The Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS) is a common provincial online learning platform created as a joint project between provincial school boards and the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development in Nova Scotia. In the online classes offered by the NSVS, students from high schools across the province, many of whom are enrolled in small schools where the courses may not be offered. Other students enroll in NSVS courses because they face medical situations that do not allow them to partake in a regular “brick and mortar” classroom. Regardless of where the students regularly attend school, in NSVS they meet together to demonstrate curriculum outcomes synchronously through videoconferencing (i.e., with webcams and microphones) and asynchronously (i.e., using Moodle, GoogleDocs, e-mails, and messaging).
In addition to being a course developer for NSVS, Steven Van Zoost teaches three courses: Advanced English 11, Advanced English 12, and Law 12. In both of his English courses, students are expected to demonstrate speaking and listening skills. For example, students are expected to use extended vocabulary in discussions. Throughout the course, students have multiple opportunities to practice and demonstrate such specific skills on camera with other students enrolled in the course. Steven uses VIA (an online conferencing platform) to have full-class discussions and activities, but also uses the “breakout room” feature of VIA to allow for simultaneous small group discussions.
The students prepare for these webcam “eChats.” Sometimes, this preparation is a writing sample that they will share. Other times, it is reflection about a text that all of the students have read, or a discussion about a writing strategy that is explored through diverse texts. In reflecting on these eChats, Claire (an Advanced English 12 student) indicated that, “I feel like I had some really great discussion in this unit where I had the chance to dig into topics and shape my own thinking thanks to the input of others. It is so interesting when you come across opposing points of view, and having to defend your own, or change your thinking. Once you get talking about something, and the people discussing are passionate about the topic, there is so much potential in the situation. I always come out of the eChats feeling excited and refreshed. Especially since I do most of my work on my own, this unit solidified my thought that collaboration is an amazing tool to expand knowledge.”
After the eChats, the students watch the video recording of themselves to identify and document evidence of them demonstrating the expected speaking and listening skills. Joseph, another Advanced English 12 student, stated that, “I found my eChats in this unit to be particularly helpful and interesting (hence why some of them were almost an hour and a half in length). Other students brought very interesting ideas about symbolism in books, and what a character’s development truly means, not just what it seems. Not only did I use the eChats as a method to share my ideas, further solidify theories, and hear the complex opinions of others, but I also thoroughly enjoyed speaking with students who also take a more advanced approach to viewing literature.” After three eChats, the students use Moodle to submit this evidence and offer explanations and reflections about their skill development.