The Worlds Local School


Martha: This is a less technical sort of talk,
which is why I imagine there’s fewer of you. Hopefully if you’ve been going to a
lot of technical presentations this will be a nice break. We’re Wolsey Hall, I’m going
to show you a brief video about what we do and where we are. Narrator: Wolsey Hall is a non-profit educational
organization which aims to provide educational access to those who wouldn’t be able to
access education otherwise. Our most famous student is Nelson Mandela who took his law
degree through Wolsey Hall when he was in Robben Island jail, and we feel he’s an
inspiration to distance learners everywhere. Teacher 1: Wolsey Hall of Oxford is a completely
virtual school, and of course this brings with it its own challenges. One of the challenged
we face is how to minimize the social isolation that home-studying can bring with it. We try
to do this by utilizing some of the great features of canvass which enables our students
to feel part of a community of learners. Teacher 2: I like the idea of students from
all over the world from different lifestyles, backgrounds, and experiences being able to
study together and have shared issues and shared problems and help each other. Teacher 1: Canvas is at the heart of everything
we do. It enables students and tutors to speak with each other, to exchange assignments,
it’s the repository for all our resources. Teacher 3: Canvas enables us to interact with
the students in a variety of ways. It’s a very smooth way of communicating and everybody
can have access to it. Student 2: Famously, a problem with homeschooling,
especially in science is the fact that students don’t tend to do very much practical work.
Using the resource pages on Canvas, we can show the students how to do loads of different
experiments. Teacher 1: I’ve been involved in educational
technology now for about 30 years, and over that time I’ve used practically every virtual
learning environment on the market. In my opinion, Canvas is by far and away the best
of these because it combines excellent pedagogy with reliability. We know that it’s always
going to be there when we need it. Martha: So as you can tell, we’re big fans
of Canvas. Wolsey Hall has been around for 120 years, and during that time we’ve had
a lot of different programs we’ve offered. From distant education for soldiers in the
trenches during World War II, to the first distance NBA in England in partnership with
Warwick University. Then we were the first organization to use Canvas outside of the
United States, as well as the first K-12. We like to be on the cutting edge of things. We’re a virtual school based on Oxford,
but our students are everywhere in the United Kingdom and around the world. We offer homeschooling
to secondary students and mature students, so adult learners, like I said, in the U.K.
and around the world. We prepare students for external examinations, so one of the unique
aspects of the system in the United Kingdom is that we do not give the qualifying exams
or the final grades that students take with them to university. I see some of you nodding
so you must be from the United Kingdom as well. We’re preparing them for their GCSE
and A-level exams, which are end of middle school and end of high school. The exams are
proctored by Cambridge International Examination Board. Our mission is to provide access to students
who wouldn’t otherwise have access. Our methodology as we go about doing this, is
to deliver student-centered courses and encourage students to change their role from being passive
consumers of education to becoming independent learners, and Canvas is key to this. We do
face some unique challenges. Like I said we’re an incredibly diverse student body not only
internationally, but in age-range, scholastic ability, linguistic ability. We want all our
students to become independent learners, but some students definitely face some more hurdles
in achieving this goal. We also offer roll-on, roll-off courses and we don’t have terms.
This is so students can choose to take their exams when they want to, usually in November
or June. We have to work extra hard to fully engage
students and parents as a fully virtual classroom. We don’t have the benefit of having student-parent
conferences or having fieldtrips and things like that. We work hard to create a community
both on Canvas and virtually. Our students are aged from 7 to 70, or currently
11. Our self-selecting, they come either with some special difficulties or maybe they’re
extra motivated student-athletes preparing for the Olympics, high-achieving musicians,
and they’re really spread out. About 50 percent of our students are in England, the
rest are in the rest of the world. These are the different courses we offer,
we’re starting to do Key Stage 2 in autumn which would be ages 7 to 11. We currently
offer Key Stage 3 ages 11 to 14, GCSE, and A-levels as well as adults. That’s where
we get anyone from age 21 to 70. [phonetic] Ben Dean is one of our exemplary adult learners.
In his quote he says, “I struggled in school, I never enjoyed it. I would act up in class.
When I left at 16, I had no qualifications at all having failed them all. I spent a lot
of time unemployed, but eventually settled in a career in welding. Not by choice, but
because I had to do something to earn money. To be taken seriously in the job market, I’d
like some better exam results. I chose to take these courses,” He chose GCSE course,
“because I wanted some qualifications.” Our students are self-selecting, this means
that sometimes they come to us because they can no longer really study in the traditional
classroom setting either because of learning difficulties and disabilities, maybe they’re
on the autism spectrum, they might have phobias related to school or the classroom or other
students, or maybe they’ve experienced bullying. They come to us to have a safe environment
where they’re in control of their classroom and their environment experience. On the other hand, we have some really high-achieving
super motivated students such as athletes and musicians. For example, Olivia Reeve is
ranked number three in the United Kingdom in her age group for diving, and in her experience
she says, “I’m an elite athlete training to be a successful national and international
diver. My focus is on reaching my dream to compete at the 2016 and 2020 Olympics. To
work towards this, I train 6 to 7 days a week. I’m able to do both my schoolwork and my
sport because homeschooling is very flexible. The thing I love about homeschooling is that
you can fit it around you, I also really enjoy it because there are no distractions or delays.
