Hamilton Wentworth District School Board| Customer Success | D2L Asia Pacific
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Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

A flexible learning platform gives all students access to enriched resources


Overview

The only downside of teachers at the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board (HWDSB) loving their new Web 2.0 tools was that they loved a very wide variety of them.  They all had different usernames, passwords, and URLs. While the Board used a standardized blogging platform built in-house, they were also branching out in different areas to use different Learning Management System (LMS) tools.  That meant they were unable to support one another and, since they were being hosted in a variety of spaces, it was next to impossible for the Board to provide guidance.

At a glance

Client: Hamilton Wentworth District School Board
Industry: Education

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Challenge

  • One system to address everyone's needs
  • Technology that makes blended learning possible

Solution

  • It takes communication to achieve customization
  • Hosting content is only the beginning

Result

  • Classrooms are going online in record numbers
  • Students and teachers are pushing for growth

The Challenge

One system to address everyone's needs

To bring teachers back into the fold, the HWDSB needed a single learning platform that would make every one of them happy. At the same time, the learning platform also had to link to other Web 2.0 tools and provide a single sign-on solution. “Ideally, that would allow us to create a student portal where all the necessary learning resources are located,” says Paul Hatala, Blended Learning Instructional Coach of HWDSB. “We wanted students to have a seamless experience as they moved from tool to tool. We also wanted a strategy where our teachers and parents could see what resources students are accessing—and how they’re progressing through content.”

Technology that makes blended learning possible

While the immediate goal was to implement a stronger and more unified approach to their online learning solutions, the Board’s long-term goal was to deploy a blended learning strategy. At the end of the day, the HWDSB wanted a learning platform that would help expand on the face-to-face experience.
female teacher with young female student

The Solution

It takes communication to achieve customization

Although HWDSB already had access to the Brightspace platform through a program with the Ontario Ministry of Education, they were looking for a solution that would meet their specific school board needs. Before anything else, a meaningful conversation was needed to establish the Board’s requirements. “We worked closely with our Brightspace account manager and project specialist,” says Hatala. “They understood our goals and were able to advise us on the best strategy without trying to include everything under the sun. They were great. They listened to our ideas and came back to us with a plan to get started.”

The plan? The first step was integrating the board’s active directory so that students would be able to log in to the Brightspace platform using the same username and password they use to access school computers. Next, they had to apply Student Information System (SIS) integration. By pulling course information, teachers no longer needed to request a course shell and didn’t have to manage their own class lists. The final step, leveraging Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI), would allow key user information to be passed to third-party applications and used to authenticate the user.

Together, these three components of the Brightspace platform create a seamless environment that affords students across the Board easy access to a variety of tools and resources—both in the Brightspace platform and beyond.

Hosting content is only the beginning

According to Hatala, teachers expected a new space to post their content and no more. Instead, they gained the ability to link all data objects, integrate lessons, and learn from other teachers. Now, they can monitor students’ progress and track their success online rather than doing it manually—and they can enrich their classroom content with other sources.

The change affects parents, too. Teachers can use the system to keep parents in the loop by reporting back with constructive information about their child’s progress. Parents can also go online themselves to see the actual resources being used by students.

"The transition was really easy. D2L did most of the legwork. Our job was getting content ready, then testing and reporting back with problems. They did everything in the background to make sure it was working the way we wanted."

Paul Hatala, Blended Learning Instructional Coach, Hamilton Wentworth District School Board

The Results

Classrooms are going online in record numbers

Before implementing the Brightspace platform, less than 20% of secondary students across the Board were using the online resources offered.  Now, 70% are actively using the Brightspace platform and there is no sign of that adoption slowing down.[1]

What’s more, fewer than 100 elementary students were using the platform at the start of the year, and by the midway point, that number skyrocketed to 1,000.[2]  Hatala notes: “Because of the easy access and the convenience of having all the resources in one space, teachers were comfortable with getting their students started. Students are getting the benefits of blended learning early.”

Students and teachers are pushing for growth

“Students are actually asking their teachers to use Brightspace as their learning platform,” he says.  “They tell us they like the fact that it’s one-stop-shopping for classroom resources.”  Teachers are enthusiastic, too. Hatala reports that the board is seeing an increase in requests for information and support—and they’re happy to provide teachers with what they need.  “Now, we offer regular after-school webinars and training sessions to further develop our teachers’ online skills.  The more they know about the learning platform, the more students benefit.”

[1] Results Courtesy of Hamilton Wentworth District School Board
[2] Ibid.

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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.