Thursday, February 28, 2008

E-Learning Solutions for Rural Schools

My first session today was called E-Learning Solutions for Rural Schools. It was put on by Robert and Thad from the North East School division.

ELearning Definition: Learning assisted by technology. Notice that it is not teaching computers but teaching assisted by computers.

Two buzz terms that they used (and I will also unfortunately use) are Synchronous Delivery and Asynchronous Delivery.
Synchronous Delivery:
This is where students are all online and watching the teacher teach at the same time.
Asynchronous Delivery: Modules are presented and the student works at their own pace (much like a correspondence course).

The NESD school division has been working with distance learning solutions for rural schools now for about 5 years. The powers that be realized that it was not economically feasible to have a class with 4 or 5 students. It also doesn’t really work to have a teacher teaching two or three classes at the same time. (Ask me – I tried to teach Math C30, B30, and A30 all in one classroom. We did not have success.) The teacher load is just too much, both in prep and in class demands. The NESD School Division decided to create Synchronous Clusters. Six small rural schools coordinated their timetables and they pooled their students to make delivery viable. Using Adobe Connect, Moodle, and Blackboard they are able to have a teacher in one school teach a class to students in all six of the schools. Their programs vary from asynchronous (pure online) delivery to a more synchronous method (stand and deliver). In many cases (synchronous delivery) a teacher teaches using a webcam, an interactive whiteboard, and an internet connection. In the teacher’s home school it is more like a traditional classroom. The difference is in the other schools. The students work in a computer lab where they can see, hear, and respond (using a built in chat program or a webcam) to what the teacher is saying. Students who had timetable conflicts (or were absent/sick) were able to simply view recordings of the lesson. Other classes were offered in a more go at your own pace type of model (asynchronous delivery).

They found that the best delivery method depended upon what course was being taught. Asynchronous delivery was better when flexibility was needed where as the synchronous delivery method was better for sciences and maths.

My thoughts:

ELearning looks like a much better option than a multi class classroom. It is a much more effective use of a teacher’s time. They don’t have to prep for as many classes. I personally find it hard to get excited about a class where there are only a couple of students. Once you get over the initial technical hurdles I think that it would be much like teaching a regular classroom. In this context the internet doesn’t really change the assignment. It is a communication tool. A class set up along the asynchronous model really is just like a correspondence course (with a faster teacher response time).

No comments: