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Assignment 3 Running head: ASSIGNMENT 3

Assignment 3: Chief Civil Servant for a Day By Michel Lacoursiere For Tatiana Bourlova ETEC 520 2896 words

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Assignment 3: Chief Civil Servant for a Day Introduction Halvar Jonson, the previous Minister of Education, said "Alberta's education system must move in new directions to continue to provide a relevant, quality education for all Alberta students" (Alberta Education, 1996, p. ii). He is quoted as saying this in the Framework for Technology Integration in Education, the guiding policy for technology integration in public K12 education. The document goes on to say that “To provide technology-enriched learning opportunities for students across this province, and to do it equitably and affordably, the government of Alberta must invest in technology” and in the past 15 years the Alberta government has done just that (Alberta Education 1996, p. 1; Alberta Education, 2010). Alberta has seen the development of the SuperNet with private Alberta corporations and service providers as well as numerous well-researched and forward thinking policies. As previous Premier Ed Stelmach stated in his mandate to Minister of Education they must “continue to develop a long-term vision for education that ensures students have knowledge, skills and abilities to be successful in the 21st century” (Stelmach, 2010, p. 2). It is clear that previous Albertan leaders see the value in connecting education and technology and have indeed succeeded in their endeavours in some respects. Since the 1980s many provincial governments have been active in regulating, restructuring and influencing Canadian educational institutions (Bullen, 2010). These governments do so in order to spur innovation and ensure the goals of the province are being met (Bates, 2006). E-learning development in Alberta has been largely conservative, with the government preferring to guide with policy and making big decisions while leaving the specifics up to individual K-12 school jurisdictions. As a result, many schools in Alberta have developed


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their own e-learning strategies and platforms, forming vital partnerships with private companies within the province. There is a redundancy and an over-expenditure of funds present here with school boards spending provincial money on multiple versions of the same final product. There is no argument that this is a worthwhile expenditure but there must be more efficient strategies to be used. It is proposed that Alberta Education develop their own e-learning system for use within Alberta’s K-12 schools for free and potentially elsewhere for a profit with or without private industry but linked to current curriculum and policies. With this in mind the following document will outline Alberta Education’s current role in e-learning, context and policies, provide an analysis and recommendations for the new government and hopefully improve the direction of e-learning within Alberta. Context Policy Alberta Education, the government agency in charge of public education, has instituted numerous policies that support and fund e-learning within the province. Previous policies related to technology and education were largely conservative in nature, with the government acting as regulator, allowing individual jurisdictions to make decisions. The original framework for online education for K-12 in Alberta lay out the following recommendations and have been the guiding policy for years: •

Alberta students are well prepared for a knowledge-based society by being skilled users of technology and telecommunications

Alberta teachers are skilled in the use and application of technology and telecommunications


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Schools and other places of learning are equitably and appropriately equipped with modern technologies including access to technical support to meet learning and instructional needs

Learning and teaching resources are available to support learning and the management of learning

All Alberta schools are connected to a provincial learning network

There is province-wide coordinated planning for the integration and implementation of technology

Management of information and business functions of the education system are more efficient

Business partnerships and community resources are extensively used in supporting technology integration and implementation

Government assists in developing content and knowledge-based industries in Alberta (Alberta Education, 1996, p. 14)

These policies and recommendations represent a great first look at e-learning and its relationship to Alberta schools and the recommendations they provide are well-informed. This material lists key areas of consideration mentioned in educational literature including funding strategies, developing alliances and competition (Bates, 2006). Two other areas of interest here are strategic alliances and funding strategy involved with e-learning in Alberta. Both of these are common issues for educational policy-makers according to Bates (2006) and worthy of discussion. Various learning consortia have formed between post secondary institutions, school boards, industry and government officials that guide and mandate educational decisions such as curricula, standardized testing and professional development


