Proceedings from the July 8/9, 2015 Halifax Summer Symposium

The Canadian eLearning Network extended an open invitation to anyone interested in blended and online learning to attend a pan-Canadian discussion about increasing flexible learning through blended and online learning environments. The two-day event, hosted by Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Nova Scotia Virtual School, was designed to focus on networking, informing and sharing. The event was designed to expand on the findings published in the State of the Nation: K-12 Online Learning in Canada 2013 Report, sharing successful strategies to support flexible learning approaches while learning from other programs across the country. Close to thirty people attended the session held at the Halifax Regional School Board offices.

July 2015 Delegtes

Wednesday, July 8

The first afternoon began with an overview of the State of the Nation in K12 Online Learning in Canada ( From there discussion moved to a closer look at BC and Alberta emerging practices, particularly with a focus on new opportunities for flexible and engaging learning approaches. The session was designed to build awareness of specific emerging blended approaches in BC and Alberta while highlighting policy and funding models and their impacts.

Presentation slides can be found here:

Afternoon table discussion looked at the foundations for flexible learning and included a discussion of policy and funding, curriculum alignment, organizational models, including Blended Learning approaches, learning resources strategies and the improvement of teachers’ technological and pedagogical skills.

It was agreed that what was required to make online learning a priority was for educators to come together and support one another. Some of the issues identified and discussed included:

  • Funding
    • Single source of funding (for example in Québec the LEARN program is funded by a Minority language grant from the government
    • Flexible learning can be difficult when there is no provincial funding forthcoming
    • Cutbacks in budgets, change of government are all challenges
  • Privacy
    • There are privacy issues with data being stored on servers in the US (Patriot Act) may compromise use of such things as Google Apps for Education
    • Similarly there are concerns with the use of social media – for example legislation in Nova Scotia restricts the use of sites that are hosted on US servers, and personal information cannot be shared online which is an issue for applications like Google Apps for Education
    • To mitigate this some sites use detailed permission forms for families to sign to allow the school to do its work; however, innovation can be an issue with parents if they are not on board or do not understand the realities of Distributed and Blended Learning – for example if there are multiple languages spoken at home and the parents cannot understand what the program is trying to accomplish and why permission is required students may be restricted
  • Models for flexible learning
    • Blended Learning approaches must include strategies for student learners to come together face-to-face and offer support in those environments
    • A physical center with monitoring and support is important for success
    • Bandwidth and adequate internet speed and access are still issues in many places
    • A middle of the road model may work best for schools that wish to engage students using elements of a flipped classroom
  • Learning resources
    • Connected software such as StudyForge that can be used with any LMS provides the ability to develop and integrate video and remedial units for math and other courses
    • Language support is needed for many students
    • Gaming approaches help foster student engagement

Thursday, July 9

A BIG thank you to our Halifax hosts for the warm welcome and beautiful location!

Thursday morning began with Sarah Hainsworth (Nova Scotia) providing an overview of “A Day in the Life of a Nova Scotia Virtual School Teacher” followed by an overview of the provincial collaborative model for online learning in the province.

Link to presentation:

A leadership panel provided views and practices from across Canada and internationally.   Panel members were Michael Barbour (Principal Researcher for the State of the Nation Report), Peggy Drolet and Dianne Conrod (Québec), Terri Reid (Alberta), Greg Bitgood (British Columbia), and Verena Roberts (iNACOL and CANeLearn).

Highlights of the leadership panel presentations included:

  • A new site with full release of all the research completed on the State of the Nation on K12 Online Learning in Canada (release will be next month)
  • While blended learning is not a new approach or concept, there is an increase in blended learning across all jurisdictions
  • It was emphasized that every student should have the opportunity to learn in their best way, and that the best option for students includes connections to community and career opportunities
  • It was pointed out that technology now makes it possible to integrate, present modules and customize learning
  • As such, teachers need professional learning opportunities as well to ensure they are capable of levering new tools to provide for flexible learning opportunities
  • However, equity of access to tools and support is important to address as some students will be left out

Upcoming events were highlighted including

Thursday Afternoon Facilitated Dialogue & Discussion

Sue Taylor-Foley facilitated an afternoon of discussion on topics emerging from our dialogue. Topics were posted in a shared Google document folder and participants summarized and tracked their discussion on them. A summary of the topics and discussions follows. Source documents can be found here:


  • How do we figure out how well kids are doing?  Competency based?  Feedback?  Multiple tries?  Final (high-stakes) exams? And how do we do it efficiently?
  • Math – when you have multiple choice questions/one-word answers, then you are not assessing competency.
  • High-stakes exams are very large percentages (up to 50%) and the results may be “moderated” depending on standard deviation of school marks and exam marks.
  • Schools and parents look at results on high-stakes exams and create impressions about the school’s efficacy.
  • Schools in Quebec (and departments within them) decide individually what kind of assessments they will use.  At Learn, the decisions are made collaboratively about how to assess.
  • Concern – academic integrity issues.  Some assignments are given that do not count toward the grade; these are practice (but the students may not know this).  Assignments for marks are supervised.  May also have students present their processes in creating their assignments and demonstrating their learning.
  • Use of Voice-Thread to present content – students then interact with each other in their Voice-Threads.  ( is another surveying/polling tool that can be used for quick feedback.  Students do not see each others’ responses.)
  • Tutorials after the fact (a low mark) will help students get back on track.
  • Asynchronous programs are different.  There can be significant issues with academic integrity, and policies are put in place to ensure that the correct student is credentialed.


