Calgary Board of Education—CBe-learn | Customer Success | D2L
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Calgary Board of Education—CBe-learn

Empowering schools to embrace distance learning


CBe-learn supports teachers and students in transitioning to a new model of education

At a glance

Client: Calgary Board of Education—CBe-learn
Learners: 6,000 junior and senior high school students
Industry: K-12
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Platform/Features

  • D2L’s Brightspace platform
  • Brightspace Learning Repository
  • Brightspace for Parents

Interviewee

  • Ken Weipert, Principal of CBe-learn

Highlights

  • Helped 90% of summer school students complete their courses and achieve their target grades
  • Established a “train the trainer” strategy to share best practices for online learning with new teachers
Calgary Board of Education—CBe-learn Logo

School

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, CBe-learn saw demand for its online courses spike among students and schools across Calgary. D2L’s Brightspace platform is helping the organization not only scale up its own services but also develop training and professional development strategies to support greater adoption of online and blended learning by all Calgary schools in the future.

"There are some serious efficiencies if you don’t have to pull 200 teachers out of their schools and bring them to a central location for leadership training…"

Ken Weipert, Principal, CBe-learn

Challenge

Responding to an extraordinary situation

CBe-learn is the Calgary Board of Education’s online middle and senior high school. Its traditional role has been to provide flexible distance learning for students in grades six through 12. Most of these students are registered full time at a school in their community and take additional classes with CBe-learn to supplement their in-person education.

However, in the past three years, CBe-learn has begun to see a significant increase in demand for its online programs—a trend that was accelerated even further when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in early 2020.

“Take our summer school, for example,” says Ken Weipert, Principal of CBe-learn. “Three years ago we had 900 students; this year, it’s nearly 6,000. We have brought in about 100 teachers to teach summer school with us online, and many of them don’t have experience teaching in a strictly online environment. That’s been a big challenge for us.”

He continues: “Training them on the technical side of how to use our online platform is fairly easy, but the pedagogical side is more difficult. For example, in a classroom setting, experienced teachers can tell how students are feeling from their nonverbal behavior and body language. But when you’re teaching online, you need to learn to recognize totally different cues. It’s not as simple as just taking your text-based course content and putting it on a website somewhere!”

The same is true for students who are new to online learning—CBe-learn needs to help them adapt to an asynchronous teaching model where they don’t get the same kind of instant feedback from teachers as they expect in the classroom. Equally, when the pandemic hit, CBe-learn realized that many students lack access to computers and reliable internet connections, making it difficult for them to access online education services.

“These are not just short-term issues,” says Ken Weipert. “The demand for distance learning technologies was growing before COVID-19, and we think that trend will continue. How do we prepare our educators to support that? Ideally, we would be able to offer a blended learning environment in every single school throughout Calgary, but we’ll need a lot of investment and professional development to make that really successful for 126,000 students.”

kid on laptop holding pencil

Solution

Continuity in a time of crisis

In response to the pandemic, CBe-learn decided to make all of its existing course content available to classroom teachers who were struggling to deliver their classes online. D2L’s Brightspace learning management system was the key to this initiative.

“We quickly moved all of the course content from our junior and senior high programs into Brightspace Learning Repository using dynamic linking. The Learning Repository’s dynamic linking feature allowed us to update and adjust the content centrally, without having to edit thousands of individual courses by hand. It also gave classroom teachers a starting point, so they had the content to support their transition to online learning in the early stages of the pandemic.” — Ken Weipert, Principal, CBe-learn

To help address students’ accessibility issues, the Calgary Board of Education loaned out over 5,000 laptops and other devices to students and encouraged local internet service providers to provide free internet access for students who needed it.

Meanwhile, to help classroom teachers get up to speed with both the technical and pedagogical aspects of teaching online, CBe-learn adopted a “train the trainer” strategy. Its experienced educators and course design experts have helped a group of lead teachers gain the necessary skills, and they will now act as the first point of contact and support for other teachers on their teams.

Ken Weipert gives an example: “Courses like career and life management are required for graduation, but they don’t always fit well into a school’s 9am to 3pm, Monday to Friday schedule. We used Brightspace to train a group of teachers to teach them in a blended way within community schools. It enabled us to reach thousands more students without adding more teachers to our team.”

Going forward, the Calgary Board of Education is also planning to work with CBe-learn to increase its use of the Brightspace platform for teachers’ professional development.

“There are some serious efficiencies if you don’t have to pull 200 teachers out of their schools and bring them to a central location for leadership training—and during pandemic conditions, we can’t do that anyway! So, we expect our use of Brightspace for professional development will continue to grow.” — Ken Weipert, Principal, CBe-learn

"Students love working with the Brightspace tools, and the work that our teachers have done has created a really great environment for them. It’s easy to use, and all the tools are built in, from content and communication through to assessment and grading."

Ken Weipert, Principal, CBe-learn

Result

Enabling students to flourish

As the number of students enrolling in courses with CBe-learn has doubled or tripled each year, D2L’s Brightspace platform has helped CBe-learn to do more than keep pace with demand—it has helped them to get ahead of the curve. The school is always eager to engage with D2L to suggest and test new features of the platform.

