B.C. Education ministry offers online tutor following teacher strike

A B.C. Ministry of Education-funded online tutoring service is one result of a two-week strike last fall by B.C.’s 38,000 teachers.

The pilot project, which will provide interactive tutoring for Math 12 students, is aimed at helping students who may have fallen behind because of last October’s job action, according to Barry Carbol, the executive director of BCEd Online.

“What we’re trying to do is offset any performance issues for the students, by giving them an opportunity, in this one area, to get help and support,” Carbol said.

The government has also delayed provincial exams by one week, to give students more time to prepare. They will now begin Feb. 6.

BCEd Online is made up of 41 school districts, working in partnership with post-secondary institutions, teacher groups, private industry, government and online learning organizations. It provides online programs for both distance learning students and for those in the classroom.

There’s another connection between the service, which uses Elluminate Live e-learning software, and the strike.

Funds for the $13,000 pilot project are coming from the $126 million that school districts saved during the strike, according to a Jan. 12 Education Ministry statement.

The service provides students access to an electronic “whiteboard,” part of a virtual classroom. Elluminate permits just one person to speak at a time.

“In that respect, it’s just like a classroom event,” Carbol said.

Depending on each tutor’s facilities, web cam access may also be available.

Students indicate that they want to ask a question by clicking on a  “hand” icon—equivalent to putting up their hands in a real classroom. Questions are answered in order, both by talking online and with the help of the whiteboard. The service tells each student how many students are ahead of him or her in the queue.

“They might be the 15th person in line,” Carbol said. Knowing this, the student might want to do something else while waiting.

However, students can also “lurk” online, merely listening and watching the answers to questions from other students. Up to 30 students can take part in each classroom at a time. Elluminate includes icons for students to express applause, laughter and disapproval. Another indicates that the student has stepped away. Appropriately for math, there’s also an icon for confusion.

Besides interaction with tutors, the service includes access to online lessons and practice exams.

Should the Math 12 project prove successful, it could be made permanent, as well as extended to other subjects, Carbol said: “It’s all going to be dependent on the ability to pay for the teachers, and the time and availability of qualified teachers.”

BCEd Online is estimating that several hundred students will take advantage of the project at the outset, but expects those numbers to increase.

“It will grow as the word gets out and it demonstrates to kids that it’s useful,” Carbol said.

Math 12 was chosen for the pilot project, partly because so many students have difficulty with the subject, and partly because qualified teachers are available. To begin, about six B.C.-certified teachers, all working from home, will provide the service via their home internet connections, Carbol added. It will operate most evenings until the exam, typically from 7 – 9 p.m., as well as on the Saturday and Sunday afternoons before the Feb. 8 exam.

The service is open to any Principles of Math 12 student in B.C.

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