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POSITION PAPER: Offering science courses in rural schools using distance learning tools By: Jessa Clark ________________________________________________________________

Purpose of the position paper [40 words] This position paper is presented to the British Columbia Ministry of Education. It argues in favour of the need to offer more senior science courses in rural and remote middle and high schools via the use of online distance learning and virtual learning labs.

Problem to be addressed [242 words] Rural schools are a way of life in Canada where the population in many areas is geographically separated. According to Nielsen (2007) It is often stated that [school] size is the limiting factor (p.175) and that small rural schools cant be expected to offer a wide range of program option. In Nielsens (2007) study of science courses in rural schools we learn that access to senior science courses in British Columbias small rural schools is not always assured.(p.174). Many students interested in senior courses such as biology, chemistry, physics and geology encounter barriers when trying to enroll in these courses at rural schools. She proceeds to discuss how economics, school culture, staffing, relationships and qualified specialist teachers are the main obstructions for offering science courses in rural areas.

An additional study by de la Varre, Keane and Irvin (2010) also identified that many rural schools struggle to fund and attract highly qualified teachers and offer advanced courses. (p.195). Similarly, Li, Moorman and Dyjur (2010) discussed the same challenges facing rural students .With high staff turnover rates (Nielsen, 2010, p.179) and staffing inexperience recognized by many principals as the largest obstacle to offering rural science it is unsurprising that students in small rural schools participate in senior sciences and mathematics on average, at lower rates (Nielsen, 2010, p.178) and achieve lower course marks ( Nielsen, 2010). Nielsens study also found that about half of the senior science courses offered in the subject schools were being taught by non-science teachers.

How this problem can be addressed [434 Words] Though rural schools often struggle to fund and keep qualified teachers (Nielsen, 2007; la Varre et al., 2010; Li et al., 2010) this problem could be addressed by the use of virtual courses. As identified by la Varre et al. (2010) a distance learning model that allows individualized instruction through the use of an in-school facilitator and an online specialist instructor would be ideal in a rural setting. This model allows for any available and committed staff member with a bachelors degree: to take on the role of in-school facilitator (p.199) while a specialist teacher is available for specific content questions.

If a completely online course will not work due to specific school requirements the use of web based course materials in a more blended model is also available. Scanlon (2011) discusses some of the common trends for technology integration in a science classroom including the use of mobile technology to conduct labs remotely, social networking to collaborate on experiments and open educational resources. In a rural classroom a non-science teacher could use any or all of these trends to give their students a full science experience with very little personal knowledge of science. Kays (2012) article on Web-Based Learning Tools (WBLT) reiterated the use of technology to teach online science by giving teachers pre-made online lessons. Students that were taught using these WBLT scored higher on tests and reported a moderate increase in interest (Kay, 2012). As Kennepohl (2009) states a strong laboratory component is at the heart of many science courses, but it is also the most challenging part to deliver effectively at a distance (p.122). Winer, Chomienne and Vazquez-Abad (2000) and Foti (2011) focused on the use of online science simulations to teach students. Winer et al. studied the use of individual physical labs that were discussed in groups as well as completely online simulations. The labs used common household items and after completed the students discussed their results within their group. Similarly, Foti (2011) looked at virtual simulations that came complete with background information and how-to videos to have students complete labs. Wang and Reeves (2006) found that students who were

previously uninterested in science were motivated to learn using interactive technology. Additionally, Li et al. (2010) have studied the use of e-mentors in a science and math classroom. This allowed for rural students to ask questions that matter to them and get answers from an expert who can give complex, authentic answers (p.732). A video conference session was mentor-driven while teachers acted as facilitators in class to encourage participation and maintain classroom control. (p.735).These session allowed students to interact with experts who had learned the information and were applying it in real-life. The study found that students placed much more of an emphasis on the mentors perspectives and ideas.

Overcoming the obstacles [264 words] Even though technology is presented in this paper as a positive feature in rural schools it can only be seen as a major hurdle in terms of teacher confidence and training. Voogt (2010) addresses this in their article regarding providing technology training to rural science teachers. The outcome was a model of inservice that saw teachers more comfortable using technology in their classroom as well as lessons that were learner centered and included the use of technology. Problems can also be encountered when technology fails such as poor quality equipment (Li et al., 2010), limited lab time (Foti, 2011) and

hardware problems (Kay, 2011). These and other technology problems are the reason that a class must always have an in-school facilitator. Additionally Foti (2011) observed that we cannot assume that students will readily embrace a classroom that is not centered on direct instruction (p.116) and that in fact we may have to teach students the value of this type of [student-centered] classroom. (p.118). This issue can again be overcome when using the in-service model that Voogt (2010) discusses which resulted in teachers having adopted elements of a learner-centered approach in their teaching (p.105) Finally, Wang and Reeves (2006) were concerned that the novelty [of technology] might wear off quickly (p.614) Initially they thought novelty may have a positive impact on interest however caution that through repeated use it may become less interesting. The solution to this problem is that teachers must use many different types of technology in their classroom and that virtual science classes must still have a facilitator to guide their progress and learning.

Works cited de la Varre, C., Keane, J., & Irvin, M. J. (2010). Enhancing online distance education in small rural US schools: a hybrid, learnercentred model. ALT-J, 18(3), 193-205. doi:10.1080/09687769.2010.529109

Foti, S. (2008). Using a Simulation-Based Learning Environment to Enhance Learning and Instruction in a Middle School. Journal of Computers in Mathematics & Science Teaching, (1), 103-120. Retrieved from www.editlib.org/p/23634 Kay, R. (2011). Exploring the Impact of Web-Based Learning Tools in Middle School. Journal of Computers in Mathematics & Science Teaching, (2), 141-162. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/33254 Kennepohl, D. (2009). Science Online and at a Distance. American Journal of Distance Education, 23(3), 122-124. doi:10.1080/08923640903080703 Li, Q., Moorman, L., & Dyjur, P. (2010). Inquiry-based learning and e-mentoring via videoconference: a study of mathematics and science learning of Canadian rural students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 58(6), 729-753. doi:10.1007/s11423-010-9156-3 Nielsen, W., & Nashon, S. M. (2007). Accessing Science Courses in Rural BC: A Cultural Border-Crossing Metaphor. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 53(2), 174-188. Retrieved from http://www.education.ualberta.ca/educ/journals/ajer/53 files/53(2)files/A4.html Scanlon, E. (2011). Open science: trends in the development of science learning. Open Learning, 26(2), 97-112. doi:10.1080/02680513.2011.567456

Voogt, J. (2010). A Blended In-service Arrangement for Supporting Science Teachers in Technology Integration. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 18(1), 83. Retrieved from http://www.editlib.org/p/28359. Wang, S.-K., & Reeves, T. C. (2006). The Effects of a Web-Based Learning Environment on Student Motivation in a High School Earth Science Course. Educational Technology Research and Development, 54(6), 597-621. doi:10.1007/s11423-0060638-2 Winer, L. R., Chomienne, M., & Vzquez-Abad, J. (2000). A distributed collaborative science learning laboratory on the internet. American Journal of Distance Education, 14(1). doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08923640009527044