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Friday, 23 February 2018 06:22

Chinook Cyber School helps students to meet learning needs

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Shelby Budd addresses school board. Shelby Budd addresses school board.

The Chinook Cyber School continues to provide diverse online learning opportunities for students and enrolment increased during the past school year.

Cyber School Principal Shelby Budd presented a monitoring report to board members at a regular Chinook School Division board meeting, Feb. 12.
Enrolment increased by about 140 seats to 1,143 seats during the 2016-17 school year.
This represented between 400 and 500 students, because they can enrol for more than one online course.
The school offered a total of 63 courses, which was an increase over the 59 courses available the previous year.
The new courses include a hockey themed English Language Arts 30 course, Earth Science 30, Crop Production 10, Environmental Science 20, Construction 10, and Sports Psychology 20.
While the Chinook School Division is facing resource and budgetary challenges, Budd feels confident about the Cyber School's ability to cope with changing circumstances.
“I feel confident where we are at now that we are going to be able to adjust to whatever we need to,” she said after her presentation.
“We’ve got a great foundation, we’ve got a lot of great staff involved, we’ve got the kids up to speed in terms of how this whole thing rolls. So we’re sort of through that building period and now we’re in a spot where I think we’re on a pretty solid foundation.”
The rollout of Chromebook laptops in schools has been a significant benefit for the Cyber School, which relies on technology to connect with students.
“If I want to pop into a video chat with five of my students from one school, I can do that, and I know they have the technology to meet me on the other end,” she said. “The kids are always quite excited to do that too.”
The completion rate for courses offered through the Cyber School increased to 99 per cent in 2016-17, which was an improvement on the 96 per cent completion rate in the previous year.
Courses have previously been offered through three online delivery methods, but the synchronous option has been discontinued. This method used video conferencing to deliver courses, but technical issues resulted in inconsistent delivery. The other two methods that are still used are the asynchronous and continuous student intake (CSI) options.
The asynchronous method delivers semesterized courses. The CSI option 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 synchronous model was so hard to maintain that when those courses would run, we’d spent probably the first week of that course contacting every single school and looking for trouble spots,” she said. “We don’t have to do that anymore. The students are certainly finding that this is a much better delivery model, because things are recorded. ... You watch it as many times as you want, rewind it, stop at this spot where you have some trouble or whatever, feel free to pop your teacher up in a hangout and know that he or she is on the other end right now for you to have a conversation.”
Some adjustments were made during the past year to improve communication with students, for example Cyber School teachers will inform students when they will be away from the office and how students can contact them with questions.
“We realized that when they don’t know that, then they feel a real disconnect,” she said. “They’re used to having you responding pretty quickly, and all of a sudden you’re not there. ... So little things like that have gone a long way to improving that communication piece. I think it shows the students we want them to be successful, that we want to be communicating with them.”
The introduction of Chromebooks and Chinook e-mail accounts also helped to improve the communication with students.
“We use Google Hangouts a lot and students really seem to respond to that,” she said. “That’s more of that instant messaging kind of idea. So they’ll just pop us up in a chat. ... That’s becoming a lot easier for students, because we have the technology available to them to do that.”
Future priorities for Chinook Cyber School are course design, online reading comprehension, and a change to formative assessment. Instead of various online assignments that count for marks, the intention will be to use those assignments only as a way to provide feedback to students.
“Students are still handing stuff in, but instead what we’re doing is providing feedback so that those students can grow in their learning,” she explained. “Instead of getting a mark for it, it now becomes feedback for improvement. So when we develop out a course like that, it requires a reconfiguration of the way that the units or the whole course works. Each one of those opportunities for feedback will actually lead towards that final assessment and then the students can feel confident that they have gotten enough feedback to really hit the target and be successful.”
Budd also wants to focus more on creating a clear connection between the online work done by students for their Cyber School courses and other activities within their home school. She referred to the example of high school students at Val Marie School who will be participating in a drama production in the new semester. They will use that experience to cover off the requirements of a portion of their online English Language Arts course.
“So how can the things that are happening in school already help us develop out our courses so that there’s less of a start and stop between the online learning community and the school learning community, but that it all comes together basically and blends together,” she said.

Read 577 times Last modified on Friday, 23 February 2018 23:27
Matthew Liebenberg