Opinion

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by Emma Schuster

The sheer number of courses available for Ontario high school students is amazing, but rural schools often struggle to offer the same wide variety of courses for their students. Whether it’s because of a lack of interest or available teachers, many rural school boards create unique alternatives to the traditional in-person classes with the technology available to them, such as e-learning. One of the newest examples of these alternatives is blended learning.

Blended learning courses occur when multiple schools in a school board lack the number of students to run the class in-person. In order to offer that course, students from across the board will be joined together in one blended learning class. One instructor will teach the class, travelling to a different school every day; but when the teacher isn’t at a certain school, lessons are broadcast over the internet on a secure feed for all of the courses students to see. This way students can watch lessons unfold at another school, while cameras in classes allow the teacher to supervise their students.

Although the strategy is still fairly new, students see the benefit in blended learning already. Many students see it as a useful and effective way to complete courses that wouldn’t be offered otherwise.

Class sizes per school are small, and students often enter the class eager to have the opportunity to take a blended learning course. Blended learning has provided a unique new way for students to learn in a classroom that isn’t completely online, but isn’t completely in-person.

Personally, blended learning has also revived the French Immersion program across my school board, as populations in French courses (especially for rural boards) are often insufficient to run a full class. Instead of not being able to take a French course or being in a split course with multiple grades, French Immersion students can take the courses they want with students in their grade.

Another learning curve to blended learning is its software: in my school board, blended learning uses Microsoft OneNote to submit and distribute work, as well as a Smart TV and sound system to provide the inter-classroom connection. OneNote is a very powerful tool, but with great power comes a lot of growing pains. Even after OneNote informational seminars, some students can’t seem to get the program to function, and without a teacher over their shoulder to help them, they may start to fall behind and struggle to catch up.

As a rural student who has tried both blended learning and online courses, I am of the mindset that blended learning is the future for rural boards offering French Immersion or any other second language courses. Once a teacher is at a school, they stay there all day, so they would have to teach only blended learning classes that semester. While this works well for the multiple courses necessary for French Immersion, this might not work well for courses such as math or chemistry that most schools fill easily. Online courses cannot help French language students with their pronunciation and other oral skills, such as confidence, in the way that blended learning does. Without blended learning, French Immersion or Extended French programs would not be able to run at multiple high schools in our board, as the number of students in these programs is dwindling. Now, instead of having one mass grade 9-12 French class, we have four blended learning classes, as well as French electives that can run.

Blended learning is still in the early stages of development, and while it continues to evolve there will be minor setbacks. To combat this, the school board has asked blended learning students for feedback at multiple points during the semester. Even with temporary setbacks, many students would not be given the opportunity to take many courses—especially French at the Immersion level—without the program. I feel lucky to have been given the opportunity to study French from a young age, and to have my school and school board do as much as they can to keep the program sustainable.

Emma Schuster is a 17 year old Student Trustee from Bluewater District School Board. She is an avid writer and has a passion for the environment.

Orginally published on the website of the Ontario Student Trustee Association (OSTA/AECO). Re-published with the permission of the author

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