The third session that I’m blogging about at the EDGE 2010: e-Learning – The Horizon And Beyond… conference being held at Memorial University of Newfoundland is entitled Where do we go from here? A Canadian perspective on aboriginal e‐learning by Dennis Sharpe, David Philpot, Monique Bourgeois and Melanie Green (MUN). The session was described as:
The paper examines and compares the Labrador findings with those within the much broader Canadian context and concludes with a discussion of interventions that have the potential to improve e‐learning success for aboriginal students.
The presentation was focused on the Participation of high school students in the isolated aboriginal communities of coastal Labrador in web-delivered learning – The current context: Perspectives, successes and challenges report, which is also available as an article in the Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology. The project was a part of the Participation of High School Students in the Isolated Aboriginal Communities of Coastal Labrador in Web-delivered Learning (Aboriginal Study) of the Killick Centre.
The study was completed it two phases, focusing on five aboriginal communities in coastal Labrador. It used interview (n=29) and focus group (n=6) data (72% of students and 100% of teachers participated), along with quantitative data from the Department, school district, and individual school. Acknowledged that the statistical data was skewed to the higher end students.
Generally, these aboriginal students performed as well in their online courses as their face-to-face courses, and as well as their provincial counterparts. This is not to say that all students were successful, and common problems often focused on attendance, time-on-task, etc.. While e-learning was seen as an essentially part of the educational experience in coastal Labrador, all seemed to recognize many of the logistical problems associated with the delivery of distance education in this part of the province (e.g., connectivity, weather, on-site technical support, etc.).
It was interesting that the students, parents, and teachers were all generally surprised at the level of success that students were having in their online courses. David made an interesting comment, where he indicated that when examining the drop-out rate in Newfoundland it generally occurs at grade nine, and he expressed a concern that if students feel they may not be successful in the online environment what effect may that have on the drop-out rate (which is a nice lead into the presentation I will be delivering tomorrow).
The online teachers were almost always cited in the study as one of the critical factors to student success. Interestingly, there wasn’t a strong preference for synchronous instruction. David indicated that this may be due to the high level of downtime that students experienced because of the logistical problems associated with online learning, that asynchronous instruction allowed students to not “miss” class – so to speak.
Phase two of their research examined what kinds of interventions were occurring across Canada to address some of the issues facing the provision of online learning in Labrador. David began with a brief discussion of the Conference Board of Canada report. The data for this phase came from interviews with 25 key informants identified through an exhaustive literature review.
Some initial general observations that Dennis made:
- there are wide regional differences in the organization and delivery across Canada
- e-learning is viewed as a viable option given the geography and isolation of many communities
- many of the challenges identified in our Labrador study phase emerged in the national data set, with some more pronounced in specific locations
- there is no clear cut e-learning approach that could be considered a panacea… solutions needs to fit the local context
- while most e-learning providers favour asynchronous communication, synchronous delivery is very successful in some regions
- regardless of approach, it is clearly evident that a system of student supports and motivation (especially on site) is needed
- local communities different in levels of support and commitment for e-learning and education in general
- communities and the local population are an integral part of successful e-learning and need to be involved directly in decisions and management
- need for leadership and commitment to e-learning at different levels (provincial, school district, individual school sites)
- continued development of technical infrastructure and on-site support required along with committed funding
- literacy skills and a readiness for e-learning often cited as a challenge for many students (and educators)
- for some students, e-learning fills gaps in local on-site courses, but its the whole high school experience for others [I missed some of this bullet]
- leadership and clear cut responsibility is needed at each loevel in the system (federal, provincial, school, community, etc.)
- preparing teachers and support personnel for e-learning in aboriginal communities is a key issue
- funding sources and policies often arise since the clientele is not always restricted to regular school age students, but can include adults returning to complete high school
- financial issues were frequnetly mentioned in terms of responsibility at local sites
- anticipated future developed were wide-ranging and reflected differing regional needs, examples included:
- creating on-line schools
- expanding current course offerings
- more support positions in school
- modularizing courses
- updating technology and connectivity
- on-line learning for early grade levels
There were four additional slides that kind of mapped these general observations to the four challenges identified in phase one (i.e., organizational factors, communication factors, contextual factors, and motivational factors). The results of the phase two study should be available on the Killick Centre‘s website in December.
That is it for blogging from the EDGE 2010: e-Learning – The Horizon And Beyond… conference today, as the Student’s perceptions of effective e‐learning session by Doug Furey was canceled.