Learning to Learn Online

Briefing #11

Welcome to the eleventh issue of the Digital Policy Salon briefing.

We’re excited to bring you our usual policy updates this week, as well as a detailed look at key topics in digital education, tech for good, and a lighter look at social media influencers’ business models.

As Canadian provinces’ reopening plans start up, new data is being released on case numbers, but also on related topics like this month’s Consumer Price Index: read on to learn about the impact of oil price fluctuations, demand for toilet paper, and more. In addition, more and more students are learning that their classes may be held digitally in Fall 2020. The lasting impact of COVID-19 on education is yet to be seen, but this week’s perspective piece and our weekly Tech and Human Rights interview both examine the intersections between education and technology from all angles, including international development, equity, and access to edtech.

Finally, in light of the numerous Canadians taking their work online, ICTC’s Mairead Matthews interviewed a well-known social media influencer and strength trainer, Katie Crewe, to understand how she makes content-creation work as a career. We hope you’re equally excited to hear about statistical modeling in this week’s “what we’re reading,” but we’ll understand if you skip to the featured research on AI in Canada.

- Tyler & Faun

COVID-19 Policy Updates 🇨🇦

The economic impacts of COVID-19 have rendered some consumer goods more expensive, but many others have become cheaper.

Statistics Canada released its Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for the month of April this week, highlighting several interesting changes to the cost of goods due to COVID-19. The CPI represents changes in consumer prices over time and also indicates the rate of inflation.

April 2020 marked the first year-over-year decline in consumer prices since 2009.

  • The decline was partly caused by a staggering drop in the cost of gasoline, which fell 39.3% since last April, representing the largest year-over-year decline in the cost of gasoline to date.
  • Though not as significantly, the cost of other consumer goods also fell, including transportation, clothing and footwear, and recreation, education, and reading.

As the cost of many retail products fell, household necessities like food and cleaning products increased in price.

  • Food was 3.4% more expensive as compared to last April, with the cost of some food items like rice, eggs, margarine, and beef rising 7.9% to 9.2%.
  • The cost of paper increased 6% since March 2020, likely due to higher demand for toilet paper.

COVID-19 yields stark reductions in CO2 emissions.

In April, the World Meteorological Organization indicated that the economic downturn induced by COVID-19 could curtail global CO2 emissions by as much as 6%. On Tuesday, scientists from Europe, the United States, and Australia published similar findings:

  • On average, global daily carbon emissions dropped 17% in April.
  • Countries that practiced confinement in response to COVID-19 saw carbon emissions fall as much as 26%.
  • If current economic restrictions were to stay in place until December, total emissions for 2020 could be 7% lower than 2019.

International travel restrictions continue.

The federal government extended non-essential travel restrictions between the United States and Canada for another 30 days until June 21st, and other international travel restrictions remain in place. Similarly, in-bound travellers are still required to isolate for 14 days upon arrival to Canada.

Interestingly, while the number of people travelling to Canada by land has fallen 88% since this time last year (and by air, 98%) travel to Canada has not disappeared entirely. - Mairead Matthews | email

Our Perspective


Canada’s Instructional Revolution: Technology and Policy in a Post-COVID-19 World

By Nathan Snider | email

Along with the proliferation of educational technologies, the themes associated with distance learning, e-learning, blended learning, and the digital classroom are dominating conversations. Canada is entering a unique period where the standard for academic delivery has significantly shifted. Where conversations were previously focused on issues of best practice for digital/online curriculum delivery, they’re now debating software functionality, thorough cost/benefit analysis, connectivity limitations, and the availability of ongoing support for educators and parents. As provinces such as Ontario officially declare their academic year concluded, we’ve begun to see significant changes in the modes of content delivery and a re-imagining of our comfort levels, as a society, with tech in the classroom. As K-12 and post-secondary education in Canada look ahead to September 2020, we’re forced to consider some sobering new realities. Will the ongoing debates over class size be framed differently? Will teachers unions advocate for safer working environments for educators and for technology? Will the relationship between education and technology fundamentally improve as a result?

For ICTC’s Future of Canada Series, we recently connected with experts across Canada to gather some initial feedback on technological innovations or developments that can transform a post-COVID-19 Canadian society.

This week, educators Taylor Coumbs and Dr. Gary Hepburn investigate the potential implications of COVID-19 on Canada’s academic space as they provide their observations on the potential re-invigoration of traditional classroom learning through the creative use of technology and the early warning signs of a potential impending revolution in education. Click through to the full article for their full insights.

Read the full article here 📝

Interviews in the Field


Gender, Inequality, and “Tech for Good”

By Kiera Schuller | email

On Friday March 6th 2020, Kiera Schuller, Research & Policy Analyst at ICTC, spoke with Tulsi Parida as part of our Tech & Human Rights Series. Tulsi is an internet and educational-technology (edtech) professional who focuses on reducing digital inequality and promoting responsible/inclusive technology. She has led teams at startups working to bridge digital divides in literacy education both in the US and in India. In this interview, Kiera and Tulsi discuss the role of technology in education, the concept of “Tech for Good,” and the links between digital inequality, gender, and development.


You’ve spent a lot of time examining the inequalities that come with technology, whether in access, education, development or other spheres. What is ‘digital inequality’ and what are some major intersections between technology and inequality that you work on?