“D2L has been a fantastic resource—we’ve been working with them since 2005, and they’re always extremely responsive to our ideas,” says Ken Weipert. “Brightspace works exceptionally well, and every year it gets a little better as the functionality grows. For example, the work that D2L has put into the new Brightspace for Parents tool is quite exciting. Being able to communicate directly with parents about the work that students are doing in Brightspace will be hugely beneficial.”

He adds: “Students love working with the Brightspace tools, and the work that our teachers have done has created a really great environment for them. It’s easy to use, and all the tools are built in, from content and communication through to assessment and grading. Students only have to access Brightspace and they have access to their entire learning environment.”

The results suggest that students flourish in CBe-learn’s online courses. In last year’s summer school group, 90% of students completed their online courses and got the grades they hoped for. This level of completion rate and success is amazing to see given the independent nature of many online courses and the compressed timeline during the summer for covering all of the learning outcomes in the program of study.

Ken Weipert comments: “I think what students really love about our courses is the option to focus on their schoolwork whenever is right for them. It’s really good for students who have jobs or are passionate about athletics, music, dance or theater, because they can work, train or practice as much as they need to and still fit their studies into their schedule.”

He concludes: “As an independent school supporting a relatively small group of students, Brightspace has been a key part of our success. In the future, I think it can help the Board of Education support hundreds of schools and teachers in a transition to a more blended model of education for thousands of students across Calgary.”

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Fueling up:

Upskilling to grow careers

Name: Zaria
Age: 27

Policy prescriptions: Invest in a Learning-Integrated Life; Transform the learning of today with new partnerships; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Zaria has five years of work experience and is ready to change jobs and enter a field that has high growth potential in her region. The national government has been investing in collecting better skills-based labour market information for years and has developed a public platform to offer individuals specialized tools to assess their skills against current market needs, and to locate employers that are currently hiring.

On the employer side, the human resources team is closely examining a recent internal skills audit done at their organization and determines that the organization needs additional digital marketing specialists. They initiate a search for individuals with the skills they will soon need and spot a strong candidate in Zaria who requires only light training on regulatory issues regarding the sale of electric vehicles, along with some formal skills development courses on social media marketing strategy. After a successful interview, Zaria is offered the job.

Upon joining, Zaria will receive an educational benefits stipend from the company, and access to a company-provided platform of curated programs for skills building from approved providers. Upon completion of a set of courses, Zaria will receive a credential from a company approved program verifying her technical knowledge and marking the end of her probationary period at the company. To ensure she continues to build her skills, she will move into a formal mentor program with one of her colleagues to receive continual peer-to-peer feedback on her demonstration of skills and knowledge. information

This affordable and accessible learning through employer-funded training has enabled Zaria to begin working while also upskilling to ensure her long-term success in the company and growing industry. The employer is investing in its employees, and company leaders are thinking further into the future about the skills the company needs, and the types of job candidates who will succeed. This match, based on skills potential, was made possible because of government investment in high-quality labour market information and a national platform that matches job candidates with career opportunities based on the candidates’ skills and the identified skill needs of a given job.

Taking the road less travelled:

A networked postsecondary education

Name: Sam
Age: 18

Policy prescriptions: Transform the learning of today with new partnerships

Sam is a prospective postsecondary student who has always been interested in pursuing a global and interdisciplinary education. Sam’s siblings have all instilled in her the importance of studying abroad, having spoken fondly of their academic exchange semesters, field research trips, and intensive language immersion programs. She is inspired, but unsure whether this pathway will be available if she chooses not to complete a four-year degree at one institution.

Sam is interested in understanding how emerging technologies can be used to modernize and improve government services—an area in need of talent not only in her home country of Canada but also abroad. She could take on a general political science, public administration, engineering, or computer science degree at the university close to her home, but none of those degrees feels like the right fit to build the skills she needs to pursue this career interest.

While researching options, Sam learns of a new degree completion pathway that allows students to take courses from a network of universities, colleges, and polytechnic institutions throughout Canada and stack them for skills-based  credentials that are recognized by major Canadian employers. A set of four of these credentials grants an individual a degree-equivalent endorsed by each institution. Sam identifies the skills and knowledge she wants to work towards and charts out four credential pathways:

  1. Service delivery design
  2. Change management
  3. Applications of emerging technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence)
  4. Machinery of government

With this customized learning pathway, Sam has full flexibility to decide how she wants to structure her courses, the institutions within the network she will study at, and the format and model of courses she prefers—whether live in-class instruction or online courses.

Cost flexibility is built in as well—students pay a standard fee based on the number of competencies they intend to learn rather than the normal standard of ‘credit hours’. The province in which Sam lives has endorsed this networked model of  postsecondary education and adjusted its financial assistance program to better support students. Grants and other non-repayable assistance take into consideration the number of courses the student is taking across all institutions when assessing financial need. Previously, Sam would have been required to be a full-time student at every institution to receive support.

