By Eric Therrien
Instructional designer – Virtual Professional Development Management
and Lucie Michaud
Instructional designer – Multimedia Resources Development
Virtual school at the Conseil scolaire acadien provincial
The Conseil scolaire acadien provincial (CSAP) is comprised of 22 French-language schools in Nova Scotia and has been providing virtual learning opportunities to students since 2012. The Virtual School makes it possible to provide more course choices to CSAP students in grades 11 and 12. Students at the Virtual School set their own academic path and progress independently through the course content. Teachers periodically collect evidence of learning through triangulation to ensure that course objectives are accomplished. This article examines the thinking behind the teaching and learning practices leveraged at the CSAP Virtual School.
How Does the Virtual School Work in CSAP?
The CSAP is the only Francophone school board in Nova Scotia, extending from Wedgeport to Sydney, Cape Breton. The school board was initially created in 1996. However, it was only in 2000, after a legal battle between the province and a group of Francophone parents, that fully Francophone schools could be created throughout the province.
Today, it boasts 6500 students from pre-kindergarten to grade 12, 1300 parents and guardians, 100 partners and 1200 staff members.
The CSAP Virtual School was developed out of a desire to offer students in Grades 11 and 12 access to a more diversified course catalog. Each school provides a space reserved for online classes, and students attend within the period allocated in their schedule. Students enrolled in the program alternate between in-person courses and online courses. Their schedules are constructed accordingly. Approximately 33% of CSAP Grade 11 and 12 students take Virtual School courses, which is about 300 students per year. The success rate is 95%.
Students always have access to their activities through a learning management system. During online class periods, they work directly with their teacher, who is present via a videoconferencing system. The teacher acts as a facilitator and ensures that the students understand the tasks to be performed and the material to be learned.
Students receive individualized instruction and progress at their own pace, seeking teacher support when needed. On average, teachers have groups of 30 students and can teach up to four different courses in the same time block.
The Virtual School team includes seven teachers, two instructional designers and a technopedagogy coordinator. Lessons are prepared for teachers and delivered via a learning management system. They can therefore be adapted according to the students’ needs. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) approach guides course creation to maximize flexibility and to ensure equity.
Collaboration and Evolution
The Virtual School was established for a specific purpose: “to meet the needs of students.” Their contribution is essential in the course creation and teaching processes. Students can suggest modifications and provide feedback, and the courses are adapted accordingly. This model is successful with both the students and the teaching staff. The latter is abundantly versatile and always open to change, improvement and innovation.
With this in mind, CSAP Virtual School evaluation practices have been created and are constantly adjusted to mirror the varied and changing needs of students. As in many other educational settings, evaluation is a frequent topic of discussion.
The team’s objective is to design evaluation practices that apply the CSAP’s evaluation policy and that draw from pertinent research results methods, trials, action research projects, etc. (particularly those of Susan Brookhart and John Hattie). These discussions enrich the shared vision constructed by the team and have served to improve their evaluation practices over time. All these evaluation-based discussions have led to the establishment of a winning approach: the triangulation of evidence of learning. Teachers collect evidence to make a professional judgment in relation to student learning and to evaluate the achievement of course objectives.
The Importance of Triangulation
Triangulating evidence of learning is one of the most important pillars of the CSAP Virtual School model. Throughout the learning process, the teacher collects evidence that will provide them with a valid and fair representation of each student’s learning. This evidence of learning should include observations of the learning process, products demonstrating student learning, and conversations confirming the depth of student understanding. Each course is constructed in such a way as to allow the creation and collection of this evidence.
For example, a teacher first assigns an activity based on each module’s specific learning outcomes (SLOs). Then, a project is assigned to encompass all SLOs within the module. This project can be presented differently depending on the student’s interest, such as in the form of a song, a storyboard, an oral presentation, etc. Lastly, an individual interview is conducted with the student. During this time, the teacher asks questions to determine the student’s level and depth of knowledge. It is important to note that the various informal discussions the teacher has with their students also become evidence of learning.
At the end of the course, the teacher collects the evidence for each SLO, analyzes it and makes a professional judgment on the student’s level of performance. This process is followed for each learning outcome.
Triangulation of evidence of learning based on speciﬁc learning results.
The Role of Feedback
Effective and timely feedback is another pillar of the CSAP Virtual School. This is used throughout the learning process in different ways. For example, while students are working on their learning activities in a collaborative document (e.g.: a Google Doc), the teacher simultaneously provides feedback using written comments, voice recordings, or simply engaging in an immediate, synchronous discussion with the student.
In addition, for every piece of evidence collected, the student receives an evaluation rubric which provides them with written or verbal (audio recording) feedback. The student also receives a leveled rating: 1 (limited level of mastery) to 4 (high level of mastery). Triangulation occurs once all evidence has been collected and at this stage, the student receives a final rubric with a rating for each specific learning outcome. Their final rating is entered into the school management platform (PowerSchool), which averages the ratings and transforms it into a percentage.
Effective feedback is guided by the following three questions:
- Where am I going?: What are the goals?
- How’s it going?: What progress have I made towards these goals?
- What are my future goals: What actions should I take to improve my self
Teachers try to follow these questions as much as possible, to make sure the student understands where they are and how they can improve.
The purpose of feedback is not to show the student what they don’t understand, but to show them where they are with respect to the expected learning outcome and to provide possible avenues to explore and improve. The CSAP Virtual School’s philosophy is that each student can succeed with personalized support.
Suggestions for Triangulating Evidence of Learning
Establishing a successful process for triangulating evidence of learning did not occur overnight. It’s the result of years of collaborative teamwork, which continues today.
Here are a few tips:
- Avoid copy-and-paste course notes. Let the students formulate their understanding by giving them the essentials and by guiding them to quality information sources. This will enable them to solidify their knowledge.
- Offer rubrics that include the learning outcome written in a vocabulary understandable to the student.
- Prepare for discussions and meetings with students. For example, take notes when answering questions and providing feedback, and have these notes on hand when meeting with students.
- Discuss with students if you think they understand, but the evidence you have collected does not show it. Sometimes students may express their knowledge better orally compared to in writing.
- Keep in mind that the purpose of education is to facilitate student learning and continued improvement.
This year, the CSAP Virtual School is celebrating its 10th anniversary, and evaluation still plays an important role in staff meetings. Currently, the team is focusing on improving the evaluation rubrics and the structure of certain products of learning. They discuss, reflect, approve, and rebuild. Then, the cycle begins again.
Key Factors in the Teaching Method
- The principles of the Universal Design for Learning are applied to the creation of all content
- Various teaching approaches are utilized (inquiry-based learning, gamification, etc.)
- Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Pedagogy is used to present course content
- Flexibility allows students to guide their own learning
- Evaluation by the accumulation of evidence of learning
- Student participation in course improvement
- 100% digital content
Successes of CSAP’s Virtual School
- Retention rates (students and teaching staff)
- Students are empowered in their learning
- guided learning
- Success rates
- Students have good knowledge
- School operations were not affected by the pandemic
- Resources designed by the Francophone Virtual School are also shared with other teachers in CSAP
To learn more, visit the CSAP Virtual School website: evcsap.ednet.ns.ca