No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers' dirty looks.
Call it a new way of learning for the province’s students, but blended learning is the way education will be delivered in the province—and it is being piloted right here in School District 20.
As one of the most watched stories in the provincial educational world, blended learning for the 130 grade 10-12 students of Rossland Secondary School (RSS) is giving people a sneak peek at what the future of education will be like in the province.
This is the first year of the program, and already they have principals from school districts six, eight, 19, 44, 51 emailing them on a daily basis asking questions about the innovative approach to delivering education.
They have principals and vice principals from two districts attending the community meetings they held before the program began in September, trustees from other districts have been in to observe the program first hand in the building, and RSS staff have been invited to present at the school superintendent’s conference in November.
RSS principal Karen Lavender said the blended learning program combines face-to-face classroom methods with computer-mediated activities, creating a more integrated approach for both instructors and learners.
“What we are doing is forward thinking and it is what B.C. Education should be moving toward,” she said.
“And that’s where education is going in B.C.,” said School District 20 board of trustees chair, Darrel Ganzert.
And where that is going is simple, said RSS vice principal Mike Vanness. Students have choice at RSS, as well as voice and are able to learn at their own pace. Learning outcomes are constant but everything else is variable.
“Working outside a traditional timetable allows teachers and students to work together in resource areas and in the community,” said the RSS website on blended learning.
In blended learning, students learn the skills to create long and short term goals, organize their schedules to meet their learning needs, reach out beyond the school walls into the community, collaborate with peers, teachers, parents and community members, and take on leadership roles.
The educational model aligns with the goals of the province’s BC Education Plan and is based on current research in the field of education, said Lavender.
On a typical school day students find out where they need to go, what they do, with an online Google calendar. The students can also find out where a teacher will be throughout the day to get help on their work.
Using a platform called Moodle, a free, open-source PHP web application for producing modular internet-based courses supporting social media in the holistic science of education.
“This isn’t online learning, it is a place to put the course,” said Vanness. “Some of the assignments might be on there, but it is more of a guide.”
Students log on for goals and outcomes, how to meet their learning goals, and check for assignments, most of which they can do together with other classmates.
There are times when a whole class is called together, but there are other times when it makes more sense for them to just be working in a research lab—with students able to access their teachers at any time.
Course offerings remain the same as in the past, with scheduled seminars rotating through resource areas. Seminars don’t mean one person talking to a group of people, said Vanness, like in a traditional classroom format.
“All it means is there will be a group of people together doing something,” he said, like in a lab setting.
People can use a progress checker on Google documents to help students and parents gauge a student’s progress.
“It’s not an assessment piece. It’s not an ongoing report card. What it does show is how far the students are into their courses,” Vanness said.
The teachers are still working out the bugs in the program, said Lavender, and they meet each week to discuss the progress. She said it will be an ongoing process, since the program has not been used anywhere else in the province, to date.
Lavender said the program has had a rocky start, with some critics and seven students have moved out of RSS as a result of the move to blended learning. But the drop in enrolment is the same as last year, she noted, before blended learning became mandatory.
However, they have had two students move into the program to take advantage of the new structure.
“We’re fighting habits we have been teaching in schools for nine, 10 or 11 years,” she said. “The biggest thing we are fighting right now is kids saying, ‘Why can’t you just tell me what to do?’”
On Sept. 24 Lavender told the SD20 board of trustees the fledgling program needed the board’s support.
“So when you hear the negative comments on the street … you will be informed and be able to respond to questions in a way that will help support what we are doing,” she said.
She also asked the board to give them time in Rossland to make the program work, pointing to the ongoing facilities revie—and its December deadline—as casting a huge cloud on the program.
“We haven’t had a chance to really give it time, to get in there and give teachers a chance to really make this work. It is going to take time to make this work,” Lavender said.
Some would say the program is risky, said Lavender, but the only risk is taking the leap in attempting the program.
“We are not risking education for our kids, we are not risking anything in terms of what kids are going to come out of this with,” she said. “They are getting nothing less this year than what they have been getting in the past few years.
“In fact, I believe they are starting off with more. Whenever it means better learning for our children, that is truly a worthwhile endeavour.”