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across all levels of education in Alberta (Alberta Education, 2006). These groups make decisions about what is taught in these schools and how they are organized. As a result of their input, policy is put forward by the government and schools try and meet expectations. In terms of funding, schools are paid based on enrollment and credits earned and are expected to invest money as they see fit within budgetary guidelines. As a general trend the money earmarked for technology has increased over the years but no further guidance outside of the ICT guidelines are offered to school boards (Alberta Education, 2006). Ultimately, this has resulted in many school boards planning, developing and delivering e-learning systems of their own (Alberta Education, 2006). Initiatives When the connection between the Internet and education became apparent the Alberta government took notice and outlined some of the “recommended directions” to “ensure that the benefits of technology are available to all Alberta students in an equitable and affordable manner” (Alberta Education, 1996, p. 2). As early as 2002 the Alberta government knew they needed an immediate and substantial investment in the information super highway and a plan for connecting public institutions throughout the province with each other and the world. The government partnered with private company Axia and built a state-of-the-art, ultra-high-speed Internet Protocol (IP) network to deliver the Internet to 4,700 government, learning, health, library and municipal facilities (Axia, 2010). Most importantly, this system connects 402 rural communities and can be accessed by 85% of all Albertans (Service Alberta, 2010). Simply put, this is the network infrastructure most other areas dream of having for the delivery of e-learning. Initiatives specifically related to e-learning at K-12 levels have seldom come from Alberta Education beyond the policy. The previous government never required school boards to


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act on-e-learning programs and simply allowed the market to dictate what modes of learning school boards would offer. As a result of increased demand and an increasingly connected culture, many K-12 school boards have taken it upon themselves to meet need and become involved in e-learning in Alberta. Some of these groups include the Argyll Centre, Peace Acadamy of Virtual Education, Rocky Virtual School (ADLC) which was formed in 1991, long before electronic and distributed learning were on the provincial Government’s radar (Alberta Edcuation, 2006). Although the government has stayed out of the specifics of e-learning, various groups supported by government funding have begun work in this area including over 15 regional learning consortiums, the Alberta Online Consortium and LearnAlberta.ca (Alberta Education, 2006). LearnAlberta.ca started as a privately-sponsored learning object repository but very recently has been acquired by Alberta Education and may form the basis for future elearning venture (Alberta Education, 2010). Indeed, previous and ongoing initiatives in Alberta certainly hint at government involvement in e-learning but to date no real action has been taken to improve this area for Albertans. Analysis Strengths It must be said that Alberta has made very wise and appropriate decisions in terms of elearning including well-researched and guided policies on education and technology. Over the past 25 years there has been an active effort to support and develop technology in the classroom setting (Alberta Education, 2010). The most obvious support for e-learning and technologymediated learning has come in the form of funding and large-scale infrastructure to support their technology and learning goals and policies. Individual public school boards are funded directly by the Alberta government and receive allowances which are category-based and proportional to


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enrollment. The previous conservative government has done a great job of increasing funds related to technology as its importance in K-12 education has become more apparent. The number of e-learning systems in place and programs offered online in Alberta are a clear testament to this pro-active investment, as Alberta is ahead of many other provinces when it comes to K-12 technology integration (Alberta Education, 2010). The communication infrastructure used to connect all schools and public institutions, the SuperNet, may be Alberta’s biggest asset when it comes to e-learning. For many institutions network hardware and set-up can be huge costs, but in this province the network is built and paid for with money set-aside for maintenance. Schools can connect their internal system to the SuperNet as they would any other internet service provider (ISP). This impressive network is not only fast but broad, it can be accessed by 85% of Albertans and 100% of K-12 schools. So the capacity needed for province-wide e-learning such as multimedia, videoconferencing and other high-bandwidth activities is met (Service Alberta 2010). This investment was a great use of funding and sets Alberta up very nicely to compete in the global e-learning market if they are so inclined. Another commendable trend in Alberta’s e-learning strategy has been building openness and flexibility into policy related to technology. According to Alberta Education (2006) flexible learning opportunities and innovative business partnerships are key influences on e-learning in Alberta and are major considerations in their planning. The government has been keen to provide multiple opportunities for community input over the years which have given industry, institutions and most importantly, the public a voice in how students learn with technology in public schools (Alberta Education, 2010). Beyond public input the government has been flexible enough to partner with private industry in the development of some of their largest e-learning-


