The Sun West School Division initially (2007) offered synchronous programming to its students in schools where high school teachers in certain subject specializations were not available. These online audio/visual broadcasts were delivered over the internet and were usually in program areas such as Math and/or Science. Available internet bandwidth created some barriers as did school timetable schedules. Participating schools had to match scheduled times which placed significant restrictions on the flexibility of individual school timetable scheduling.
As software programming continued to evolve, more asynchronous online courses were developed and delivered over the internet. Asynchronous (any time any place) programming was much more flexible in terms of “when” and “where” students could access this type of instruction. Initially synchronous broadcasts had a higher success rate than did asynchronous programming which was typically about 50%. However, once educational assistants (EA’s) were trained and placed in each Sun West school to supervise students taking online courses, asynchronous completion rates improved to 80% to 95%.
Back in 2007 Sun West had 3 teachers dedicated to the development and delivery of online synchronous programs. As of the Grand Opening of Sun West’s new stand-alone Distance Learning Centre (DLC) on February 26, 2016, there were over 50 teachers developing and delivering asynchronous programs to students within the division as well as to students throughout the province of Saskatchewan. All core programs have been developed in grades Kindergarten through Grade 12. Over 70 elective courses are also available to students at the middle and high school levels.
By 2013 more and more students in Sun West were wanting access to online programming. The Board of Education implemented a 1 million dollar fund, the Sun West Initiative for School Improvement (SWISI), in order to promote innovative projects focused on improving student learning within a 21st Century learning context. Numerous initiatives were proposed and funded. Most of the projects focused on some aspect of the 7 C’s from the Board’s Policy 18 on 21st Century Learning. Major projects focusing on “Blended Learning” took centre stage. Sun West’s version of Blended Learning had students in brick and mortar schools learning through some ‘face to face’ instruction from teachers as well as aspects of online learning as supported by the division’s DLC. This Blended Learning provided students with much more control over the time, place and pace of their own learning.
Many Sun West teachers soon came to realize that this new Blended Learning classroom environment was providing them with much more time to work individually with struggling students. Research initiatives began to look at “Personalized Learning” which was really ramping up more traditional forms of “Differentiated Instruction”. Personalized Learning was now made possible through technology supports available to teachers and students through the division’s DLC and through technology tools within their own classrooms.
As Sun West teachers morph into “Activators of Learning”, more and more demand is being placed on the supports found within the DLC. The division is now investigating creative ways to provide more collaboration time for teachers to work in “Professional Learning Teams” (PLT’s). Through such PLT’s, digitized themes are being created that will also be housed within the DLC. The convergence of Online Education, Blended Learning and Personalized Learning is creating a vibrant 21st Century synergy within the Sun West School Division! This new synergy is being hailed as Sun West’s “Personalized electronically Blended Learning” (PeBL).