Students enjoying online courses

FORT FRANCES—A new way of learning, that of online courses called eLearning, was implemented at the three high schools within the Rainy River District School Board back in September.
And with the first semester of school now drawing to an end, it seems students are enjoying the different approach to high school classes.
“I like it,” said Katie McCaig, a Grade 12 student at Fort Frances High School. “You are able to work at your own pace . . . and it has helped me to improve my computer skills.”
“It’s been a good experience,” echoed 11th grader Jamie Petrin. “It’s a good way to prepare for university because online courses in university follow the same kind of format.
“And it helps so that you are not totally dependent on the teacher,” she added.
The online courses, which have been promoted province-wide, seem to be an improvement to the video conference courses that had been offered across the secondary schools within the board for the past four years.
The eLearning courses are taught by local teachers and the students complete the courses during class time while using computers in a supervised room.
This semester there are three courses being offered through eLearning, with a total of 57 students enrolled. They are Grade 11 Introduction to Financial Accounting (out of Rainy River High School), Grade 12 English Writer’s Craft (out of Atikokan High School), and Grade 11 Computer and Information Science (out of Fort Frances High School).
Although McCaig and Petrin are enjoying the online courses, they admit they’ve found it challenging at times.
“The only thing that’s hard is not having the teacher there,” said McCaig, who is taking the English Writer’s Craft. “You really have to read the instructions.”
“It’s sometimes difficult to concentrate,” added Petrin, noting the room where they work often is filled with students not involved in the online courses and it can get noisy.
“It would be better if we had a different working area.”
But even though they work on the computer by themselves, both girls said they don’t find it lonely. There are other people in the room who are taking the same course and they have met students from RRHS and AHS online.
“Learning brings everyone together,” Petrin remarked.
McCaig also said she likes the challenging of learning on her own. “You start to think outside the box,” she stressed.
Fort High teacher Sherree Denby, who has been teaching Computer and Information Science, said she feels the online courses are much better than the previous video conference classes, where it often would be difficult to see or hear what was going on.
“With the online courses, everything is right there. It’s clear and they can work at their own pace,” she explained, noting eLearning courses still are treated like regular classes with the same capacity, workload, and assignments.
“There are suggested milestones to indicate where the students should be at at a certain time, and they have to have things done in time for mid-term reports,” Denby noted.
There also is a demonstration videos available online, as well as a tool to enable conversation among class members and the teacher.
“There is a ‘pager’ feature where students are able to ask me questions,” Denby said, noting it’s similar to an instant messaging program.
Students take the online course throughout any of the four periods so she can be asked questions at any point within the day.
Denby added it took a lot of planning and preparing for the online course in the summer to make sure everything was ready before it got underway. But now she doesn’t have to do the day-to-day preparatory work she would do for regular classes.
“Now it’s just marking and communicating with students,” she explained.
Denby admitted she’s unsure about how students have been feeling about the eLearning, but they plan to have those taking the online courses fill out surveys to gauge their opinions.
FFHS principal Gord McCabe said although they’ve experienced some “growing pains” with the online courses this semester, overall it has been a success.
“It can be the way of the future,” he said, noting it has allowed for flexibility within the timetables and has provided the opportunity for students to receive content that might not be able to otherwise.
“They are able to access more courses and develop a great deal of independence and responsibility,” McCabe remarked. “It does open up a lot of opportunities for students at our school.”
He said there will be a review process to determine which courses will be held online next year, how many to run, and who will teach them.
“I could see offering more courses, but some are obviously better than others to be taught online,” McCabe noted, adding he sees the online courses as becoming more popular in the future as long as they offer the right ones.
“And if the teachers can continue to make it enjoyable for the students, it think it will continue to grow.”
At this point, McCabe said they haven’t looked at taking the online courses outside the board, as they have in some larger boards in other parts of the province, but that could be a possibility down the road.
“The possibilities are endless,” he stressed. “It’s interesting to see how technology continues to grow.”
(Fort Frances Times)