplay). The community partners included 4 school districts and 2 independent schools with over 21,000 students collectively. Each was represented on the team by a designated leader.

Funding came from internal institutional awards and ethical approval was granted by both the university’s Research Ethics Board, as well as from all participating community partners.

3. How did you adapt your study design due to the pandemic?

All was done virtually and expeditiously in the hope to provide helpful information to support community partners in preparing for the start of the 2020 academic year. Using a mixed methods approach to data collection, virtual tools including Zoom, Hosted in Canada Survey and were deliberately integrated to the study design in support of health and safety protocols as outlined by Tri-Council and VIU Research Ethics Board policies which restricted in-person research involving humans.

4. What is it about a community-based research approach that appealed to you?

VIU is a special purpose teaching university with a growing research capacity. The study aligned with VIU’s community engagement objectives, specifically to “sustain collaborative relationships, including research opportunities, with...educational partners … in order to ensure suitable responses to regional...needs” (VIU, 2017, p. 17). As faculty in the pivotal moments of the first weeks of the pandemic, we felt an immediate urge to support the schools and school districts in our community, so there was a natural fit with community-based research and the project. Situated in the understanding that power can be shared between the researchers and those being researched, a desire to improve practice and acknowledging the legitimacy of experiential knowledge, we used a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach that involved a “collective, reflective and systematic inquiry in which researchers and community stakeholders engage as equal partners in all steps of the research process with the goals of educating [and] improving practice” (Tremblay et al., 2018, p. 2). The “focus on locally defined priorities and local perspectives” (Cornwall & Jewkes, 1995, p. 1667) sparked our passion and aligned with our values.

5. What would you like to see as a result of your research study?

Community Partner Reports and a Community Partner Sharing Event were specifically completed prior to the start of the 2020 academic year. Community partners expressed that the research findings and reports were very effective in supporting school and district leaders in developing Restart Plans, particularly in areas which included planning for remote learning, as well as in building relationships between schools within the regional community. Future impacts will focus on working with community partners to support VIU programming recommendations to Teacher Education and the Education Assistant and Community Support Certificate programs. In short, this project reinforced our commitment to community service and demonstrated the benefit of community-based research to our partners. We hope the success of this project will inspire others to adopt a community-based research approach.


Cornwall, A., & Jewkes, R. (1995). What is participatory research? Social Science & Medicine, 41(12), 1667-1676.

Gadamer, H.G. (2004). Truth and method (2nd ed.). London, UK: Continuum International Publishing Group.

Maiter, S., Simich, L, Jacobson, N. & Wise, J. (2008). Reciprocity: An ethic of community-based participatory action research. Action Research, 6(3), 305-325.

Tremblay, M-C., Martin, D.H., McComber, A. M., McGregor, A. & Macaulay, A. (2018). Understanding community-based participatory research through a social movement framework: a case study of the Kahnawake Schools Diabetes Prevention Project. BMC Public Health, 18(487).

Vancouver Island University (VIU). (2017). Academic Plan. Promoting and celebrating access to excellence.

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