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Grand Erie District School Board

Achieving 5X Growth in Online Learning Through Student Choice

Smaller schools in the GEDSB’s district didn’t have the resources to provide as wide a range of courses as larger schools in the area. To provide every student with the same opportunities, the GEDSB leveraged D2L Brightspace to build an extensive eLearning program with a diverse range of course offerings and flexible learning pathways. To support growing demand and personalized learning experiences, the GEDSB provided extensive professional development opportunities for teachers and staff.

Client

Grand Erie District School Board

Learners

26,000+

Platform
  • Brightspace Core
  • Performance+
  • Creator+

Grand Erie District School Board (GEDSB) expands flexible learning pathways to support diverse student needs.

INTERVIEWEE:

Jeff Allison, eLearning principal for the GEDSB and principal of Hagersville Secondary School

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Accelerating online course growth—from 16 sections to 80 in two years
  • Meeting and exceeding provincial course median average
  • Giving students the opportunity to pursue specialist subjects they love
  • Empowering educators to build, create and manage engaging online courses shared across the province

Challenge

Reaching every student

Over 26,000 students attend one of the 58 elementary schools or 14 secondary schools run by the GEDSB. Spanning a very large geographical area, the GEDSB oversees large schools in urban areas like the city of Brantford as well as smaller institutions in rural communities.

“Due to lower enrollment numbers, some of our rural schools simply can’t justify supporting different in-person course options,” explains Jeff Allison, eLearning principal for the GEDSB and principal of Hagersville Secondary School. “There are also students with Individualized Education Plans requiring flexible learning pathways as well as high-performing athletes who frequently take time off from their classes for training or competitions.”

The Grand Erie Learning Alternatives, powered by Brightspace, are designed as a key online learning resource to provide an accessible, dynamic and flexible learning experience that supports the needs and interests of students across the district. By being part of the Ontario eLearning Consortium, the GEDSB can also offer courses to students across the province.

“With eLearning, students have more voice and choice,” comments Allison. “It allows them to select courses that align with their interests, suit their learning style and contribute to their academic success.”

Solution

Implementing feedback as a powerful growth tool

The GEDSB had tremendous ambitions for its eLearning program to support the board’s multiyear strategic plan and graduation goals.

School administration sought input and feedback from teachers and students to strengthen the expansion of eLearning to include courses and grades for all pathways, enabling required courses to be shared between schools and integrating eLearning into other programs, such as Continuing Education and Alternative Education, across the district.

“Our main goal is to honor student voice and student choice, putting students at the forefront of everything we do,” says Allison. “Instead of just running a prescribed set of courses, we got ahead early and dug into student feedback to see what they needed and wanted. Seeing the number of students interested in specialized areas across the district provided the confidence to support unique elective options that would have otherwise been impossible to staff in person. This has allowed us to considerably scale our online offerings.”

With student demand skyrocketing, the GEDSB recognized that it could go even further. “Scaling an online learning program isn’t an easy task,” reflects Allison. “To do it successfully, you need reliable support as well as powerful technology to continue innovating. Working with D2L has been a really positive experience, and they have always been quick to offer assistance whenever we’ve run into any issues.”

Supporting professional development

To help teachers build and run truly impactful online courses, the GEDSB launched a two-year professional development plan and hosted 14 professional development days where educators could share instructional practices and engagement and assessment techniques.

These sessions gave the GEDSB a chance to address questions from teachers and support staff on a range of topics. In the most recent session, focused discussions on generative AI were complemented by demonstrations of Creator+ for dynamic course customization. The session also featured a quick-hits segment, briefly introducing Brightspace’s diverse features and tools for educators to explore.

“We always asked educators what they need to drive our professional development tracks,” says Allison. “By exposing teachers to Brightspace features in a variety of ways, we’ve empowered them with tools to enrich the student learning experience, which is part of the reason why the program has grown so much.”

This year, the GEDSB provided an opportunity for teachers across the board to meet up with their colleagues in other districts and hosted a cross-board boot camp session. “This is possible because eLearning is seen as something for everyone,” remarks Allison. “We have consultants visit the schools and meet with guidance departments and administrators so eLearning isn’t being seen as something that’s enforced.”

Providing an empowered and personalized learning experience

Offering online learning through Brightspace over the years has provided a consistent learning experience for students and a level of familiarity for teachers to innovate and create a dynamic learning environment.

The flexibility of Brightspace allows teachers to tailor learning experiences right from the start. “We’ve developed a customizable orientation package for teachers modeled after an escape room. This helps students familiarize themselves with their virtual classroom and various communication methods. By providing a snapshot of the course at the onset, we empower students with the choice to determine whether the course is right for them,” shares Allison.

Teachers are also encouraged to customize their homepage to reflect an in-person classroom and use various Brightspace tools, such as replacement strings, video integration and the Creator+ functionality, to add an extra layer of interactivity.

“Students learn better when they have a positive relationship with their teachers, which sometimes gets lost in an online environment. Personalizing the learning experience is crucial to making students feel recognized,” notes Allison. “That’s why my favorite D2L tools are Intelligent Agents and release conditions. Being able to automatically set release conditions for different groups of students has allowed us to target students based on performance. The data on Brightspace—like rate attendance, for example—also allows us to flag concerns with student success teams and guidance counselors to proactively reach out to our online learners.”

Result

Going above and beyond core subjects

With Brightspace serving as the foundation for its eLearning initiative, the GEDSB achieved remarkable growth in its online learning program, expanding from 16 sections to 80 within a mere two-year span. As a result, the school board can provide every student with the opportunity to learn skills in a broad range of core and specialty subjects, including the first-ever dance course in the province.

“We noticed an increase in teacher motivation,” says Allison. “Many have always wanted to share their passions with their students, and Brightspace makes it possible for them to do that not only across the district but also the province.”

The GEDSB also received positive feedback from the students taking its online courses. “One of our students had selected gender studies as one of their elective courses for three consecutive years, but their school didn’t have the resources to run the course in person,” explains Allison. “With eLearning, the student was finally able to take this course and wrote to their guidance counselor about how much it meant to them.”

“I think that one of the bigger indicators of success is that some of the schools that are reluctant to embrace eLearning and had low enrollments have grown recently. When we look at our success rate and course medians, we’re always in line with or above the principal average for members of the eLearning Consortium,” he continues.

Even with 80 sections running online, the GEDSB shows no sign of slowing. “We aim to build on our recent successes in the years ahead,” concludes Allison. “We will continue to seek input and feedback from students and teachers, provide flexible learning across the district, and collaborate with teachers to build supportive learning communities.”

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