Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Rural Schools as Regional Centres of E-Learning and the Management of Digital Knowledge: The Case of Newfoundland and Labrador

Academic journal article International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology

Rural Schools as Regional Centres of E-Learning and the Management of Digital Knowledge: The Case of Newfoundland and Labrador

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Small schools in rural Canadian communities have had a special role in the development of e-learning and the management of digital knowledge within customized electronic educational structures. In the provision of education to learners in dispersed sites, particularly for those in small schools in rural communities, the school district digital intranet provides a new educational environment that complements and extends traditional schools. Within this digital structure, new processes, including pedagogical considerations that shape e-teaching, have to be considered. The school district digital intranet challenges the traditional educational practice of teachers and learners interacting in closed learning environments and encourages them to consider the possibilities of engaging in open classrooms that are compatible with a knowledge-based economy.

Keywords: Newfoundland and Labrador; Canada; rural education; e-learning;

INTRODUCTION

It could be argued that a new rural education has developed in Canada over the last decade, based on acceptance of e-learning and virtual classrooms (Stevens and Stewart, 2005). Within the new rural education schools have become regional centres for the management of digital knowledge through which they challenge notions of distance, isolation and rurality. It could be further argued that small schools in rural communities have become templates for other schools through their acceptance of modern educational technologies, collaborative teaching and learning and the integration of onsite and online instruction. Schools that have traditionally been considered small in size, based on the number of students that attend, in person, on a daily basis, have, become, to an increasing extent, large educational institutions when the number of students who attend classes virtually is considered.

Over the last decade the introduction of inter-school electronic networks has added a new dimension to education in Canada that is challenging teachers, learners and administrators. Schools in geographically-isolated communities that have traditionally faced difficulty providing instruction to small numbers of senior students, particularly in specialized areas of the curriculum such as science and foreign languages, can now complement on-site classes with specialized online teaching and learning. Many rural Canadian schools have been transformed as virtual classes are integrated with traditional, physical learning spaces.

EDUCATION IN NEWFOUNDLAND AND LABRADOR

With the decline in the provincial fishing industry that has always been the main economic activity in Newfoundland and Labrador's coastal communities, rural schools have become steadily smaller in size as shown in the following table.

A Decade of E-Learning in Small Schools in Rural Communities

During the last decade a pan-Canadian initiative to prepare people across the country for the Information Age (Information Highway Advisory Council, 1997; Ertl and Plante, 2004) has provided impetus for the classroom application of emerging technologies. In rural Atlantic Canada the introduction of the internet and internet-based technologies has had a transforming effect on the capacity of small schools to deliver programs (Healey and Stevens, 2002; Stevens, 2001; 1999a). In other developed countries with substantial rural populations to be educated there have also been major changes in the configuration of small schools in isolated communities. In New Zealand (Stevens, 2000; 1999b), Finland (TeIIa, 1995), Iceland (Stevens, 2002), Russia (Stevens et al, 1999) and the USA (Dorniden, 2005; Click, 2005; Schrum, 2005) a variety of communication technologies have been engaged to promote educational opportunities for students and more efficient ways of organizing and managing knowledge in collaborative electronic structures that have implications for regional economies.

The rapid growth and educational application of the Internet has led to a challenge to traditional ways of teaching and learning at a distance (Ben-Jacob et al, 2000) that were based on paper and the postal system. …

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