As a publicly funded part of Edmonton Public Schools, Argyll Centre’s key mandate is to serve home-based learners in the city of Edmonton. Over its 12 year history, the demand for Argyll services has led to the enrolment of many students from other parts of the province of Alberta. Today, Argyll’s main campus in Edmonton is part of a four campus network including Calgary, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat. Argyll student clientele can generally be categorized as coming from two streams. A significant segment come to Argyll through home schooling, in which parents play a primary role in the education of their children. For this segment Argyll teachers act as facilitators, learning partners, and resource experts to support the home schooling learning environment. Another significant segment come to Argyll for teacher directed learning that is available on the schedule more flexible than is possible in a brick-and-mortar school.
|Online learning through Argyll takes one of two different paths: LearnNet and Live Online. Through LearnNet, Argyll students connect to online lessons based on the Understanding by Design model. LearnNet lessons are available to students 24/7 through the Internet so that students can|
adjust their schooling to fit their own schedules. Students communicate with their teachers through online submission of assignments, e-mail, telephone and synchronous virtual classroom sessions. Through Live Online, students are assigned to teachers in classes similar to how students and teachers are connected in brick-and-mortar schools. Using virtual classroom software, teachers conduct synchronous classes that students attend from their homes. The ability for students to interact and support each other is enhanced by the social constructivist model of the lessons presented through Live Online. Outside of class, Live Online students can continue to collaborate through various asynchronous tools, including Argyll’s unique Social Networking Tool, which is a firewall-protected, parent-and-teacher-accessible, application with similar capabilities to Facebook®.
The role of teachers in the Argyll online environment is in a state of constant development and refinement. In the early days of LearnNet, the teachers’ role centred on the management of assignment flow: encouraging students to complete assignments, assessing those assignments online, and returning feedback and assessment to the students. Increasingly, the work of teachers is shifting toward relationship building, supporting assessment for learning between students, and using a variety of technologies to engage students and to appeal to different learning styles.
The student experience at Argyll is a very individual one, which speaks to one of the strengths of the online learning environment. For some students, the online environment provides them with access to lessons on their own terms and on a schedule that they control with minimum external contact. For students, such as a traveling athlete, this highly independent mode is very supportive. For other students, online learning is a tool that connects the parent-teacher-student triumvirate in a highly interactive partnership. A third group of student, operating from a remote or singular setting, use the online environment to build social connections with teachers and other students in support of their learning. It would be hard, and somewhat unwise, to try to homogenize the Argyll online student experience into a single description. To do so would belie the flexibility and individuality available through online learning.