Today’s junior and senior high school students are increasingly cyber-savvy, hungering for more opportunities to use technology inside the schools, and eager to participate in genuine collaborative learning . http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/commentary/don-tapscott/logged-on-to-learn/article1853529/ Mobile learning technology has been adopted almost en mass by the Net Generation and by today’s so-called “screenagers,” but the vast majority of Canadian public schools remain “locked-down” to the free use of such devices outside of designated rooms or access points.
Why are Canada’s public school systems so resistant to online learning and virtual schooling? Educational futurists may trumpet the “21st Century Skills,” but the regulatory system conspires against any and all initiatives that challenge the status quo, based upon regulations that determine when, how, and where teaching and learning take place. One of the prime obstacles to online learning remains the teachers unions, powerful organizations that exercise hidden influence over everything that happens in the schools. http://www.aims.ca/en/home/library/details.aspx/1862
Recent annual reviews of the state of Online Learning in Canada have demonstrated that the rigid structuring of schooling constitutes the greatest obstacle in Canadian provincial education systems. Two Canadian provinces, British Columbia and Alberta, are now recognizing the enormous potential of “blended learning” combining regular “bricks and mortar” instruction with expanded online learning opportunities. Ontario has the most disjointed system, managed by a rather diffuse E-Learning Consortium. Of all the provinces, Prince Edward Island has no real policy and Nova Scotia stands out as being the most restrictive when it comes to online learning.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union, representing 9,800 teachers, staunchly defends the provincial Collective Agreement, a 191-page contract, which spells out, in exacting detail, the number of days of instruction, school day hours, class sizes, and every aspect of school working conditions. http://www.ednet.ns.ca/pdfdocs/collective -agreements/teachers_provincial_agreement_english.pdf Most of these hard-won rights achieved in the mid-1970s essentially put teachers ahead of kids in the system.
Like most Canadian teacher unions, the NSTU is dead set against “Virtual Schools” and defends classroom “seat-time” rules which limit online learning to a supplemental role in the P-12 public system. When information technology innovations arise, the union instinctively resists the introduction of “lighthouse” Information Technology programs because of concerns over the “digital divide” and the system’s inability to guarantee “equality of service “ for all students. http://www.sshrc-crsh.gc.ca/society-societe/stories-histoires/story-histoire-eng.aspx?story_id=139
Technology may be transforming our everyday life, but Nova Scotia public schools are lagging in fully embracing the potential of the Internet and in integrating online learning into the system. E-learning courses and programs as well as virtual schools are popping-up in Ontario (Virtual High School) and British Columbia, but remain few and far between in Nova Scotia’s school system.
At the elementary and secondary school level (P-12), regular “brick-and-mortar” schools are acquiring computer hardware and software, connecting them to the Internet, installing wireless networks, and offering in-service training in ICT (Information Communication Technologies) to both novice and experienced teachers. http://www.ccl-cca.ca/pdfs/E-learning/E-Learning_Report_FINAL-E.PDF
In spite of provincial law and regulations, distance education student enrolments are holding their own, given the limits imposed by structural impediments, regulatory constraints, and budgetary restraint programs. The infrastructure in a surprising number of public schools now enables Internet access, student portals, digital libraries, and networks that support laptops, handheld and other portable devices.
The province of Nova Scotia has initiated and is developing a highly centralized , province-wide online learning program – the Nova Scotia Virtual School (NSVS). http://nsvs.ednet.ns.ca/m19/ It provides a central course management platform and delegates to the eight school boards the responsibility for providing course content written by practicing classroom teachers.
Since Nova Scotia has tended to lag behind in providing province-wide high speed Internet access, concerns about the urban-rural “digital divide” exert considerable influence on educational policy-making. Although Nova Scotia has no P-12 distance education legislation, it is heavily regulated in the Teachers’ Contract with the NSTU.
The Nova Scotia regulatory regime pays utmost respect to negotiated teacher rights. Some 11 specific clauses in the Agreement limit the provincial government’s freedom of action in providing online learning. All online instructors must be certified teachers, employed by the public board, and are protected by provisions limiting their number of instructional days and working hours and guaranteeing them personal days as well as dedicated preparation and marking time.
Distance education is treated like a regular in-school program with supervisors, dedicated facilities space, and class groups limited to 20-25 students. A provincial Distance Education Committee, with teacher union representation (four of 8 positions) exists to address “issues surrounding distance education.”
Online learning has a world of potential for promoting freer, more open access to the Internet and opening the door to new innovations taking better advantage of “e-Learning 2.0.” Here again, Nova Scotia exemplifies the defensive reflex. Virtually all NS e-learning programs consist mainly of instructional packets, delivered to students as teacher-evaluated assignments. Newer e-learning opportunities for students are few and far between, even in urban schools.
Social learning with Facebook and Twitter also remains extremely rare across Canada, as is the use of social media software such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and virtual worlds. Few traditional classroom teachers use social networking unless they are communicating with their own professional colleagues. http://www.themarknews.com/articles/2368-should-schools-friend-facebook
Virtual schools are on the horizon and offer a glimmer of hope for realizing the enormous potential in meeting the needs of today’s learners. With education authorities and unions acting in collusion with one another, the sky (in cyberspace) has definite limits for kids.
What’s the real source of resistance to Online Learning in Canadian public education? Do education authorities see the contradiction in supporting “21st Century Skills” initiatives while maintaining restrictive regulatory regimes? What will it take to unlock and tap into the full potential of online learning and virtual schools?