Online schools from students’ perspective

In 2011 in Canada there were 207,096 students that participated in online education. To be better understood this figures, that means that this is more than one student out of 25. In British Columbia, the number is growing, though online courses remain limited to a supplemental role in the K-12 public system. Advocates of online learning say it is a right way to shift the school system from the 19th-century factory model to a more innovative form. Not that it will bring freshness in the educational processes, but it will eliminate the cost of textbooks while broadening access for students in more remote areas. There are few interesting questions that need to be answered if we want to analyse the incoming trend into more details: – Which student benefit most from online learning? – When and what is a good fit for certain learning styles or goals?  Here are some of the replies coming from 10 and 11 graders.

A.N. was not doing well with the class the 10 planning courses he took. This was not because of the nature of the work (neither analytical nor academic), but because the vapid assignments seemed to engage all of his free time. However, taking this course made it possible for him during Grade 10 to take two electives, film and drama. Since he wants to be a filmmaker, cinematographer, and actor, he benefitted from the courses. He says: “I became close with many of the actors in those courses that I would later work with in the one-act performance the school puts on every year, which made the online work worthwhile. As well, there was one budgeting assignment involving debit cards and money transferring that proved useful after I picked up a job this summer.” Online schooling requires time management skills.
It fits more to, the entrepreneurial type of student who is not challenged in a classroom, by giving him the flexibility to have a better learning experience. When asked how does he feel if there is a supervisor in the school, who will monitor the progress of online students, with peer review in the groups were discussing and studying online curriculum could take place, he liked it. This would help to move online technology from a supplemental role to an integrated role; connect online school networking to the greater school community. A.N. thought that will be a great improvement to the system. He was worried about the fact that distancing students from the social and interactive, project-based aspects of a school, may cause students to be more indifferent to school in general. He mentioned an example of an in-classroom teacher, who replaced discussing social studies content and doing group projects with watching YouTube videos throughout the class. Moderation of those tools can be good, but the curriculum has to change to accept them, and they cannot substitute for nuanced, involved teaching. N.G. is also a student playing jazz in the evenings on Commercial Drive.

He has been to four different high schools since Grade 9. (That means a different school every year.) The reason for this is the fact that in Grade 8 he failed two courses – traditional schooling was quite difficult for him. Thanks to the democratic free school, he attended in Grade 11, he receives the many additional credits he needed through self-paced learning, journaling his extra-curricular work and online learning. As a result of this, he will be starting at Vancouver Community College‘s music program this fall, which brings him great pleasure. During the last two summers, he took Math 10 and Planning 10, and believes that it is helpful only for achieving extra credits.

According to him: “If a student was only being educated through online schooling, they wouldn’t really be learning, for learning consists of a personal relationship with a teacher and the curriculum, and online is a bad environment for these types of connections.” When he was asked about the shift many educators wish to see the “content-based learning” of the 20th century to the interdisciplinary, integrated, “process based learning” of the XXI century, he had a lot of comments. During Grade 9 year at a private school called Island Pacific School on Bowen Island, many innovative learning methods were used. Students were using sites like Edmodo (a secure social learning network for teachers and students), Ning (a site where one creates their own social network), and MOODLE (an open source, community-based learning tools site).

All these were used to create a customised classroom online where articles, videos and ideas were shared. In his class, there was a philosophy network, which N.G called “a discussion forum on steroids,” where one could create a profile, send e-mails, and have discussions on posts, all in the name of philosophy. The teacher would get four or five students to blog about their experiences, which he liked. Smart Board, an interactive whiteboard connected to a projector and a computer used for teaching is a positive experience for N.G. With this he is able to create an interactive Power Point presentation. The students can write on and change with sensitive pens and record to post online. This tool allows the students to see a repeat of information after the class is over, and interact with the material on their own time. Since these cost under a thousand dollars in Canada, he thinks that every teacher who wants one should have one. “If a shift in teaching methods is to occur, the curriculum, at a fundamental level, must change with it.” N.G. believes that the teaching revolution should not occur online, but should take place outside the classroom with experiential learning (field trips, camping trips and outdoors excursions.)

He believes that “adding all the innovative technological advancements, without changing the philosophy around education, will be as redundant as putting lipstick on a pig.” U.T. is an avid hot yoga attendant, dancer and gluten-free vegan who is taking French 12 this summer. She is at Rudolf Steiner School, which offers a set curriculum of alternative education and pedagogy. She has to take French 12 this summer, in order to be able to do math and chemistry next year, for students at Waldorf must choose between the two. Online education is helping her receive the credits she needs to pursue the sciences. However, she has many gripes with it. She explains “coming from a holistic, collaborative and spiritual learning environment makes online education feel sterile and redundant.” After looking at the screen for hours, she complained that her eyes began to hurt. “I’m not used to that much screen time. I prefer to learn in different ways, where one is not stagnating in front of a computer for hours on end.” This attitude towards computers is very common at Rudolf Steiner schools, as children do not use computers until high school. Counsel parents restrict TV watching as it reduces the child’s “etheric forces.”

This can be considered as an interesting approach but is very difficult to achieve it in practice considering the lifestyles of today’s kids. U.T. agrees with the Waldorf philosophy they preach that spending time outside, being creative and doing group project would be exponentially more stimulating than completing a government-required course through the Vancouver Learning Network. The VLN is the newly established network for online schooling in Vancouver. It incorporates teaching strategies and methods similar to those in a regular classroom, such as textbooks, study guides and other materials. VLN assignments are completed and delivered through various communication methods, including mail, e-mail, online classrooms, phone and fax. Many learners participate in online voice and videoconferences with their teacher and use a variety of electronic tools and learning management systems. U.T. says, “that is all fine and dandy, but it probably won’t produce results different from the classroom system.”

Laurie Anderson, PhD, former Head of VLN and current Executive Director at Simon Fraser University’s Vancouver campus says: “Any course or set of learning outcomes can be taught (and learned) in various media, be it a traditional classroom, online, a hybrid combination, or through direct experience.” It is a fact that the student has more learning options than before, and should customise his or her learning experience to fit his or her needs. This relates well to the students’ opinions of online learning, which seem quite ready to take the initiative to move out of the brick and mortar classrooms and teach themselves.

Anderson emphasises the constant tension existing among three central goals of education: -to educate the mind (classic academic curriculum), -to socialise (focus on career education, training consumer education, etc… courses that help students make a living); and -to help students discover their unique potential. He concludes that the career training is the current priority of public education. What is important is to prepare students for the world of work. This is addressed well by online conventional methodologies. The other two goals: academic learning and self-actualization, should also be considered and developed further.

This would require new, innovative approaches to all aspects of the public compulsory education system. More about k-12 education: Revolutionising the K-12 experience w/ student-centric online learning Access to Quality Education for All: The Power of K-12 Online Learning VSMOOC12 – Describing K-12 Online Learning

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