Remote Networked Schools

The Centre francophone d’informatisation des organisations (CEFRIO) is a network centre that assembles over 150 university, industrial, and government members. Its mission is to help organizations use information technologies with a view to enhancing efficiency, productivity, and innovation. CEFRIO conducts research and strategic intelligence projects focusing on the integration of the information technologies. These projects cover all sectors of the Québec economy. One of the CEFRIO’s on-going projects is the Remote Networked Schools (RNS), an initiative of the Québec Ministry of Education, Leisure and Sports (MELS) to investigate solutions to the problem of small class sizes in elementary and secondary schools. Small class size reduces interactions between students, Thus, the issue of vitality and pedagogical feasibility of these schools proves even more critical.

Implemented at the time that optical fibre (connectivity) was being deployed on the Québec territory, RNS postulated that networking could enrich these schools’ educational environment. An innovative approach, combining online videoconferencing in classrooms with a writing tool (electronic forum), has been experimented with since 2002 in approximately ten schools. This was not distance learning, but a totally new approach, in which students and teachers from remote school classrooms interacted and collaborated. Currently, 23 school boards (nearly one hundred schools) are committed to RNS in Québec, among which the great majority are at the elementary level.

qc From the first year, it was the teachers who “invented” networking practices, with the help of classroom videoconferencing and the knowledge forum and supported by CEFRIO researchers. To date, the experimentation of networking in rural area classrooms has proved relevant, not only for student learning and their motivation, but also for providing major benefits toward professional development for isolated teachers, who view RNS as a means to break their isolation and develop their ICT competency, as well as all

professional competencies determined by the MELS.

The rural school’s vitality and quality greatly contribute to the occupation and development of Quebec’s territory. With the technologies and networking that are now available, it is possible to imagine a different mode of functioning for these schools and thus a way to counter demographic effects. The RNS experience constitutes an attractive potential solution to meet the challenge of offering quality educational services in rural communities.

Within this context, RNS’s pedagogical model is a privileged means to ensure the consolidation of small schools in Québec, whose specific character relies on the use of networked learning practices and technologies in classrooms—modes of functioning that are customized or even standardized. In fact, CEFRIO’s vision, also shared by several school board administrators, is that by adopting the RNS model, the rural school can be completely in line with the 21st century competencies that are sought-after in education. By further implanting the model in these schools, we are striving to make them attractive and modern, in spite of their small size.