Aurora Virtual School

avsAurora Virtual School, although still in its infancy, has seen remarkable growth as Yukon’s only territorial distributed learning school. Prior to Aurora Virtual School’s inception in 2013, students requiring any form of distributed learning courses had to rely on schools from British Columbia to meet their needs. Completion rates for these programs were typically very low and distributed learning was largely invisible to most educators as something they heard kids accessed from time to time. Aurora Virtual School was created to provide Yukon students with an in-territory program for all distributed learning needs.

Those tasked with building programming for Aurora Virtual School looked at the success and shortfalls of distributed learning experiences in the years prior to 2013. It became obvious that low completion rates were largely due to the lack of connection the students felt with the course and the teacher. Drawing on many years of classroom teaching and extensive research, Aurora Virtual School developed a model that recognizes the importance of relationships in learning environments. A synchronous cohort model emerged with regularly scheduled courses delivered in real-time by qualified subject specialist teachers. In this way, we hope to provide a virtual model that replicates many of the characteristics of blended learning, where some instruction is asynchronous online, while a portion is in real time in a classroom setting, and in Aurora Virtual School’s case live online.

Initially, Blackboard Collaborate® was used as the vehicle to deliver real-time lessons and discussions. The aim was to bring students living in any community or remote location together as a cohort in any grade or secondary subject so that there was a sense of social presence as well as teacher presence to support engagement in the subject. This has been very successful. Broadband issues, which are very common outside of the larger communities, have been addressed lately with the change from Blackboard to Zoom® as the vehicle for synchronous sessions. This has resulted in smoother applications and better connectivity for students using satellite or low bandwidth internet connections.

In its third year of program delivery, Aurora Virtual School saw an increase in enrollments of more than double from the previous year. Students reported being very happy with the synchronous nature of the courses and teachers reported excellent engagement. A flexible work schedule for the teaching staff has allowed course delivery to happen outside of the brick-and-mortar high schools’ timetables allowing students greater access to online programs without creating conflicts. Aurora Virtual School now offers all core subjects from Grades 8–12 and more than 50 senior electives. Teachers support students using synchronous technologies as well as an learning management system for course content. The success Aurora Virtual School is experiencing is reflected in the growth of enrollments for full time Aurora Virtual School students and those students who are cross-enrolled from another school. Aurora Virtual School had a completion rate of close to 90% last year. The Aurora Virtual School community looks forward to its continued growth in secondary education as well as anticipating the creation of a K–7 program in the near future.