The Upper Canada District School Board encompasses 12,000 square kilometers in southern Ontario. It is bordered by the St. Lawrence River to the south, Quebec to the east, Ottawa-Carleton to the north and the lake district to the west. It is one of the largest school boards in Ontario and services approximately 28,000 students. The Upper Canada District School Board became a member of the Ontario eLearning Consortium in the 2008-09 school year in order to help support and grow its eLearning program. It was felt that sharing students and being able to supplement online course selections with other member boards in Ontario would benefit the needs of our largely rural board.
Since we pride ourselves on our commitment to improve student achievement and providing a quality education that includes the acquisition of 21st Century skills, our eLearning program has grown substantially over the years to fulfill the needs of our diverse clientele. We have tripled our number of day school eLearning sections, introduced a robust Continuing Education online program and have succeeded in expanding our Online Summer Semester to include Reach-Ahead and Cooperative credits. This growth has meant overcoming geographical difficulties due to the size and scope of our board, as well as improving infrastructure to provide the technical support that many of our schools require.
In order to be able to deliver a strong eLearning program to our students and staff, our membership with the Ontario eLearning Consortium has been invaluable. Many of our smaller schools struggle with their ability to offer a wide variety of courses due to staffing and enrolment issues. Membership allows us to increase the number of course options to our students and thus allow them to pursue their individual career pathways. The networking and collaboration opportunities which are offered by membership in the Ontario eLearning Consortium has benefited our staff by increasing professional development in terms of best practices, resources and tools. Organized conferences where staff can attend and/or lead workshops increases knowledge about innovative teaching practices which then improves student learning. The Ontario eLearning Consortium website offers a variety of resources where all stakeholders (teachers, consultants, coordinators, administrators, and administrative assistants) can find support and information that is eagerly shared between member boards.
There have been some administrative obstacles that come with our membership to the Ontario eLearning Consortium. For example, it can be difficult to have one board’s voice heard when there are member boards, and many other voices, at the table while making decisions about policy. By becoming active participants in sub-committees that have been created by the Ontario eLearning Consortium, we have found that we can contribute more directly and thus have more input on issues affecting our eLearning programs. Active participation and attendance at the various working group sessions, conferences, operations meetings, etc., is crucial to maintaining a consortium that works for all its stakeholders.
Lastly, with the provision of a coordinator to oversee and manage support services, the Consortium offers a way for us to monitor and report on our eLearning program. The data, which is collected from the Consortium database, helps to inform our next steps and to make important decisions about the future of eLearning at Upper Canada District School Board so that we can continue to provide our students with the experience and skills they need to be successful today and in the future. Our understanding of effective online programming and practice is enhanced through our participation with the Ontario eLearning Consortium.