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2017-DL-02
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Analysis of DL Issues Arising from the
State of the Nation 2016 report

By Larry Kuehn for the Task Force on Distributed Learning

A report called "State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada" has been produced since 2008, providing information on e-learning across the country.  It gives some context for the discussions of DL and working conditions in BC.

This is an analysis of patterns and implications for BC schools drawn from the report by Larry Kuehn, BCTF Director of Research and Technology.

Enrolment in E-learning/DL programs

The report indicates that 11% of BC students are in a DL program, with just under 70,000 (headcount) total in 2015­–16.1 Most of those students are taking just one or two courses, mostly in Grades 10 to 12. The full time equivalent students (fte—the way funding is provided) are just over 6,000 in the public system and just under 8,000 in the private school programs.2 [Note: this data is from the Ministry report, slightly different from the report in the State of the Nation]

In 2015-–16, BC had the highest percentage in Canada of students taking at least one DL course.

Enrolment in DL in 2015–16 in BC dropped about 9,000 head count of students compared to 2014–15.3 At least some of this is likely because some students signed up for DL in the independent schools during the teacher strike in the public schools in September of 2014, then returned to face-to-face programs in 2015.

The report notes that enrolment across the country dropped slightly. BC’s drop of 9,000 explains some of the national reduced numbers. In addition, there is a "shift from distance education and online learning to more blended learning." (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.11) While funding data identifies students in DL programs in BC, blended learning that has less than 50% learning at a distance counts for regular funding and isn't tracked for DL, although the DL teacher may be providing most or all the educational program. Funding rules have led districts to arrange how students count to get the most funding—per capita DL funding is less than for students in face-to-face programs.

Regulation of DL programs in BC

BC probably has the most regulation of DL programs. Each school district must sign a contract with the ministry that outlines the obligations for a board in offering the program. In addition, the province carries out audits of DL programs with a complex and extensive set of criteria and those are applied by auditors who come in and look at many details, particularly focused on teacher direction of student learning (not homeschool-parental direction) and on meeting the requirements for funding.

Criteria for the auditors' reports are on the ministry website.

Audit criteria for 2016-17: www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/resource-management/compliance-audits/1617/1617_dl_audit_program.pdf

Reports by the auditors for 2015-16 for public school DL, independent school DL and special education programs at private schools can be found on the website: www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/education-training/administration/resource-management/compliance-program/2015-16

Audit reports for 2016-17 will be posted on the Ministry site when all are completed.

Legislation in BC is found in section 3.1 and section 75 (4.1) of the School Act, 2006, as well as section 8.1 of the Independent School Act, 2006.

School districts and schools may also have policy statements that apply to the DL schools.

Nova Scotia has contract language for online teachers

The provision of distance education through the Nova Scotia Virtual School continues to be governed by the 11 provisions included in the agreement between the Government of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. As a contract between the government and teachers’ union, most of the provisions deal with teacher certification and quality of life issues. For example, there are provisions related to defining the workday, professional development requirements, program oversight, and class size. (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.19)

Provincial organizations create courses and resources in several provinces

Quebec:

The largest distance education program was the Société de formation à distance des commissions scolaires du Québec (SOFAD) that primarily develops and produces correspondence distance learning materials that school boards utilize in their own district-based programs. (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.23)

Ontario:

Each of the 60 English-speaking and 12 French-speaking school boards have the ability to offer some form of online learning using the Ministry-sponsored learning management system combined with the online curricular materials provided or their own. Many of the school boards also participate in one or more consortia designed to allow its school board members to work together to maximize their online offerings by sharing course offerings, resources and students. (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.25)

Since 2006, the Provincial e-Learning Strategy has guided the Ministry to provide school boards with various supports necessary to provide students with online and blended learning opportunities, as well as providing e-learning leadership within the provincially funded school system. Under this policy, the Ministry provides school boards with access to a learning management system and other tools for the delivery of e-learning, asynchronous course content and a variety of multimedia learning objects, and a variety of other technical and human resource supports. School boards, that are responsible for the actual delivery of e-learning, must sign a “Master User Agreement” (e.g., see http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/elearning/
MasterUserAgreement.pdf) to access all of the services that the Ministry provides. (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.25-26)

Equivalent access and success

The Saskatchewan Technology in Education Framework (TEF) "requires that school divisions ensure distance and online learning opportunities are available to students, that intra- and inter-school division learning opportunities are available to students with local support provided, that distance learners have success rates that are equivalent to students in traditional classroom environments, and that assistive technology and technical support is available to students with intensive needs and/or school personnel supporting them." (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.29-30)

Other provinces have less competition for students among districts

A pattern in many provinces is to have students primarily be in online programs in the school district where they are registered.

Alberta seems to have a mixed system:

It is believed that approximately 20 school divisions in the province offer an assortment of online learning, catering mostly to students in their own geographic jurisdiction. Some of these district-based programs manage students in other regions of the province, but at present there is only one single province-wide program (i.e., the Alberta Distance Learning Centre [ADLC]) that offers courses to over 44,000 students in the province. (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.31)

Ontario districts have primary responsibility for offering online learning for their own students:

"School boards, that are responsible for the actual delivery of e-learning, must sign a “Master User Agreement” (e.g., see www.edu.gov.on.ca/elearning/MasterUserAgreement.pdf) to access all of the services that the Ministry provides." (Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.26) Students take courses in a district other than their own primarily if their own district does not offer a course that the student is looking for.

The DL system in BC is a voucher or “choice” program. The funding follows the student who can take courses in any public or independent school DL program. This has set up competition for students to gain funding, particularly in the context of austerity in the public school system over the past 15 years.

Despite the financial incentives to encourage students from other districts to sign up for a district's DL program, several BC districts primarily seek students from their own district. This allows for face-to-face work with students, with more blended education. Some district DL schools that recruit from around the province have support programs in geographical areas other than in the district where the DL school exists.

Work Cited

Analysis and Reporting Unit. (2017). BC Schools - Student Enrolment and FTE by Grade. Victoria: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/bc-schools-student-enrolment-and-fte-by-grade.

Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2016). State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada - 2016 Edition. Winnipeg: Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. Retrieved from k12sotn.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/StateNation16.pdf.


[1] Barbour, M. K., & LaBonte, R. (2016). State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada - 2016 Edition. Winnipeg: Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. p.10.

[2] Analysis and Reporting Unit. (2017). BC Schools - Student Enrolment and FTE by Grade. Victoria: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from catalogue.data.gov.bc.ca/dataset/bc-schools-student-enrolment-and-fte-by-grade.

[3] Barbour & LaBonte, 2016, p.10.

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