Aurora Virtual School (AVS) is Yukon’s only distributed learning school offering online access to courses from grade 8 to 12m, and the newest public school program in the Territory. At AVS, our programs meet all territorially mandated learning outcomes and are directed by highly trained, Yukon-certified, teachers. At AVS, we provide what has commonly been known as “distributed learning.” A more apt and current descriptor would be eLearning. This means a student could be working at home, in another school, a public library or abroad. A student completing their studies online through eLearning, will be eligible to receive their graduation diploma. As with any other Yukon public school, there is no cost for eLearning programming for Yukon residents.
One of our main goals at AVS is to combine independent online learning with face-to-face classroom instruction via interactive technologies like online video conferencing and virtual classrooms. This hybrid “blended learning” model allows students to forge relationships with their teachers and the broader community while still offering the flexibility of traditional distributed learning.
An AVS education is not restricted to supporting only students learning at home. It is our desire to provide tailored instructional packages to traditional schools to assist students that may need an alternate delivery method for particular programs. Whether this entails support for schools with the development of courses not offered in-house, supporting other blended classes, and even providing high school students with a specific course though eLearning while they are attending a local school, AVS will strive to meet the individual learning needs of Yukon students. We see the role of AVS increasing as the move to more personalized learning systems grows. It is not our mandate to replace traditional schools, but rather support the learning of their students where possible. It is our belief that the delivery of education is changing away from the factory model with its rigid designs of timetables and bell schedules, large one-size-fits-all classes, and clearly defined grade levels to one where students are empowered to help construct their own “best practice” for learning, supported by trained teachers and cutting-edge resources. AVS is striving to be at the forefront of that change.
This is the fourth year of delivering programs so things are still quite “new” to everyone here. AVS offers all programming through our virtual cohort model where students meet with each other and the teacher in virtual classrooms on regularly scheduled days and times. The model was meant to be, and is, a hybrid type of blended learning environment where students meet face-to-face (i.e., virtually) and still have 24/7 access to content through Moodle®. Each year, we ask our students either through surveys or inquiry questions how they feel they are progressing and what they see as the value and detractors of our program model.
We recently asked ‘four key questions’ of our students to help us understand their perspective on how they feel our program is working (Kaser & Halbert, 2017). These are sample quotes from students active in our school either as newcomers or old hands.
- Can you name two adults in this school who believe you will be a success? How do they show that?
“@ and #. They listen and allow me to do my own thing for some assignments.”
“% and &. They respect me and what I am working at and do not prejudge me.”
- Where are you going with your learning? What are you learning? Why is this important?
“ I’m learning the same things as kids in the regular schools.”
“ I can graduate the same as everybody else but don’t have stress from being in school.”
“ Instruction is adequate and I am able to work on what I want to work on when I want to do it. Class times are beneficial for clearing up things that are difficult to explain in emails.”
“This is way better than previous DL school work I have done. We get more class time and more teacher feedback and instruction.”
- How are you doing? What would you like to tell others about how you’re doing with your
learning and how you know that?
“Much better than when I was in regular school. I attend class and I never used to. My grades aren’t failing.”
“I am able to just do school here. No assemblies and things to distract me or stupid rules. Class times are very good for my time. They keep me focused and tell me what to focus on.”
“I would not be able to do this school work if you did not have online classes. I would not be able to do correspondence. The classes plus extra times (tutorials) are very important.”
“The ROWE system stands for Results Only Work Environment. It involves the employer (or even school) letting people do their work when they want, how they want, and where they want, as long as they get it done. I think this really would motivate me. In fact, our school promised us an environment similar to this the year we started using Moodle®, and didn’t follow up on it. I and a lot of my classmates were excited at the prospect of choosing where to work and what to work on, and we were swiftly disappointed when we were presented the same strict schedules we had been faced with for years. In a way, this psychology course is similar to this system, as I can do my work anywhere I want, and at any time, with the only mandatory time being weekly meetings, and this course is the one I most enjoy, as well as the one that gives me the least stress.”
- Where to next? Think of a particular area of learning, what do you need to do to get
better at this?
“I need to do better in some subjects but worry that I am stupid in Math and won’t be able to. I think my teachers will help me because they are patient.”
“ I need to improve on motivating myself to work on stuff on my own. I need to be more mature.”
The feedback from students affirms that AVS and its model is meeting its mission to provide the opportunities and supports to help independent learners achieve their educational goals through online, eLearning services that are teacher-directed and use diverse technologies and community partnerships.
Kaser, L., & Halbert, J. (2017). The spiral playbook. Niagara Falls, ON: C21 Canada