|Tommy Chisholm is starting his twenty-third year of teaching, the vast majority of which has been spent inside a classroom. However, for the past thirteen years, he has also been developing and teaching online courses for the Strait Regional School Board through their virtual school|
The Strait Regional School Board delivers their courses through the Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS), which is offered by the Nova Scotia Department of Education.
At present, Tommy teaches courses in law, accounting, and entrepreneurship, which are currently delivered through Moodle. He finds the platform quite dynamic, allowing him to integrate a variety of learning strategies to accommodate learner needs. Tommy is also in the process of developing a couple of history courses. Many of the skills he uses to create these courses, he gained by completing an online diploma program in Educational Technology in 2005, through the University College of Cape Breton.
Tommy believes that online teaching has extended his classroom beyond his wildest expectations. Back in 1998, he felt some trepidation when asked to develop and deliver programmes virtually. As a self-described high-energy, student-centered teacher, he felt a little nervous about teaching online. However, after three years and three different online teaching platforms, he has found that this energy can be extended virtually, and his joy of teaching is still very much alive. Students from as far abroad as Argentina and the United States, along with students in Quebec, have enroled in Tommy’s courses. During one semester, he was teaching students from 20 different high schools.
According to Tommy, “The learner of today is very comfortable with technology and the online structure.” Students adjust quickly, and it has been Tommy’s experience that they will ask more questions than in a traditional classroom setting. He speculates that perhaps the online setting allows the otherwise shy student to become more engaged with the teacher. It could also be the “anytime” nature of online learning, as it is not unusual to have discussions about lessons at night or on the weekend.
The students also seem to enjoy the flexibility of the online classroom. Tommy has regular group chats in his courses, where students are given the opportunity to discuss issues with their peers, who may be hundreds of kilometers away. The entrepreneurship and accounting are two courses that many schools in smaller districts cannot offer. The virtual school has really leveled the playing field for many of the students who otherwise would not be able to take these courses.