EBUS – A Model for Online Learning

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro

Part of the problem in the ongoing dialogue on the effectiveness of completely online instruction is that much of the talk is just that, talk. This absence of concrete examples may be at the bottom of some of the misunderstandings in discussions.

In fact, there are real-life successful models, and EBUS Academy in British Columbia is one. It’s a public elementary (K-7) and secondary (junior, 8-9; senior, 10-12) school that’s free to BC students and completely online. (They also have a program for adult students.) The beauty of this model is its simplicity. Unlike many systems that seem to have been thrown together piecemeal, this one appears to have been planned from the ground up.

Furthermore, the language on the website is geared to real people, not to other educators. In everyday language that’s mercifully free of educationese, the staff provides just the information one needs to understand what EBUS is all about and, if interested, how to participate.

Reviewing their K-7 material, I found myself nodding, yes, yes, as I clicked from page to page. They seem to have made all the right decisions for the population they serve and the resources in hand. This model shouts “sustainable.” Each elementary student is allocated $1000 for school supplies etc. Here’s a list of rules for purchases:

This model isn’t even remotely similar to brick ‘n’ mortar schools: no classrooms, no lockstep schedules, no classes, no campus. Parents work with their child’s OLT (online teacher) to develop an individualized SLP (student learning plan) that covers  an entire year. They work with the child, at home, and make sure that s/he logs in to First Class, the virtual learning environment or course management system, to participate in learning activities. The OLTs are always available for consultation via “phone, email, online messaging/chat.” Three times a year, parents submit a report in the form of a portfolio of the child’s work. It contains samples in a variety of formats: “print, video, audio tape, online. The OLTs prepare three report cards per year based on the portfolios. Here’s a breakdown of the roles:

I’m not saying that this is the perfect model for everyone everywhere, but I am saying that this is an excellent example of how a small bunch of educators got together to develop an online school that works for them.

EBUS Staff

I wouldn’t do it exactly the same way, and you, the reader, would probably make changes here and there, but the basic model is sound and the EBUS implementation works. The school provides a wide range of learning resources as well as virtual open classes so that parents and students can pick and choose material and activities that seem best suited to the student’s learning style and goals.

As I reviewed EBUS, I wondered how it might be implemented in urban areas where both parents in most homes work. One possibility is a system of neighborhood “learning facilitators” (LFs) who work with small groups of children in their home. Parents drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon or the students simply walk if the distance isn’t too great. Students bring their notebooks,  learning material, and lunches to these sites, and LFs make sure that they are comfortable and on task. The cost for these sites could be shared by the parents and the school. LFs could be required to earn a license through special training by the school district. Numerous variations based on LFs are possibe, and this is just one.

Completely online learning is about real people working with real people with the single goal of learning in mind. The “school” is not made out of concrete, but it provides a real environment for learning that’s dynamic, engaging, and effective.

3 Responses

  1. I attended the SETDA symposium in whidh the Educational Technology plan as it is now was unveiled and distributed. Thinking of the cloud and cloud services and the fact that perhaps mobile devices could be used to leap the digital divide, I was thinking wonderful. I had just attended also the Wireless Conference in which we talked about mobile devices making a difference.

    I got in my car and drove to an assignment in rural Virginia. My cell phone was not working in most of the areas, and when I got to the two schools there was a very distinct sign. NO CELL PHONE.

    Then to do my demonstration for the parent workshop there was great support from the funder who was bringing me in, but you can tell when the Internet is not used a lot except in labs. The connection was great, most sites, including the National Geographic were blocked. I anticipated a lack of time so I had run off the
    parts of the demonstrations from NOAA, NGS, Thinkfinity and the Expo. But..

    What I ran into was first a total denial that the Internet could make a difference from a teacher, a parent, others were there because they were interested.
    I was able to demonstrate technofluency and to change minds. Unfortunately, broadband was extremely limited. There also was in one of the counties only one library , and none in the other. I thought that libraries were everywhere. The parent pointed out to me that the library, was only open until five and that their was no transportation to the library from the school bus so it was impossible for students to access the library without parents coming home from work to take them to the library if a spot was available for them to use a computer.

    Theoretically, the technology plan will work, but we need to educate parents, disseminate mobile devices and train teachers in technofluency but also in deep subject matter areas to make a difference.

    I think the model you shared is fine. I like the Globaloria project as you know, the Atlas Initiative
    and other project based models as well.

    Bonnie Bracey Sutton

  2. Having read this, I am either very confused or starting to understand. I don’t know which is true. I am sensing a real disconnect related to the things I have been writing about for the past few years.

    Yes, there are schools like this. There are many schools like this, and there have been for a long time. When I stopped working directly with schools in Colorado 7 years ago, there were more than 4,000 Colorado public school students engaged in free full time online education. I had administered one of those schools for a couple years by then.

    When I went to work for a private online education provider, we worked with a number of schools like that. I was in charge of designing a curriculum format for these schools, and I think we made a pretty good one, one that is still in use in schools all across the nation.

    To me, this program looks like something that has been in various places for a decade or more now. When I have been writing my columns, I have been writing about programs like this. I did not realize so many people were not fully aware of their existence.

  3. John, yes, EBUS was founded in 1993. And as you and Bonnie are saying, successful examples have been around a while.

    I’ve been teaching completely online classes since 1997. I also taught hybrid classes the following year when administrators felt some students needed an incremental step. However, after a few weeks, the students realized that they could do everything online, making F2F unnecessary or redundant. We abandoned the remaining F2F classes.

    Yet, despite these experiences, I still find that most educators don’t believe that completely online can work! -Jim S

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