Moodle, a computerized learning system that combines online and classroom learning, is achieving positive results at Valemount Secondary School.
According to a study done by Thompson Rivers University graduate student Erin Khelouiati, students completed 18 out of 18 Moodle courses started at VSS during the 2010/2011 school year. This compares with only three out of 10 conventional online distance education (ODE) courses being completed by June of the same school year.
The study could help save rural schools from the chopping block in the face of declining enrollment in parts of B.C.
“Studies show that when a rural school dies, so does the town,” said Khelouiati, who worked in the school district and studied the Valemount plan. “When there’s a viable solution for the students and for expanding course offerings, everybody benefits.”
Instead of seeing budgets and students go to remotely run distance education programs, Valemount Secondary School developed hybrid “local-online” courses. Moodle allowed students at the school to take a wider range of courses while working with peers and local teachers at the school.
Like School District 57 as a whole, the secondary school in Valemount has been experiencing a steady decline in its student enrollment. In 2006-2007 there were 135 students at the school. In 2009-2010 there were only 89. Since schools are funded, and also opened and closed based on student numbers, administration and the school district has had to make difficult decisions when considering the future of Valemount Secondary.
The localized on-line learning model has been successful on many levels – the completion rate of the courses, the retention of the per course funding, the diversification of electives and the engagement of students. Success can also be assessed in terms of the continued survival of the school and the community itself.
“The program had a 100 per cent success rate. Ability to track students in house makes a big difference,” said Dan Kenkel, Valemount Secondary School principal.
The first part of Khelouiati ‘s study talks about the myriad of ways in which the program is successful and then describes briefly how the initial wariness on the part of some stakeholders still lingers at the school.
Since 2002, School District 57, in which Valemount Secondary is located, has closed 22 schools. Many of these were rural schools located in communities such as Dunster, Mackenzie, Bear Lake and Willow River. These rural schools were located in single resource towns in which larger economic changes such as global recessions, have a profound trickledown effect on the demographics of the communities. In total 197 schools have been closed in B.C. since 2002.
According to Wikipedia, Moodle is a free source e-learning software platform. Martin Dougiamas, an Australian who grew up in a remote settlement and who received his initial education via shortwave radio, developed it.