The classroom may be virtual, but the learning is real

Guest post by Julia Fleming, SCDSB eLearning teacher

elearningToday, Ontario colleges and universities offer over 10,000 courses online.  Employers are turning to online education for their training programs as well.  Online learning has arrived, and it is here to stay!

The SCDSB has embraced online learning and the integration of technology into the classroom.  Students are now blogging, using iPads, and tweeting all as part of their school work.  Teaching our students to be good digital citizens is a common thread through many courses, and blended learning – the incorporation of eLearning into the traditional learning environment – is becoming a regular part of the classroom.  Further, students can now take high school credits exclusively online in a virtual classroom that is fully created and supported by a certified teacher.

SCDSB’s eLearning program is growing as many students, parents and teachers are seeing online learning as a valid, rich learning experience.  Taught by SCDSB certified teachers, students now have access to yet another flexible, alternative learning option for achieving their Ontario Secondary School Diploma.  With one or more online courses in their timetable, students have the flexibility to study from anywhere whether it be at home, on the road, overseas, or of course, at school.

Many students are benefiting from eLearning including students who are elite athletes with intense training schedules, students with medical or mental health obstacles, and students who just want a change from the regular classroom.  Students also now have access to additional courses that might not be running in their school.  Supported by a teacher in a synchronous yet flexible learning environment, students are building relationships with each other, working collaboratively and building their digital citizenship skills all while actively learning.

Using Google Apps for Education (GAFE), various web apps and the features of Desire 2 Learn (our learning management system), students from different high schools are able to work together to create mind maps, timelines, digital portfolios, YouTube videos  and other products that showcase their learning.  eLearning students within the same high school are independently forming study groups and working together, even across disciplines.  eLearning classmates have connected with each other on Twitter and are having conversations about the effects of globalization on culture or comparing their photos of the lunar eclipse.  Students across the province have grouped into geographic regions and are teaching each other about the physical geography in their local communities.  In math, they are submitting audio recordings of themselves explaining what is happening on a graph and they are chatting with each other about how a YouTube video of kids sliding down a slip ‘n’ slide and flying off a jump would translate as a quadratic equation. The learning experience is incredible!

Students in our schools today will likely face an online course or training program in their lifetime, will have their digital citizenship put to the test, and will have to create digital products or express themselves using technology.

It will be 2029 when today’s Kindergartens graduate from high school, so we need to ask ourselves, how are we supporting good digital citizenship and an understanding of technology in order to prepare students for a digital world that we do not yet even know?

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