Tipping Point

I’m fairly new to working within the public school system, and it’s been really interesting seeing how the dynamics of school compares to how I remember it when I was a student. One thing that is different now is a new iteration of an old idea: distance learning through online courses.

Lots has been written about online learning. I’ve personally completed a masters degree in educational technology all through online courses.  For me it was a positive experience. For secondary school students in Vancouver, and BC in general, the pros and cons are much different from what mine where though. There are different motivations, different maturity levels, and I believe a strong difference in foundational pedagogy between the two systems.

For today’s post however, I want to make a thought experiment and prediction on the future of online learning in BC’s public school system. You see, I think we are on the tipping point of a massive shift away from face 2 face (f2f) classrooms and towards online courses. The driving force behind this shift are grades used for university admissions.

Currently at the school I work at we have seen the following:

  • students signing up for online courses because they know it is less work
  • students signing up for online courses because they know they will get a higher grade
  • students dropping a f2f course after a month or two because their grades aren’t as high as they want
  • students stop working in a f2f course because they will take it again online for a higher grade
  • students taking science courses online because there are less labs (eg chemistry labs are done via videos)
  • students dropping English with 70% averages and getting over 80% online

Not only have I seen many of the above things happen this year, I’ve also had open class discussions where students echo the exact same concerns. They acknowledge the (perceived) justifications in the reasons for going online.

To me, where this is leading is predictable. Just as university admissions have clearly driven the quest for high marks and extra credit courses (IB and AP), surely the drive towards online will follow suit. As the grade average required to enter a desired university increases, students will naturally seek out whatever advantages they can. I would not be surprised if the grade 11 and 12 population at a school like Prince of Wales decreases by up to 50% within 5 years or less. Students can be very pragmatic and if online offers a 5% increase in grades, they’ll be sure to go that route.

The more I think about this, the more sure of it I am. It’s sadly quite logical. Online gets higher grades, universities want higher grades, therefore university bound students will go online.

I think all parties in BC need to reflect on this: students, parents, administrators, school boards and even the MoE. Do we want a large portion of our university bound students to primarily learn through online courses? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this model? Are f2f and online educations equal? These are big questions, and I’ll probably comment on them in future edblog posts. For now I would like to hear from readers about their experiences. Have you noticed a shift to online, and what was the driving force? Where or what do you think this might lead to?