Monday, March 23, 2009

The DL DeLemma

In February Ken Allen wrote a great post, Champion Elearning Myths, that's been rattling around in my brain for the past month.  He raised a number of points that are relevant to me as I teach at a distributed learning (DL) school in British Columbia (in other jurisdictions it is often referred to as distance learning). 

Student - Studying by m00by CC attribution, no derivative works.

There have been a lot of changes to distributed learning in the past 5 years which have resulted in more students, especially in grades 10 and up, enrolling in DL schools.  There are a myriad of reasons that students have for choosing a DL school.  Lately at my school we are seeing more and more students enrolling who have learning challenges and/or do not have the organizational skills to successfully work through the courses we offer.  With many of these students they have agreed to come in and work at the school for 2 or more days of the week to receive support from their teachers and certified educational assistant (teachers assistant).  This is helping the students to be more successful, but I don't think it is enough; they still need more support. 

This leads me to wonder, when does a DL school stop being a DL school?  I mean, if we really want these kids to be successful, maybe we should say that they need to come into the school 4 days a week?  It seems that the system needs another option.  The students that I am concerned about are not being successful at the regular schools, but they also don't 'fit' at the alternative programs.  They are in between and so are choosing the DL option.  The problem is that most successful DL students need to be organized, motivated, and have strong support at home.  That is not the case for most of these kids.  Heck, a DL program is challenging for the 'ideal' student. 

I guess I need to step back and ask, are these kids being more successful with us than they were in their regular school?  If so, is that enough?  I don't know; I still think they deserve more. 

What do you think?  How can we help these kids who fall through the cracks? 
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  1. [...] I have to admit I have found this vision of individualised learning facilitated by web 2.0 tools and user networks very compelling.  The piece that is still missing for me is the motivation and study skills needed for a student to be successful in an online environment.  This was really brought home to me recently when I read these blog posts by Ken Allen and Claire Thompson. [...]

  2. Hi Claire,

    I was intrigued to discover a growing number of students in the DL program also experience challenges with their learning. Having taken Distance Education classes, I can attest to how challenging it is; one needs to be self-disciplined and well-organized in order to stay on top of assignments and projects. Perhaps technology can be part of the solution; for example using tools such as Skype combined with tools that allow you to demonstrate ideas in writing (particularly in subjects like math) can help.

    I would be interested to see any research being done in k-12 DL programs with regards to this issue.

  3. Hi Bernadette,
    "I would be interested to see any research being done in k-12 DL programs with regards to this issue." I think that's where I need to direct my search now. There seems to be a lot out there wrt post secondary DL programs, but I haven't come across as much in the K-12 category.

    There are quite a few large k-12 DL programs in BC; Surrey Connect and Nechako's EBus being two of the biggest. One of my school's challenges is that we are fairly small, I think our FTE for gr 8 -12 is 60 students. On the positive side of things we are a geographically small district so most of our kids are able to come into the school on a regular basis. Being small does make it hard though to give all the specialized attention that we'd like; I'm working 0.5 and cover all of the math and science for grades 8 and up while my colleague works 0.6 and covers all of the humanities courses for 8 and up.

    Regarding technology, I do utilize Elluminate Live to connect with the kids once a week and we have a weekly on site face-to-face session. I also use Elluminate Live on an ad hoc basis; if a student phones me with a math question we usually go to the Elluminate room and work out the question on the whiteboard. I try to keep good e-mail contact with the students and we post course "deadlines" in Google calendar so the students and their parents can see ideally where they should be in each of their courses. This is helping many students overcome the challenges that you outlined above.

    Thanks for your comments and for pushing my thinking!

  4. Kia ora Claire!

    At TCS we have and amazing mix of young learners from an amazing mix of backgrounds. There are some learners who thrive in the distance environment and would definitely be worse off if they'd stayed where they were (where they were before they enrolled at TCS that is).

    We have learners that really don't want to learn - they are a problem! Aren't they always?

    We have learners who have no choice but to be enrolled with TCS, because of isolation, of health reasons or some other reason that excludes them from a F2F school.

    Almost without exception our young learners do best where there is good parental support. I'm not saying that there aren't some learners who would learn despite everything, for they exist too - they are young saints :-) .

    Though I'd not be popular to say this in the company of some educators, the most important factor for the learner is their home support - and that applies to F2F schools too. Next comes the learner, then follows the school and teacher. Some learners will learn despite home background and despite the school but they are very rare and tend to be extremely driven from within - I have only met a few in all my teaching career.

    Thanks for the link and mention of my post about the e-learning myths ;-) .


  5. Hi Ken,
    From your comments I can see that we deal with many of the same issues. I truly wish that the education system had more to offer more kids so that fewer of them slipped through the cracks. Mind you, as you mentioned, the schools can't do it alone.

  6. Hi Claire, Happy Easter!

    Here is the answer to a comment you made on my blog about my PLE 11 months ago:

  7. Hi Sarah,
    Thanks for linking to my blog. It is interesting to check back a year later and see how things have changed and to reflect on the reasons why.


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