At-Home Learning – an initial reflection

Four weeks ago I embarked on a new journey in a new school board and in a new model of online learning. In a board with a large geographical area, much of which cannot reliably access the Internet, the model is very different from that which I experienced earlier this year. While many of the students are engaging in a synchronous model of learning, others are participating in asynchronous learning, and a few must be provided with packages on paper, due to their remote locations.

While the arrival of Starlink in our area is likely to be a game-changer, access to the Internet remains a huge impediment for our families. And so decisions were made at the beginning of the school year to provide the best education to ALL of our students

Our At-Home Learning teachers are, for the most part, teaching from their local schools. They participate in the school supervision schedule, and have the benefit of social interaction with their colleagues. Their students either participate synchronously through MS Teams and access their class materials through Edsby or our D2L/Brightspace LMS, or they use only Edsby, the LMS, and email to connect with their teachers. The few who require paper resources function much as “correspondence courses” would have in the past, with packages created weekly, and which are delivered via the student’s home school.

Synchronous Learning

It is fascinating to visit the classrooms of these teachers. Due to bandwidth, many of the students remain “cameras off”, but that hasn’t limited their participation.  You can hear the excitement in their voices, and in their contributions to the chat. The use of many tools such as Dreambox and

Asynchronous Learning

For many families, having the flexibility of anytime/anywhere learning is working for their children. The daily content is provided via Edsby or the LMS, and families can work at their own pace to access multimedia resources. Some “asynchronous” students will join into daily Teams meetings, then head off to work independently for the balance of the day. Others depend upon daily emails to connect.

“Paper Packages”

The third option has been problematic for some of our teachers, as they have to translate rich multimedia resources into single-dimensional paper versions.  However, for some families this solution is working well. The distractions that accompany use of an iPad or computer are removed, and parents are comfortable assisting their children to work with paper worksheets. We continue to look for ways to bring some of our richer resources “offline”, and provide them to families in a downloaded version on a device, so that they can make use of audio and visual content.

Octomesters

Rather than attending school for two semesters in a year, all of our Secondary students, both remote and in-person, are attending eight octomesters. They have one class for about 22 days, then move to their next course.  This has allowed us to be very flexible, and move students into our programs, or back to their home schools, where necessary. However, planning a program for fewer than 400 students, with a limited team of teachers, is becoming more and more challenging as the year progresses. We have offered most of the compulsory courses, except for French (due to a lack of qualified teachers). And so now we are looking to provide engaging courses that will support a diverse group of learners. As with our observations in the quadmester model in the fall of this school year, student achievement seems to present as an inverse bell curve. A group of students are doing very well in the model, and a group of students are finding it very difficult.  The group in the middle is very small, but are likely meeting similar success to that achieved in face-to-face settings.

Moving Forward

Over the next while there will be decisions to be made regarding the 2021-2022 school year. It’s likely that a version of At-Home Learning will need to continue, and there will continue to be students for whom this model is preferred. What that will look like is still to be determined.  I look forward to our conversations, and to the creation of a new system.

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