"Virtual school is not for everyone, but let's face it, school is not for everyone either," says Marie-Claude Harnois, executive director of Étude Secours, an online educational service that allows high school students to complete certain core courses. She participated in the presentation of various virtual school projects at the most recent Digital Education Summit.
A block of conferences of the 2022 edition of the Digital education summit was reserved for the presentation of virtual school projects. Three distinct initiatives were shared.
In Nova Scotia
The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP), which includes Nova Scotia's 22 French-language schools, has offered a virtual school since 2012. The virtual school offers more course choices for students in grades 11 and 12. All courses in the virtual school are available to students in all schools.
In the schools, a room is reserved for students taking virtual school courses. Registered students can alternate between "regular" courses and online courses. Their timetable is constructed accordingly. For example, 33 % of CSAP students in grades 11 and 12 are taking online courses.
The virtual school team is composed of seven teachers, two designers and one coordinator. Lucie Michaud and Éric Therrien, both designers of digital resources for the school, presented the functioning of the school.
"The courses are prepared in advance for the teachers and are available in the Moodle platform. The courses are conducted synchronously, but the teachers have a facilitating role. Students are expected to progress through the course independently and refer to the teacher when needed. The teachers also conduct individual interviews with students to ensure that they are progressing," they explained.
The key elements
- Universal Design for Learning (UDL) from the start for all content (video, text, infographics, etc.)
- Varied pedagogical approaches (investigation, playfulness...)
- Language and culture sensitive pedagogy (Did you know..., image)
- Flexibility (guides, checkpoints: you should be there)
- No exam (accumulation of learning traces)
- Students participate in course improvement (survey students on course feedback)
- Contents 100 % digital
- Retention rate (students and teachers)
- Empowerment of students in their learning - guided learning
- The success rate
- A good knowledge of the students
- The pandemic did not affect school operations
- All CSAP schools are familiar with the hybrid model.
In British Columbia
On the other side of Canada, Florence Pionetti teaches languages (French and Spanish) completely asynchronously to high school students at Abbotsford Virtual School (AVS). Her students include athletic students who cannot attend regular classes, and others who wish to progress more quickly or who have anxiety in the classroom. The school also serves youth from the Northwest Territories and the Yukon who do not have access to French and Spanish classes in their communities.
It relies on communication, diversity of resources and choice of activities to engage them in their learning. Like the CSAP virtual school, it has adopted the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) for lesson preparation.
Winning practices for :
- Engagement through communication
- The teacher introduces herself via video.
- Students must also introduce themselves via video.
- Meeting opportunities are offered (in person or online, one-on-one or in groups), in addition to mid-semester interviews.
- The teacher must make her presence felt on an ongoing basis.
- Commitment through education
- The language program is based on oral and written, linguistic and cultural skills.
- The variety and choice of activities (content and format).
- Students can have their voices heard (opinion and creativity).
- Collaborative activities are organized.
- Inclusive and universal course design
- Differentiation and adaptation are important.
- Internet access is variable and must be taken into account (provide resources that can be printed).
- Audiovisual aspects bring value (but consider the previous point).
- Individualized and personalized monitoring of each student's progress.
- Support from the learner's "community".
Étude Secours is an online educational service that allows high school students to complete certain basic courses (such as French, English, math, science, history). The organization has been officially recognized by the Quebec Ministry of Education as Virtual school for secondary 4 and 5 studentsThis allows the school to deliver the final assessments for the core subjects itself, rather than through partner school service centres. This allows the school to deliver the final assessments for the compulsory subjects itself rather than going through partner school service centers.
It is possible to start learning at any time of the year. Courses are offered in synchronous or asynchronous format. Schools can contact the organization to register students and students can also register themselves. A link is maintained with the pool school at all times.
During the presentation at the Digital Education Summit, Marie-Claude Harnois presented an overview ofESRA, the new platform developed by Étude Secours. It offers students, teachers and parents a unique place to follow the training and the progress of the learners. Content is available for both asynchronous and synchronous courses. Discussion forums, chat and messaging functions, and a personalized student portfolio are also available.
The ESRA platform is currently being tested by some 1,000 young Quebecers. It will eventually be deployed to all virtual school students. A research team from the University of Sherbrooke is following the young people as they go through the process in order to draw conclusions.
Through the three examples, some constants emerge. When it comes to the virtual school, teachers become more like guides and coaches. They must be in discovery mode and listen to their students, in addition to being flexible and creative. Availability is also an important factor.
On the student side, motivation can sometimes be difficult to maintain. "The teacher has to feed the student online to keep them active and motivated. Normally, a student who is well supported succeeds," concluded Ms. Harnois.