  • Quebec – high-stakes exams are part of the accountability concern – ensure that there is quality in the education because it does ensure that a program has credibility with respect to the quality of the content and pedagogy (synchronous program)
    • Grade 10 – students must be within a percentage of their school grade
    • Marked by committee
    • Province will take the exam mark if it is higher
    • If the exam mark is lower, then it will take the higher if within 10%
    • Grade 11 – third party assessment – they write and mark the exam
    • Government hires this group; it includes “validators” to ensure quality of the third party; high degree of security
  • Competency-based learning in Quebec lasted only about 6 years – the colleges and universities did not support this change and insisted on exams that were content based.
  • BC – competency-based piece must involve the post-secondary institutions because all levels need to be on board to make accepted change
  • Concern about the disconnect between summative and formative assessment.
  • So how does DL ensure accountability (in absence of a standardized exam)?
  • Collaborative exams in Language Arts (Grade 11) in Quebec
  • Accountability – communication and trust – I need to be communicating and the person with whom I am communicating needs to trust that I am doing what I say I am doing.  Clear communication of expectations (rubrics), all stakeholders know what is expected.
  • We want to believe in teachers’ professional judgement, and the teachers need to trust the students (that they have done the work that represents their learning – that we are giving the course credential to the right person).
  • Trust may be an issue within the DL world – particularly in a competitive educational landscape.
  • Accountability consists of two things: proof to all stakeholders that the students have learned and earned the credential, and proof to the MInistry (or governing body) that the school (admin and teachers) has done what it has been paid to do.
  • What is accountability – providing best instructional opportunities – teacher accountability.  Program assessment – everything needs to be looked at – alignment with pedagogy, learning theory
  • Administrators and support staff – are they  being held accountable for providing optimal learning environment and learning resources – all the way up to ministries and districts
  • Are test scores the only measure – application to real world …how do kids demonstrate innovation, creative thinking
  • Peer monitoring – of teachers – self-assessing, always looking at improving practice…
  • We shouldn’t have to teach children to be proofed against different teachers or their teaching styles; on the other hand, how do we support teachers to teach a very mixed bag of students with different learning styles, different backgrounds
  • Finger-pointing notion of accountability is not constructive


  • Resources OER or paid content?
  • Issues – quality, total package of content versus selection
  • Quality: long term interest, document growth seen outside tool, skill & concept transfer
  • Channels for paid content rather than one by one district licensing
  • iTunes model for paid content versus a NetFlix vision
  • Quality trumps quantity esp. with an assessment item
  • Challenge of sharing content in an open space versus local private ownership
  • Limited market for Boards to act as sellers, we would win as a community with sharing
  • Gaming: Quest Atlantis, AW3DU, Negotiating game for second language learning (LEARN)
  • An image bank – cleared for classroom list and web use
  • Resources need to be linked to curriculum (QC is special) and level
  • Resources for language learning that match level and learner age — i.e. low vocabulary, high interest
  • Challenge of acquiring authentic assessment items equivalent to those used for high stakes exams
  • Platform to support our reality — not just another new structure
  • Challenge of available classroom resources so that student access is equitable
  • Always learning and reaching into new practices and adapting learning situations
  • Is free content valuable in the classroom ?
  • Alberta:    too much money building courses – with rights and permissions and authorship ($250,000)
  • More time to filter OER content instead of going right to the source and paying up front
  • Copyright issues cannot be neglected.    There are significant liabilities associated with failure to compensate rights holders.
  • Digital space creating tremendous complexities to ensure content has been cleared and to allow experience to remain positive.    There have been a number examples where links break when clearances are not cleared.
  • OER not a panacea for making better and cheaper materials.      Alberta has not found OER to be a cost-effective method of content creation.
  • Use of social media like Twitter – Useful source of information and professional development – a way to see what customers are doing and what they like.
  • Attention spans are changing and teachers need to adapt to this style of learning.
  • We do not have a consistent experience across all schools/districts.     The technology game will not be solved anytime soon – far too complex and equity very difficult to resolve.
  • Teaching needs to change to adapt to the new realities presented by technology.

