More students use distance education option in Chinook School Division

Written by  Matthew Liebenberg
More students use distance education option in Chinook School Division

The Chinook School Division is providing students with more learning opportunities through distance education classes that are presented through the Chinook Cyber School.

The Chinook Cyber School offered 56 courses in 2013-14 and there has been an increase of 116 seats from the previous year.

“The overall enrolment in the division is not necessarily going up, but we’re seeing that increase in the Cyber School,” Chinook Cyber School Principal Shelby Budd told the Prairie Post. “So that would probably indicate that more kids are looking to some different electives or needing a different learning environment.”

Students will take multiple classes through the Cyber School and on average between 700 and 800 seats are taken up during a school year.

“That equates to around 350 and 400 individual students,” she said.

The increase in the number of seats means enrolment has reached a new high and the school is also offering more courses than before.

“That would have been last year’s information that was higher than the year previous,” Budd explained. “What we’re seeing this year is a little bit higher again.”

The Cyber School collaborates with other schools in Chinook School Division to determine what classes to deliver and to also identify the need for new classes.

“We send out an interest survey to all of our schools,” she said. “It usually goes out mid-February. The students fill that survey in as to which courses they want to take next year and then we completely base our timetable on that.”

Food 30 is offered as a new course in the second semester and the Cyber School is also offering Drafting 10 for the first time. The development of a Health and Physical Science course is taking place, which will be introduced in the fall.

The Cyber School is providing students access to courses they otherwise will not be able to follow, for example cosmetology, cow/calf production, visual arts and wildlife management.

“When we first started the Cyber School the goal was to offer all the course classes that would help a student graduate, so we focused on English, math and science, and social sciences,” said Budd. “As we evolved over time, the interest in those elective courses has really taken off, which is awesome because kids need to have a well-rounded education.”

She noted cosmetology has been popular from the start and it is offered right up to the 30 level. Students who sign up for this course will receive a kit that includes a mannequin head, curling irons, blow-dryer and everything else required to complete the course.

“Sometimes our (cosmetology) teacher will go out and do a skills test with them if that is what the student is needing,” she said.

“Otherwise students will video themselves doing their skills or take pictures along the way and that’s how they submit their assignment.”

Students who take visual arts through the distance education program will also receive kits with paint, sketch boards, clay and other items to complete their assignments.

A course such as cow/calf production is very appropriate for southwest Saskatchewan, where ranching is a common agricultural practice.

“Cow/calf production is such a great fit for our students,” Budd said. “So many of them are involved in the family farm or ranch.

Why wouldn’t they take a course that lends itself to something that they’re so heavily involved in anyway?”

A course such as wildlife management is an opportunity for students to receive instruction on a topic that they otherwise will not be able to do.

“It really is win-win for the schools and for us,” she said. “We get to offer these great courses and those kids have this opportunity where that would never have happened before. You just can’t offer wildlife management in a small-town school. You just don’t have the staff for that.”

Enrolment numbers at the Chinook Cyber School places it among the top three cyber schools in the province.

“I think it’s our demographic,” Budd said. “We have so many small-town schools and that’s really what our goal is at the Cyber School to support those small-town schools. … It allows a school to dedicate their staff where their staff’s strengths are and let us take care of the rest.”

Chinook Cyber School currently has four full-time and 14 part-time staff members. Teachers at eight different schools in the

Chinook School Division are also providing tuition through the distance education program.

“We have our classes capped at 25 students to ensure that there’s still enough contact time, because of the nature of teaching at a distance it takes all that much longer to ensure that you’re in communication with all your students,” she said.
The majority of courses are offered through the asynchronous method. These semesterized courses are delivered online. It provides students with the freedom to log on at any time to work on course material.

The synchronous option involves video delivery of semesterized courses through video conferencing units. These classes are scheduled to take place at a specific time each day.

“We only offer nine classes that are synchronous,” Budd said. “We stick to the senior math and sciences where there are a lot of heavy calculations and that sort of thing. … This semester we’ve seen a pretty sharp increase in the number of kids taking advantage of those courses.”

A third option is the continuous student intake (CSI) method, which 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.

According to Budd, the Chinook Cyber School will continue to adjust the delivery of courses as technology evolves.

“That’s one of the things about teaching online, you never know for sure,” she said. “For example, we just moved all of our courses onto a hosted server. What that has meant for us is that our students now for the first time have their courses available to them on their mobile devices.”

She is not expecting significant changes to what is offered through the Cyber School in the near future.

“As a staff, we’re just honing our skills. Our first few years were really to get content up and available to kids and now we’re spending a lot of our time making this the best learning environment possible.”

Staff will therefore continue to work on methods of communication and on the best practises for online learning.

“In the end the learning is still the same and the teaching is still the same, even in spite of the technology,” Budd said. “There still has to be good teaching happening, there still has to be learning happening.”

via SW Sask News – Prairie Post – Prairie Post

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