You can just get up and work and you can do it anywhere.” Onto the world wide aspect of our school,
some of our students are British Expatriates abroad who don’t have access to either international
schools or maybe even any school. Some of them are in the bush of Tanzania or in the
middle of Kazakhstan. We also have a number of students coming to us from China, Malaysia,
and India who want to come to the United Kingdom to study for university and they’re greatly
benefited by doing GCSE and A-level preparations. The time zones span the globe. They’re in
over 60 countries. Many of them are not native English speakers, and they come to us with
a diverse cultural background that might mean they have different attitudes towards the
learning process and their own responsibility, the role of the teacher, or even parental
involvement. Chinese students, we’ve experienced some of this difficulty with. The Chinese
students are very famous for being really hard-working, and we know that they know how
to study but the educational system in China doesn’t emphasize personal responsibility
as much or creative thinking. It’s a lot more learning repetition and the teacher just
directs every single aspect of the classroom. Two professors at Bath University did a study,
they looked at about 100 British and Chinese students over the course of their university
experience. They discovered that while in the first year the Chinese students vastly
surpassed the grades and marks of their British counterparts; by the second year, the Chinese
students were really starting to struggle. This was not just explained by the previous
abilities as judged by their high school experience. These researchers, Zhiqi Wang and Ian Crawford,
they boiled the issue down to two things: That Chinese students failed to adapt their
approaches to learning, like I said they may be used to rote learning and memorizations
and just copying down answers. The university experience in the United Kingdom expects a
lot more engagement, creative thinking, project-based, and social interaction and group projects
and things like that. Also, many young people enroll in higher education because of pressure
from their families or just the market and that is what is done. They don’t have the
personal motivation or sense of personal responsibility for their education and so then they start
to really struggle. We want to prepare students like these Chinese students and all of our
students to take responsibility for their learning by making the environment and their
experience centered around their needs and their interests, but also teaching them skills
that will help them further in life. To take responsibility for their learning and to be
really engaged, and find it interesting and enjoyable. Our general system looks like this. We have
a diverse team of support, so students will come to us and they’re assigned a student
support manager. A student support manager helps the student figure out what qualifications
they need so what courses to take. What there schedule might look like, how to make their
studies fit into the time they have before they want to take their exam. Is that even
possible? If they’re foreign students they tell them, “Well you probably can’t take
10 A-level classes, that’s a lot more work than you realize.” The tutors provide the
actual course content, so they give them the feedback, they grade their assignments, they
interact with the student and help them learn the content. Assignments are our core, that’s how we
evaluate how they’re doing and how they’re preparing for their qualifying exams and if
their content will be up to par for those exams. Of course all of this happens on Canvas,
so there the student can interact with their student support manager and their tutors.
They submit their assignments, they access other content to make their learning more
enjoyable. Student support manager makes the schedule, they devise them. Then the tutor
can communicate regularly on Canvas. One of the things we love about Canvas is the tutors
can provide audio and video feedback on Speed Grader. I don’t know if you always use this
aspect but it’s really great, because then you have not just text-feedback coming from
a tutor and it makes them really seem remote. When you actually hear your tutor’s voice
and you see your tutor’s face, you feel like they’re actually your teacher and that’s
huge. We also have a learning support team, and
they’re especially charged with supporting students with learning difficulties and disabilities
or other negative experiences with the classroom. They’ll meet with the student via video
conferencing and talk with the student and their parent and discuss what special needs
they have and how we can adapt the courses to fit their struggle and their difficulties.
Then the learning support team will talk to the tutors and the student’s support managers
and let them know what they need to be aware of and how they can adapt their content when
they’re working with a student. The learning support team provides ongoing
support during the course with phone calls, emails, and video conferencing. They sort
of have a counselor roll, and so this team is really important just in helping the student
gain confidence again, feel more comfortable learning, as well as giving them learning
and studying skills in general that they may not ever have had in a regular classroom setting. How do we encourage students to take responsibility
for their learning? By making it student-directed. The students and their parents choose their
courses and they choose their exams. The assignments also provide the students a lot of opportunities
to make their own choices. They get to choose which essay questions to answer, or they can
select from different multiple choice questions. The quiz options are really excellent also,
we let our students take the quizzes as many times as they’d like. For them it’s not
an assessment as much as a learning opportunity. Recently Canvas has rolled out the average
score for quizzes, where as it used to just take either the highest or the lowest. This
average is great, but we do still like to choose the highest so that students can have
that motivation of improving their score too. A lot of the talk is about gamification and
the ways a student can compete with himself. We also provide a variety of additional materials
on Canvas which I will be talking a little more about thanks to content partnerships
and the LTIs. Some of these are: Conquer Maths, which provides a lot of videos that explain
the process for different calculations or how to use Sine and Cosine. These are really
great materials. Active History and E-notes give content related to history and English
effectively. Whether that be essays, interviews, extra-curricular materials, first-hand accounts
when it comes to history, and these are a lot of content that helps students prepare
their essays and let them delve into the aspect maybe of a course. Whether that be a piece
of literature or historical period that they find interesting; there is a plethora of resources.
