Online Learning Changes in British Columbia
Paul Hembling, Principal – Kamloops Open Online Learning School
Beginning with a 2018 review of the distributed learning funding, the British Columbia (BC) Ministry of Education and Child Care has worked with educators to implement a new provincial model for online learning. This process culminated with the passage of Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2020 or Bill 8 on March 4, 2020. Bill 8 changed distributed learning and the School Act and the Independent School Act in three key ways:
- changed the term “distributed learning” to “online learning”;
- enabled School Districts and Independent School Authorities to offer online learning courses and programs to their local (or ‘in-district’) students without an agreement with the Minister; and
- required online learning schools to have an agreement with the Minister of Education and Child Care to enrol students from outside their district boundary (i.e., out-of-district enrolment) or to enrol students simultaneously enrolled with another board or independent school authority (i.e., cross enrolment). (Government of British Columbia, 2020)
The full enactment of Bill 8 was scheduled for July 1, 2021, and began with an interim year during the 2021-22 school year with seven interim online learning policies in place and all online learning schools being granted interim online learning agreements.
Presently there are 68 Distributed Learning Schools in BC: 52 public (in 46 of 60 districts) and 16 independent schools. All currently have the ability to enrol students from both within and outside of their own district boundaries. However, it is a minority of schools that serve significant numbers from outside their own school district boundaries. Currently, districts are free to choose their own Learning Management System (LMS) for their online school(s) and they are expected to comply with 2010 published K-12 Standards for Online Learning.
Significant changes are happening to online learning in BC. Over the last two years, the BC Ministry of Education and Child Care has sought significant input from stakeholder groups to inform changes to policy and process through engagement with various committees and workstreams including representatives from First Nations groups and provincial educator groups. The timeline for implementation of the changes has shifted as well, resulting from the feedback provided.
In the fall of 2021, all public and independent online learning schools with interim agreements with the Minister of Education and Child Care were invited to submit an Expression of Interest (EOI) to become a Provincial Online Learning School (POLS); 22 EOIs were submitted by public school districts and 16 from independent schools (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022a). The submissions were reviewed by a panel with 18 public and 16 independent schools being invited to onboard to the new Provincial Learning Management System (LMS): D2L’s Brightspace. A formal announcement of successful POLS is anticipated from the Ministry of Education and Child Care in January 2023 after Ministerial Agreements have been signed.
Effective July 1, 2023 POLS will be able to enrol students from both within and outside of their home district, while District Online Learning Schools (DOLS) will only be able to enrol students from within their own district boundaries. The provincial LMS must be used for students enrolled from outside of a school district at a cost of $10 per student licence. Districts will continue to have a choice of LMS for their own in-district students. DOLS continue to have choice in terms of their LMS, although the Ministry has offered them the opportunity to onboard to Brightspace as well under the same per-student licensing structure.
While there are obvious upsides to the changes underway, school administrators are navigating several challenges with the implementation of D2L’s Brightspace. At the top of this list are the interoperability requirements for the LMS to communicate with each school’s student intake management (SIM) and registration systems, as well as with the provincial student information system (SIS). Part of this challenge will be tracking the $10 per student provincial LMS annual fee for Brightspace, which will be billed to the school to enrol a given student.
Districts not already using Brightspace will need to decide whether they will continue to support two LMSes: one for out-of-district students who are required to use the provincial LMS, and another for in-district students. Districts currently using a license-free LMS (such as Moodle – a popular LMS in BC) will need to weigh the costs of per-student enrolment in Brightspace with the IT support costs of supporting multiple systems. Course conversions from each district’s current LMS to Brightspace are also ongoing, although there is significant support being provided by Western Canada Learning Network, the consortium that provides courses to member online schools in Western Canada. Finally, teacher training for the new LMS, including the time required and the associated cost, must be managed in the coming months by each district not already using Brightspace as the July 1st launch date approaches.
