McDowell Researchers Share How Flexible Learning Can Support Student Success

November 15, 2018
North Battleford, SK

On November 21, teachers from John Paul II Collegiate are sharing results of their award-winning research exploring how technology and a shift in teaching approaches can help students to graduate.

“Learning doesn’t start and end when the bell rings,” said Ramona Stillar, teacher and lead researcher of the Time, Pace, Place: Using Flexible Design and Delivery to Support Learners project. She is facilitating a Salon Series, entitled Dreaming Bigger: Personalizing Pace, Place & Time, to share their work. The event will take place at the school from 7 to 9 p.m. 

“The ability to provide flexibility around the pace of learning allows teachers to customize the learning experience for our students,” said Stillar. “More importantly, it gives students greater control over when, where and how learning occurs.”

She and her 12-member team received a grant from the McDowell Foundation to test how introducing flexible learning opportunities can impact teacher workloads and student success. As part of their project, the team created interactive, online courses. This allowed students to work independently and at their own pace, while still being able to access face-to-face support and instruction from teachers as needed. Teachers kept a daily log to track student progress, which included student learning plans and goals, challenges and areas for improvement.

“Teachers need time to learn, plan and make changes, but this work requires more than time and technology,” said principal Carlo Hansen. “To successfully implement pace, place and time learning, teachers also need administrative support, strong leadership, a collaborative environment and support from their colleagues.”

Both Hansen and Stillar agree that flexible learning provides many benefits, especially for students who need to work or care for children or other family members during the day; newcomers; students living with physical, emotional or mental health challenges; high-performance athletes; and transient students or others struggling to acquire the credits needed to graduate.

For some students, like Canadian newcomer Ashaun Pusey, flexible learning can mean the difference between graduating or not graduating. Pusey’s family arrived from Jamaica on October 1, 2016. He had to start school mid-semester, which can be particularly challenging for any student. He credits his graduation success to the support he received.   

“The school and teachers provided such flexibility and diversity around learning that it helped me keep up,” said Pusey. “The teachers had a great mindset; I really appreciated their approach.” To hear more about his experience, check out Tracie’s Story, The Teacher Project (Season 1), which is accessible on the Saskatchewan Teacher’s Federation YouTube channel.

Ellen Whiteman, manager of the McDowell Foundation, said Salon Series conversations like these provide a great opportunity for teachers to engage with their communities.

“We host Salon Series events in Saskatchewan communities twice annually,” said Whiteman. “Public education is the heart of many communities. It impacts the entire province. We want the public to know about the important work teachers are doing, and to invite the community to help us create strategies to sustain and spread these classroom innovations.”

To date, the McDowell Foundation has provided approximately $2 million in funding for more than 283 teacher-led research projects for the benefit of Saskatchewan students. For more on the Salon Series, how to access research funding or ways you can support teacher-led research in the province, please visit the McDowell Foundation website.