Working with alternate language learners

  • Communicating with today’s learner is like looking into a kaleidoscope – multi-coloured, many dimensions and constantly changing.
  • Text to Speech – Very important to assist learners in meeting their diverse needs.
  • Biggest challenges:  With second language learners coming from foreign countries there is an expectation that the teacher is the sage on stage.
  • Have an online training session the parents explaining what blended learning is and leave contact information and make information constantly available.
  • Another issue is that trying to inform parents who leave abroad and who don’t speak the language.  Orientation is tough.
  • Does an online training session for students and gives them the opportunity to see if online is for them.
  • Students also come from abroad with mindset they cannot question teachers and remain very passive.
  • Foreign students also come across problems of acceptance in society.  This has to addressed in larger macro fashion.
  • Foreign students in a blended environment may be even more uncomfortable as added to the cultural component is the added need to deal with technology.
  • In language learning, need for it to be enjoyable.  Get the students talking.  Have them talk about is meaningful to them.
  • Use gaming in some cases to engage.
  • Use of native speakers in remote classrooms as well as remote teachers in the actual classrooms.
  • School events are opportunities to introduce and make comfortable the foreign students .  Also these are opportunities for them to meet and interact with local students.
  • Use of authentic learning situations to engage learners.

Blended Models

  • Many models that are referred to as Blended – hard to define
  • Trying to define and put something in a box does a disservice to the model sometimes
  • Flipped used as an example, and feeling expressed that blended can be distorted due to feelings regarding the flipped model (a tiny slice of blended but it may be all that they know)
  • Blended definition includes some kind of virtual resource or environment combined with some synchronous interaction, the power of blended learning is the personalized learning element
  • Blended allows for creativity
  • Teacher can adapt to the students’ needs, environment, etc. with blended opportunities
  • Can be distilled into 4 models (or referenced Horn’s 6 models)
  • Ontario (private int’l school)
    • elearning/online learning enhances what is going on in the f2f classes
  • Working with ESL learners – online supplements the classroom learning
  • Tried flipped model but it was not as successful as hoped with students (measuring success of a new model with right preparation put into implementation is important) more evidence & research needed
  • Within the models, we are talking about skills and technologies
  • Looking at online learning and blended models, we are considering flexible learning (trying to bring the conversation back to the conference theme 🙂 )
  • The applications of the tools allows flexibility – instant feedback, engagement and feedback
  • Alternatives to Twitter for feedback from students: and
  • Next step in NS, build blended into f2f classes.  Same tools are available in f2f classes as online classes with PD and support.  Summer camp for teachers – this summer: GAFE
  • Consider the WHY behind the decision to integrate online tools.
  • Work with IT so that they understand what the teachers are going to be doing with the tools

Instructional Design for Online Learning

  • Nova Scotia Virtual School
    • Cost of course development – $4900
    • Problem lies in creating 84 lessons (per semester) as all lessons contain:  intro, outcomes, lesson, things to do
    • Challenge: to keep ahead of creating the course while teaching it (NSVS teaches 60 courses)
    • Students are encouraged to take 1 online course BUT a student cannot take an online course if it is legitimately not available to them in their f2f school
    • Design criteria – asynchronous approach – Each week – 5 lessons (1/day), 1 live (echat*), 4 asynchronous PLUS office hours
    • *echat – recommendation – new material introduced to encourage attendance
    • Flexibility with deadlines – students love, teachers hate!
    • Concern – over saturation of knowledge in asynchronous online courses
    • Too much content – students were finding online courses so much harder
    • Even though teacher was not contracted to create the online resources, she ended up creating new lessons that make sense for the teacher, adapting, making it more engaging
    • Teacher has the ability to take the course materials and adapt the materials – they are not over-packaged and embedded so they are easy to adapt by the teacher
    • Experience to adapt course materials and creating more engaging courses embedded multi-media
    • Textbooks – can be a huge problem – costs of books, delivery, getting the books returned
    • Creation of art kits – additional cost –
    • Best instructional experience this year – virtual field trip
  • Heritage Christian:
    • Mostly asynchronous courses
    • Teachers have office hours
    • Important – they wanted to maintain the ANYs – any time, any place, any pace
    • It is possible for a keen motivated student to complete the course with no teacher interaction
    • More like an interactive, comprehensive textbook online with the possibility of a teacher communicating with the student
    • 150 courses – grade 5 to AP
    • ALSO want to distribute courses to other schools (with increased demand from 1 to 1 programs)
    • Material cannot be adapted/edited but learning objects can be used elsewhere or replaced
    • Making content more granular so it can be adapted
    • Created some tools – created a player so that teachers can create and add their own material
    • Costs – Average between $15 000 and $20 000 contract to develop a course
    • Royalty model – based on how many students take the course, impacts how quickly that contract will be paid back for course development
    • High publishing quality became important considering they were distributing the course
    • Teachers develop content and “enhancers” designers create the interactive and engaging look and feel of the learning objects
    • Teachers are dependent on the enhancers to make any changes or updates
    • All courses in HTML format and curriculum is animated from grade 7 to AP calc.
    • In an environment that can be personalized
  • LEARN (Quebec)
    • Synchronous model and teacher develops the course materials for her own course (Voicethread and Camtasia for flipped lessons)
    • Lessons can be adapted to be shared with community via our website and easily be shared and adapted by other teachers
    • Need – requests for flexible online course – more asynchronous courses