Accountability and Quality Assurance Framework
Originally named Quality Assurance by the Ministry of Education and Child Care, the Accountability and Quality Assurance (AQA) process has been updated over the 2021-2022 school year. The Ministry of Education and Child Care conducted a review of past and current practices in developing their model/process including Accreditation, Quality Reviews and Compliance Audits. An academic panel was struck in October 2020, concluding a review of quality online learning in both literature and practice based on both K-12 and post-secondary experiences. A report was submitted to the Ministry in March 2021.
A draft framework co-created with Indigenous partners and rooted in continuous improvement reflects emergent themes in online learning that incorporates what was heard from the sector. Educator workshops were conducted in the Fall of 2021 and input from constituent partners and educator organizations was solicited. In July 2022, a draft AQA Framework was reviewed and approved by a Ministry Sector Advisory Committee that included four guiding principles for student success:
- Equitable access can be realized when teaching and learning foster inclusive and effective practices that are future oriented.
- Student centred pedagogies and comprehensive student supports are essential to enhance student success in all areas: academic, social, emotional, and spiritual.
- Healthy and safe learning environments nurture thriving online communities and enhance student engagement.
- Student achievement aligns with specific, measurable, and observable outcomes.
The Ministry of Education and Child Care made a presentation on the draft AQA Framework in October 2022 at the BC educators for Distributed Learning Symposium in Vancouver. At this presentation, four quality indicators were presented, each with a set of requirements and accountability metrics that will be used to determine the degree to which online learning programs are meeting those requirements. The process is being designed to be “efficient yet robust; comprehensive yet manageable; purposeful yet sustainable” (British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care, 2022b). A rich discussion followed the presentation, and feedback was invited by the Ministry as work continues on the AQA process.
A “resource sharing” process currently under development will be part of the AQA process, although only an overview of what this sharing will look like has been provided at this time. The Ministry has indicated that POLS will be required to share resources according to an established cycle for inclusion in a Learning Object Repository available to other POLS. There has been discussion with Ministry about what will constitute a resource (e.g., lesson, unit, module, or course) and the frequency of sharing that would be required, as well as the resource vetting process which is yet to be determined. It is understood that some exemptions will include sacred content including Indigenous language and culture courses, as well as third-party content.
At the close of 2022, we anticipate the official announcement of designated POLS in January 2023. In addition, we expect the release of the draft Online Learning Procedures Guide from the Ministry that will include important details regarding student enrolment, support for students with disabilities and diverse abilities, the definition for “active participation” as required for per-student funding, enrolment of homeschool students in online learning programs, enrolment of students from federally-funded First Nations in online schools, and spending by online schools on third party service providers among other operational requirements.
Following the official announcement of POLS, the new Ministerial Agreements for POLS take effect on July 1, 2023, in addition to full implementation of the new Accountability and Quality Assurance process. The rollout of POLS is expected to significantly improve access to quality education programs for students across BC, supported by consistent functionality of the new provincial LMS. The AQA process is designed to hold POLS accountable to the established quality standards of online learning. In addition, a resource sharing repository is under development to improve the availability of online resources through a consortia model and to promote collaboration among DL schools and educators.
This information is, to the best of my knowledge, accurate and publicly available. The opinions expressed here are my own, based on my own experience, and do not necessarily represent those of my school district nor the BC Ministry of Education and Child Care. I share information in the spirit of collaboration and learning from one another’s experiences for the mutual benefit of our schools, our districts, and most importantly for our learners.
British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care. (2022a). K-12 online learning: Ministry update. A presentation to the British Columbia Educators for Distributed Learning Symposium, Vancouver, BC. https://static.sched.com/hosted_files/dlsympoct22/e2/DL%20Symposium%20-October%2020%20Ministry%20Update%20Presentation.pdf
British Columbia Ministry of Education and Child Care. (2022b). Draft accountability and quality assurance (AQA) framework & process. A presentation to the British Columbia Educators for Distributed Learning Symposium, Vancouver, BC. https://static.sched.com/hosted_files/dlsympoct22/d4/DL%20Symposium%20-October%2020%20AQA%20Presentation.pdf
Government of British Columbia. (2020). Education Statutes Amendment Act, 2020. https://www.bclaws.gov.bc.ca/civix/document/id/bills/billsprevious/5th41st:gov08-1