There are multiple ways of looking at it. The simplest form of digital inequality is in access to technology. For example, the fact that more privileged members of society often have access to the most up-to-date forms of technology, while those in under resourced communities have little to no access to this tech, is one form of digital inequality. Beyond access, however, there is also inequality in understanding and ability to use technology. Specifically, oftentimes, technology isn’t built or designed for marginalized communities. For example, a smartphone is designed as a one-device-per-person device in the Western world, but in India, a single device is shared among many people. If a device is not designed for you, how can you adapt it and use it properly for your needs? So after this baseline access (do you have access to the tech?), there is the question of, “Is the actual use of that tech as impactful for some people as it is in other parts of society?”

On the flip side, while digital inequality, of course, often reflects inequalities that exist in society, technology can also be a tool to address those inequalities. For example, if only certain schools have the money to buy up-to-date textbooks, then only privileged students can have access to content; but if technology can bring textbooks and content to students who otherwise can’t afford it, technology here becomes an equalizer.

Tulsi Parida, AI & Data Policy Manager at Visa

Read the full interview here 🎙


The Unseen Side of an Increasingly Popular Digital Career: How social media influencers ‘make it work’ in the online world

By Mairead Matthew | email

Research and Policy Analyst Mairead Matthews sat down with Canadian blogger and certified strength trainer Katie Crewe to discuss how social media influencers “make it work” in the online world. Based in Toronto, Ontario, Katie’s career has seen immense growth both online and offline through social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube.


How much does an influencer need to know about things like content creation (video editing, photography, blogging, etc.) or digital media best practices (various kinds of formats, social media algorithms, etc.)?


For myself, it’s been a lot of trial and error, but I think it really depends on how much you want to optimize things. You can be very successful not knowing a lot about content creation or social media if you are just very consistent, clever and perceptive enough to pick up on what people are responding well to and use that to inform your future content decisions. I think that’s really important. Obviously, stuff like production budget does make a difference, but consistency is extremely important. A lot of people have very, very successful channels, just by using their phone to make and upload content.

As you evolve, however, you generally want to improve on that, so it’s helpful to know how to edit, especially in a way that makes your content look better. You can edit the same video to make it look a lot better or a lot worse, so it’s helpful to be decent at that, and as you get more practice in, you get better.

That said, what I’ve found is that when people are very focused on their business or have a very successful business, they tend to outsource a lot of the content stuff. Even when they’re decent at it, they just don’t want to spend their time doing that. For example, I know these people that have a gym with full-time videographers and editors on site, so that they can focus on just the education component, and the things that specifically require their face and voice. They’re there to film, and then bam–somebody else does all the edits, uploads it, and does all that other stuff for them. It saves them a ton of time. I’m not at that point, but it would save me a ton of time.

Katie Crewe, Canadian blogger and certified strength trainer

Read the full interview here 🎙

What We’re Reading


How One Modeler Is Trying To Forecast The Toll Of COVID-19


Governments across the United States and around the world have relied on forecast models in planning their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this special edition of “Model Talk” on the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, Dr. Chris Murray — who created the frequently cited Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model — discusses how he went about building his model and the challenges he has encountered. Murray says honing the IHME model has been an ongoing process as new data about the virus has emerged as it spread.

Talking Points:

More of a “what we’re listening to” than a “what we’re reading,” this podcast features an interview with the researcher who created one of the most-cited models of the Coronavirus’ progression. This talk shines an interesting light on the impact of Coronavirus modeling on public appreciation for, and understanding of, statistics: this moment in history has required all of us, regardless of our background, to understand how forecasting models relate to us and the behaviours we choose. As one unattributed meme aptly notes, we’ve all spent a lot more time looking at exponential graphs than anyone could have foreseen. - Faun Rice | email

Research Visualized

New reported cases by day in Canada — Source: The New York Times, May 21, 2020

As some Canadian provinces begin reopening their economies, many eyes are on the number of new COVID-19 cases. The hopeful visualization above, showing a decrease in the number of daily recorded cases, comes from The New York Times: the news outlet has developed several user-friendly dashboards with key metrics for countries outside of the U.S., including France, Germany, and Mexico, as well as Canada and others. Interested readers can check out their analysis of cases per capita by province as well as their detailed American overview.

Our Research


On the Edge of Tomorrow: Canada’s AI-Augmented Workforce

Published by ICTC, February 2020

Artificial Intelligence is frequently identified as one of the most promising areas of technological development. The ability to generate efficiencies, identify hidden patterns or insights, and automate tasks have combined to create a transformative technology that may fundamentally alter business operations. Although progress in the field of AI has fluctuated since its inception, we are increasingly witnessing its potential across the economy.

As AI continues to disrupt older processes, it is critical to develop strategies to ensure that its benefits are not divisive and that AI is deployed and used responsibly. Canada is currently demonstrating global leadership in the development of AI ethics, and maintaining this momentum is crucial as Canada increasingly embraces a future that incorporates artificial intelligence.

This study also contains the following:

  • International trends in AI
  • National AI initiatives and research collaborations
  • The role of venture capital and corporate investment in AI
  • Canada’s strategic sectors for AI deployment

Click here for the full report 📖

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