Where are the students?

September 19, 2018
By Paul Stinson, Distance Learning Centre, Sun West School Division

This Is My Classroom

Imagine a public school classroom where there is no physical classroom at all.

There is an actual school building, but if you were to wait by the door in the morning to welcome students, you might be waiting days at a time. When a student does show up, they are always accompanied by a parent or all their other family members. This might be the only time they meet the teacher face-to-face.

Throughout the workday conversations with students can be heard, but only from the teacher’s end of the line. I’m wearing a mic and headset. There are numerous back-and-forth conversations with students, reviewing a concept, or giving feedback on an assignment. There are conversations with parents, discussing ideas for adjusting the schedule for their particular child. Conversations between teachers can also be heard, within and across pods, occasionally punctuated by laughter. The soundscape is less like an office and more like a staff room, a staff room where there is always someone at the door with a request or to drop something off.

Where are the students? They are from all over Saskatchewan. Some are in physical classrooms at a “regular” school, but most are in their kitchens or bedrooms at home. A few are on the road or on a beach, while some are coping with difficult circumstances in a temporary home away from home.

What lesson are they working on in any given day? Turns out they aren’t even on the same unit as other classmates. No matter what time of year, some students are completing their year and some are just enrolling, from September through June. Sounding like a nightmare? It’s true, the days of sitting down with the day’s marking after school and going through a class set is over. Assignments are submitted digitally at all hours, and returned digitally with feedback. On the other hand, lessons are pre-recorded videos, so if a student wasn’t paying attention the first time or needs a refresher, they can watch it again.

In the first week of school, several students who didn’t finish the year before are sending in their work. By Christmas, others have completed one year’s work and are beginning the next grade level. On the last day of school, there is no year-end party. Each enrolled student has their own start and end date and rarely run into their peers, although there are some opportunities for field trips and meet ups throughout the school year. These events are held both at the school as well as in destinations throughout the province, and are a highlight for many students.

This is my classroom. I teach middle years’ math and science at an online school. My students have strong individualization for personal scheduling but as a trade-off, they have limited opportunities for peer interaction, at least through their academics. Upon reflection, this classroom is potentially the best and worst experience for a student. Like any classroom.