Friday, 24 February 2017 03:52

More students using distance ed. option through Chinook Cyber School

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The Chinook Cyber School has reached a new enrolment milestone while maintaining a consistent completion rate.


Cyber School Principal Shelby Budd presented a monitoring report to board members at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Feb. 13.
A total of 1002 seats were occupied during the 2015-16 school year, which was an increase of 201 seats over the previous year. This figure refers to the number of seats filled in each class and not the number of students, because students can enrol for more than one online course.
“We have watched our growth over the last seven, eight years,” she said after the meeting. “It’s exciting to see, because we know it’s working for our students if we can reach those kinds of numbers. We know that we’re serving our small town schools and maintaining our success rate.”
For Budd, it is important to maintain the completion rate for students while the class enrolment increases.
“Those things have to line up,” she said. “Numbers are irrelevant if all of a sudden we start to see a drop in our success rate and what we’ve seen though is instead at least maintenance. We saw a bit of an improvement actually last semester. So we’re encouraged by that. We know we’re going in the right direction with our students and the things we’re focusing on are working well for them.”
The completion rate for courses offered through the Cyber School remained consistent at 96 per cent for the past three years.
“Right now, we’re sitting at a 97 per cent completion rate,” she noted. “I say right now because that just came in from last semester.”
She felt the recent increase to 97 per cent in the completion rate is a result of the school’s new communication goals and efforts to build relationships with students.
“What we’re seeing from our students is that importance in terms of the relationship with the teacher, which we’ve always known, and especially I think when you look at small-town kids,” she said. “They’d been in the K-12 school. They probably had the same teachers for the last 12 years of their life, and then to throw them online and say now talk to this person, that's pretty daunting.”
The school therefore aims to reach out to students and to make their online learning experience more personal.
“We’ve really made an extra effort there this year in terms of reaching out to every one of our kids and saying welcome to class,” she mentioned. “I’m here if you need me, remember I want to teach you, this isn’t just about you getting a credit, I want to help you out, and our kids have really responded well to that. So it’s kudos to the students too who have really spent time trusting us and following some of the procedures we have in place to ensure that we can keep track of them and make sure that they're succeeding still.”
Some students will find it easier to adjust to the online delivery of courses than others, but the support provided to them will help with the transition.
“Some kids really struggle with online and it’s that whole time management piece,” she said. “It’s so easy to find anything else to do. I think our kids in Chinook are really lucky, because they get an opportunity to have two teachers and two principals who are looking out for their best needs and helping guide them through that whole online process, because they’re going to need it.”
In some cases, students are not only taking online courses through the Cyber School to obtain a spare, but they are using it as an opportunity to pursue an interest.
“We’ve actually seen a number of students this year who have completed courses early,” she said. “Where in the past we’ve probably seen that student take a spare, we’ve actually seen students say is there something else I can go into right now. ... So I’ve been impressed with kids when they’ve said that I really like to get the next credit level in this course or I'm really kind of interested in this, can I do that one now, and I think that’s a sign of maturity on those kids’ part.”
The Chinook Cyber School offered a total of 59 online courses during 2015-16. These options included a diverse range of courses, for example cosmetology, drafting, psychology, and visual arts.
The courses are presented through three online delivery methods. The asynchronous and synchronous options are semesterized courses. The asynchronous method gives students the freedom to log on at any time to work on course material.
The synchronous option uses video conferencing units to deliver courses. The classes are scheduled as part of a student’s daily timetable to take place at a specific time. The synchronous delivery style is under review to determine the effectiveness of this approach.
The third option is the continuous student intake (CSI) method. It is an asynchronous delivery of courses, but students can start a course at any time during the school year and they have a full calendar year to complete the course.
The Cyber School currently has 15 online instructors — five are full-time and 10 are part-time instructors who are also teachers at nine schools in the school division.
The intention of the Cyber School is not simply to be an online correspondence school, but to focus on the delivery of online courses for rural students within the Chinook School Division. The Cyber School therefore works in close partnership with division schools to evaluate programming needs and interest surveys are send out every year to students to determine which online courses might be of interest to them.
“It’s really partnership,” she said. “In the end we don’t work independently of any of our schools. I’ve got contact with every principal in this division to figure out what’s going to be needed for their students. So we’ll be sending out the interest survey to kids coming up shortly. That will give us an idea of what they are interested in for online classes, that will give us an idea for numbers, and that always changes. Then we’ll be able to report that back to the schools and say here’s what we’ve got, now build around that.”
Although the Cyber School is responsible for the online delivery of courses within the school division, it aims to have an increased presence in schools through staff visits.
The location of part-time online instructors in nine different schools already gives the Cyber School a presence in those institutions, but Budd will visit other schools to interact with students.
“We’re in a lot of schools already, but those places where we don't have an actual presence in the building then I like to spend a little more time there just touching base with the kids,” she said. “They still need to know that somebody is there and that somebody cares and I think that’s why our success rate is where it is.”

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Matthew Liebenberg

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