eLearning: The Net Generation Classroom
Today’s students are a part of the “net generation.” They are fluent navigators of the online domain who collaborate and communicate virtually. They have different aptitudes, attitudes, skills, expectations and learning styles from those of past generations.
To support the learning style of our net generation, member schools in the Conference of Independent Schools eLearning Consortium (CISELC) have collaborated to create courses that provide opportunities for students to use and enhance 21st century skills.
“It’s important to address the learning needs of our students,” says Christine Shain, Vice Principal of Havergal College and Board Member of the eLearning consortium.
The goal of CISELC is to develop and deliver quality online courses that provide essential learning experiences, including digital fluency skills and professional development opportunities for teachers. Through pooling resources, the consortium can achieve economies of scale and enhance educational opportunities for students and IT literacy for schools.
Although the consortium has been planning the delivery of the eLearning program since 2008, this is the first year CISELC courses have been offered to students. “Our eLearning courses go beyond the traditional style of online courses. This is virtual learning with exceptional teaching, curriculum design and online learning experiences for students,” adds Christine, who notes that the consortium’s partnership with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology has allowed for quality assurance.
Students from any of the 16 CISELC participating schools can enrol in courses offered across the consortium, allowing students to enrol in courses that may not otherwise be offered at their school.
“Online learning means you have to motivate yourself to visit the website, do the readings and participate in the classroom. Sometimes it’s a challenge working with students from other schools, but it’s also fun meeting new people and working in a co-ed environment.”
Science teacher, Lee Hamr, is Havergal’s first faculty member to contribute to the eLearning curriculum with her online Environmental Science course. Her class is comprised of students from Havergal College, Bishop Strachan School, Hillfield Strathallan College and Rosseau Lake College.
Online courses are usually asynchronous, but Lee also offers a few synchronous hours of online learning. Asynchronous learning happens at different times for each student. Content and resources are posted online and students learn and contribute to the class discussion board or to classroom blogs on their own time. “This is how the majority of the learning in an online classroom happens,” Lee explains. “When students work asynchronously, they can collaborate and participate in group work by contributing to the online environment.”
Synchronous learning happens in real time. Lee conducts an evening session every two weeks to enrich the virtual learning experience for students. Students log-in to the online tool Wimba (a virtual classroom) and she teaches a “live” class using PowerPoint slides, posting questions on the discussion board and having live chats. “It’s important for students to feel that they are a part of a class. Having a few synchronous hours each month creates stronger bonds with your students and allows them to connect with each other.”
Along with course credits, the eLearning curriculum also provides students with hands-on experience using the latest online tools and the opportunity to collaborate with peers from other schools.
“Learning how to use online tools is just as important as the course curriculum,” Lee says. “Students will use the skills they learn from our online courses in university and in their future careers. They are learning how to be successful online communicators, and with these skills, they will certainly have a competitive edge.”
To help CISELC students develop their online skills, each school must dedicate at least one staff member as a Site Administrator to guide and train students on how to use the online tools. The Site Administrators are important assets to the eLearning team and act as the first point of contact between students and their teachers outside the online domain. While most CISELC schools have only one Site Administrator, Havergal College has two: Sheri Simon and Jennifer Mandala from the Guidance Office. The advantage of having two Site Administrators means more face-to-face and one-on-one support for Havergal students.
“After meeting with the students, we have a very good understanding of what type of support each student will require and how we can best promote their success in this virtual environment,” Sheri says. “Our door is always open for students.”
For 2009-2010, there are currently 16 CISELC member schools, offering 22 credit courses to 110 students in Grades 11 and 12. With the program’s overwhelming success, additional schools have joined the consortium. For next year, the program has also expanded to 44 credit courses offered to 220 students in Grades 9 to 12. Havergal will again offer Environmental Science and add a new online Mandarin course to the curriculum. Those interested in the CISELC eLearning program can contact Sheri or Jennifer in the Guidance Office.
Originally published in the Torch Spring 2010.