Virtual School Society

The Virtual School Society was founded in 2006. It is an independent organisation whose main purpose is to enhance the use of distributed learning. The Society’s Board of Directors is drawn from the information technology sector and from educational organisations whose members make extensive use of online services. Funding is provided by the Ministry of Education. The Society is one of several organisations working to improve British Columbia’s online education services such as Open School and the BC Learning Network. Open School is a school district funded organisation that provides online courses, content, and hosting services. The BC Learning Network is an association of BC School districts that works to improve online content and collaboration between participating districts.

At the time of the Society’s creation, significant legislative and regulatory changes were made to improve students’ access to online education. A need for province-wide services

to reduce costs, create better information for prospective students and their families, and aggregate demand for low enrolment courses and services into financially viable offerings was created by these changes. The Society attempts to meet this need by offering new services to students and educators. It operates a central registry of all 2700 secondary courses and elementary programmes in which anyone in BC might enrol. Free access to online tutoring for 17 secondary school courses such as mathematics, sciences and English is available to all BC students. The Society supports a province-wide license for Elluminate®. The license, plus online support and a help desk, save BC’s school districts and independent schools the costs of purchasing and supporting this service. Through a learning object repository, the Society offers free access to over 1300 online learning objects, each connected to at least one of the more than 8,000 intended learning outcomes of the provincial curriculum. Academic and career advising services make service available to those not attending “regular” schools or whose local school may not have comprehensive information about emerging vocational opportunities in the trades. BC requires students to participate in daily physical activity in order to graduate. In support of this requirement, the Society’s offers an online activity log that eases record keeping for students and reduces the reporting burden the provincial requirement places on teachers.

The value of the Society’s services is best illustrated by their use. Almost 60,000 students, or nearly 10% of the province’s student population, took at least one online course or programme last year. This was an increase of over 37% over the preceding year, even though K-12 enrolment declined in the same period. Most students taking online courses also simultaneously attend regular schools; so online courses are helping students overcome timetable problems or gain access to courses not offered locally. In provincially examinable courses, the performance of online students is comparable to that of students in regular classes. Tutoring services were used 110,000 times last year and over 45,000 students took part in Elluminate® classes. The Learning Object repository, opened in May 2009, already holds 1300 objects. Finally, the Daily Activity Log was used by 12,000 students.

There is little doubt that open, province-wide, access to online services is meeting a need for large numbers of students and families. Mixed with regular schools, the Internet is offering students a level of choice and flexibility that is unattainable in all but a few “regular” schools.