Education City is a new resource we’re engaging with, it’s geared towards Key Stage 2 and
it provides a lot of games and activities for younger students as well as just a really
colorful and interactive sort of experience. Doddle and Twig as well provide videos and
content for sciences and languages. Twig is a really great resource as in the earlier
video our tutor Lindsey explained that sciences are an extra challenge for home-schooling.
We can’t always give students access to labs, they may have access if they’re in
a big city but otherwise it’s up to them to figure out how to adapt. We help them adapt
certain experiments, but the Twig videos allow them to watch experiments being done as well
as videos of chemical and molecular processes. A much more fascinating glimpse at the world
of DNA, or biology, or chemistry. We are also partnered in a blended learning
program with Guanghua Education Group in Shanghai. This is a recent partnership we’ve just
begun this year. We provide the course content, we have our tutors do the marking and assessments,
but the practical lab experiments take place in China. This is really exciting. As the
students then can take the qualifying exams for the United Kingdom’s methods, but they’re
still also getting the Chinese qualifications because they’re studying with a Chinese
school. How do we go about involving parents? We don’t
have the advantage of parent-teacher conferences, but from the very beginning we emphasize the
importance of the role of the parent in their child’s education. It’s up to them to
be the tutor, and the teacher, and the principle. As much as we encourage the student to take
responsibility, the parent is still there supervising and making sure the student does
the work they need to. We keep in regular touch with the parents just like we do the
students, via email, video conferencing, and phone calls. Then finally the observer role
is another one that we really love in Canvas. This allows the parent to be enrolled in the
same course as their child, and when they’re linked to the student they can see the student’s
progress. Whether that be if they’ve submitted an assignment or not, so you can’t really
lie to your parents about that thanks to this role. They can see the student’s grades,
and see any feedback from the students that they’re receiving. We also put a special emphasis in the virtual
community, so obviously discretions on Canvas are a great way to get students to interact
with each other. We also put a weekly newsletter and blogs, and these are a way to provide
interviews, whether that be with the tutors and the staff of Wolsey Hall. The students
get to know the people that are teaching them, but we also have interviews with other students
so that they can feel like they’re part of a community with these other students.
We also have a series about potential careers to get students interested in if they got
maybe a GCSE or an A-level in science where that could take them. Maybe it could take
them to a career in archeo-genealogy.
We also engage via social media like Facebook and Twitter, and this allows students to come
back to us so we’re not just projecting information to them but they can Tweet at
us, share their photos, their experiences, and their thoughts. We’re also implementing
a buddy mentor system, and this is pairing students who are already studying with us
with newcomers who are maybe a little bit more apprehensive about the homeschooling
experience. One of our parents, the Rwandan family who
lives in Kazakhstan, we asked them about their experience. The mother came back and said,
“I find that the staff are near, even if geographically far. The most rewarding thing
is that the children feel in charge of their own learning.” When we hear that, we know
that we’re succeeding. If the students feel in charge of their own learning, that is a
great success for us. Does anyone have any questions? We finished
early but – Audience 1: Are you fee-based? Martha: Yes we are fee-based, we’re not
for profit but we are fee-based. Audience 2: What is your average length of
stay for a student? The average would be about a year if they’re wanting to do just one qualification. Some of the students – I’m sorry, the
question was, “What is the average length of stay?” If the student is just wanting
to do maybe their GCSEs or their A-levels, it will be one to two years. As we get students
coming in younger, such as the Key Stage 3, they will stay with us and go through Key
Stage 3. That could be about 5 to 6 years. Audience 3: Have you run into any kind of
conductivity with those far distance students, and what did you do to resolve those? Martha: One of the issues is we have students
in the Middle East and in China where they can’t access certain online content. We
do recommend that they purchase a VPN subscription, which of course is a risky recommendation
but is the only solution for them. These are usually XPats, and so they’re going to be
needing a VPN only for their own purposes anyway. That’s a good question. Audience 4: How do you encourage student community? Martha: How do we encourage student community,
we use the discussion boards. Canvas has that built in and that’s been our more successful
way of having students talk to each other. We’re looking at adding a common room sort
of course so that students in different grade levels who are studying for the same exams
can all communicate together. One of the challenges we face is the fact that we have students
of all different ages. We have underage minors who are under 18 and adult learners, and we
want to be very careful about their interactions together. Ok, thank you for coming. [applause]

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