Shifting The Landscape: Evolving Models
BC has a long history of distance learning. The Ministry of Education distance education model was decentralized in the late 1980s and then redefined in 2006 to further decentralize and modernize all services offered that comprised distance learning. Any educational jurisdiction in BC could now offer distributed learning within a local or provincial scale. Abbotsford Virtual School is one of the nearly 70 Distributed Learning programs that resulted from changed Ministry of Education legislation. In its early years, Abbotsford Virtual School offered unique, new innovative online course offerings from IT to Game Design and was an instrumental force in leading the province in re-designing how online courses are developed in BC.
Provincially, growth of online learning expanded quickly, but in recent years that growth has reached a plateau. Competition between distributed learning schools, changes in provincial funding and policy and the recognition of limits of early models have created an impetus for all schools to rethink their service models.
Our response at Abbotsford Virtual School has been to re-examine who we are, who are clients are and how we serve them in the future. Our school serves a regional function, with more than 95% of students residing within one-hour drive from the school. While many of our students take online courses on a part time basis, we believe there is much more that we could do for our full-time students. Students and parents told us they love their teachers and the school as a building and that they enjoy the flexibility. After staff completed some visits to some other schools sites, the path forward became clear… we needed to adopt a more blended learning program.
In a collaborative co-development process including parents, students and staff, Abbotsford Virtual School adopted a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-theme providing value-added on-site activities for our full-time enrolled students. We have moved from a single 2-hour class to two 2.5-hour classes that are inquiry-based, technology enhanced and socially engaging. In 2016-17, we added a Grade 9/10 on-site class and will continue to move our model to a School of Choice for flexible learning. Students are engaged with 3-D printing, iPads, LittleBitsTM circuitry and coding, robotics and soon Virtual Reality. We also include Art and Physical Education activities. With the inclusion of sewing machines, woodwork tools, microscopes and more our focus is on fostering student exploration through hands-on methods with augmented online curricular instruction.
Even while our students generally work at home, our school has become a learning hub and community connector for both students and parents.