Sam also has the option of starting with foundational courses or applying for Prior Learning Assessment and Recognition (PLAR) information so her existing knowledge and skills can be tested and she can move on to more advanced topics.

Sam completes her first three credentials in three years and uses her certifications to apply for a one-year work-integrated learning experience with the federal government in Germany where she can learn first-hand about the applications of artificial intelligence in government. When she returns home, she applies for PLAR to certify her learning on the machinery of government and is granted a degree acknowledging her four-part customized education.

The collaboration between universities, polytechnics, and colleges to create a networked approach to degree completion, and its endorsement by the provincial government, allowed Sam to graduate as an alumnus of multiple postsecondary education institutions. Her exposure to different thought spaces and networks was highly valuable for ensuring she was engaged throughout her education and set up for post-graduation success. In the rapidly evolving field she has chosen, she understands how important it is to continuously upskill, and is prepared to return to formal education for more stackable credentials as she continues throughout her career.

Route guidance:

Personalized professional development

Name: ZheYuan
Age: 33

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

ZheYuan is about to join Marama’s school as a new secondary school teacher. He completed his professional teacher education a decade ago, and teaching looks a bit different today than it did when he was studying. With the incorporation of learning technologies in the classroom, and expectations of teachers delivering competency-based education information, he needs personalized professional development to feel comfortable and supported in this new opportunity.

The school district has been on its own learning journey since shifting to a competency-based education model, and has had some growing pains. Over time, the district has come to recognize that success depends on school administrators working closely with teachers to co-create systems of instruction, and pathways to professional development. The district has its own online learning management system (LMS) for teacher professional development, with a catalogue of content covering a range of subjects including:

  • Strategies for student-centred instruction
  • Design thinking—how to prototype and iterate on solutions to test new approaches
  • Online content—using learning management systems to advance competency-based education
  • Data analysis—interpreting student progress

ZheYuan is excited that he can take on professional learning to suit his needs on his own schedule. He recalls an earlier time when he had to spend nine hours a month in-person taking the same professional development courses as his peers who were teaching very different subjects and had varied skill levels and pedagogical needs than him, which was less than effective.

ZheYuan can also take advantage of his teacher community in the LMS, connecting both in asynchronous chats and in live discussions with other teachers and experts from across his region to ask questions and share his experiences. He sees some upcoming dialogues hosted by his school district to share learnings and signs up for those sessions, knowing he will get a valuable peer perspective from other teachers. ZheYuan is thankful that his school leaders recognize and value professional learning and provide the supports and the time needed for improvement.

D2L Whitepaper Contributors

Lead Authors:
Malika Asthana, Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs
Joe Pickerill, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, International

Contributors:
Jeremy Auger, Chief Strategy Officer
Mark Schneiderman, Senior Director, Future of Teaching and Learning
Brendan Desetti, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, United States
Mike Semansky, Senior Director, Strategy and Public Affairs, Canada
Nia Brown, Senior Manager, Strategy and Public Affairs

In the driver’s seat:

Owning the personalized learning journey

Name: Marama
Age: 14

Policy prescriptions: Prepare teachers for their own lifelong learning journeys; Accelerate the shift to skills-based learning and hiring

Marama is enrolled in a school with a competency-based education model information. Students are responsible for owning the personalization of their learning pathways, making choices alongside their teachers in how and when they learn.iii Teachers play a central role in guiding and validating all learning, regardless of where it takes place—offering formative assessments to evaluate a student’s mastery of skills and knowledge. Teachers use data from these assessments, gathered through an online learning management system (LMS), to differentiate instruction and provide targeted supports so that all students progress toward graduation. As a student diagnosed with a learning disability, Marama is supported in her education by this personalized learning pathway.

All students complete an assessment in ninth grade to identify their natural strengths as a learner. Their teachers use the results as inputs to design tailormade educational pathways with learning materials and activities that suit the individual students’ learning needs. In Marama’s case, this includes:

  1. Supplementing lecture-based teaching with structured but independent reading
  2. Shadowing professionals who work on the concepts she is learning about
  3. Taking the stories and lessons she’s learned and sharing it back with classmates by designing a creative and interactive presentation

Over the course of the school year, Marama spends a third of her time in live lectures (sometimes online) with her teacher alongside other classmates—but the rest of her time is spent learning in the ways that suit her best. She can log into her online LMS from her mobile device to access her school resources and complete on her own schedule before the assigned deadline. When Marama finds a concept that interests her, she can ask her teachers and counsellor for support in finding a working professional to speak to, or work alongside for a couple weeks, from the network her school has curated over time. And when she has learned something, she is encouraged to reinforce her learning by applying her skills and developing content to share back with her classmates.

Marama’s personalized learning journey empowers her to own her education by learning in ways that are effective for her, with the support that allows her to be successful. Her teachers have high-quality data about student strengths and performance they can share with her parents to show them how she is mastering specific skills, and where she may need extra support. Her school experience empowers her to embrace her subject interests very early on, and she advances to deeper topics quickly as she submits evidence of learning that demonstrates her proficiency. She graduates having cultivated a mindset for self-directed learning early in her education.