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related projects such as the SuperNet (Axia, 2010). These actions are clear indications that Alberta Education is in a position to enter e-learning and take over the fragmented the system that exists. Weaknesses Despite having a powerful network and established infrastructure the previous governments have failed to impress the public when it comes to integrating education and technology. As ‘Inspiring Education’, one of the most recent initiatives in e-learning discovered there is still a lot of work to be done (Alberta Education, 2010). All of the recommendations laid out by the previous governments support the development of a provincial e-learning system, or at very least, an initiative to better connect the fragmented systems that exists. It is worth reiterating that although the K-12 information management and course delivery systems are all very fragmented they are still connected by the SuperNet, a communication infrastructure that is among the widest and fastest networks in Canada. In addition, they are all delivering the same course material and curricula resulting in redundancies everywhere. The former government insisted on allowing individual educational authorities to build or buy their own e-learning systems and school boards and universities did just that. As a result of this policy we see dozens of school boards and post-secondary institutions with their own fullyfunctioning e-learning programs with many others following suit. Indeed e-learning in Alberta has been popular, well-funded and continues to grow. The issue at hand is that these systems do not communicate with each other or benefit from sharing development costs. To make matters worse developing these systems and content can be very expensive (Alberta Education, 2006). The bottom line is that this results in a system where the province pays multiple times over for the same product when it should only pay once. This fragmented system has resulted not only


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with increased cost but decreased flexibility and communication between systems and schools. The government should do itself a favour for all jurisdictions, K-12 and otherwise, and take hold of the planning and development of these systems. Ultimately, if done with the correct funding strategies, flexibility and training, the result will be a better managed, easier to use and cost effective system for Albertan learners. Recommendations With the current context in mind, the new government proposes some changes to the elearning approach of Alberta Education while staying within provincial policy. Present policy is well-researched and fits with current ideas concerning e-learning (Alberta, Education, 2010; Bates, 2010). Essentially Alberta needs an effective and efficient implementation of e-learning technologies and as Abrami et al. (2006) point out, this represents a new and difficult challenge to practioners, researchers and policymakers. As policymakers we are required to act in order to improve e-learning within Alberta. In the past, government involvement beyond policy has been weak and in order to better serve Albertans changes must be me made and the government’s role in e-learning strengthened. The three major changes proposed for the current e-learning model of Alberta: (1) standardization of current learning and information systems, (2) funding reorganization, and (3) the formation of new partnerships. Standardization and Flexibility In many ways K-12 education and e-learning are standardized in Alberta. Schools already educate based on the same curriculum, funds for technology investment and maintenance are already available and a network connects the stakeholders. Many schools teach with an elearning system funded by the government or hope to have such a system in coming years but most of these systems are very different and few communicate between school boards or with


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government systems effectively. Consolidation of the twenty plus systems currently used to deliver courses in over 30 school boards throughout Alberta should provide increased flexibility while staying true to current educational and technological standards and policies. A provincewide e-learning system directly linked to the Alberta curriculum and developed in conjunction with stakeholders may meet many of the needs Albertans have been discussing in open forum (Alberta Education, 2010). Ideally the system would be modular in design and based on a sound, community-based, well-supported delivery system such as Moodle or Google Applications. Standardizing the system should allow for an increase in flexibility, having one system operating for all K-12 students, easing communication, confusion and ultimately cost within the province. If this new standardized system is flexible enough to allow for other curriculum over multiple regions a larger market could be reached, potentially off-loading costs. For example, the Western and Northern Canadian Protocol for Collaboration in Basic Education (WNCP) forms working groups developing common curricula across Alberta, B.C., Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Northwest Territories, Yukon, and Nunavut and new or common courses could easily be developed for and delivered to these areas (Alberta Education, 2006). Funding The funding for the changes outlined here could be obtained through two primary means, redistribution of current budgets or external areas such as federal grants, new income or industry partnerships. In a sense, the fiscal management required to implement a province-wide K-12 elearning system is already in place. The Alberta government frequently sets aside large amounts of money in different ‘envelopes’, one of which is the ‘Learning Enhancement Envelope’ and many other envelopes are available for similar ventures (Bates, 2006; Bullen, 2010). If money were redirected from school boards to Alberta Education there should actually be a cost savings


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in a relatively short period of time, depending on how fast a new system can be rolled out. If an existing, inexpensive open-source e-learning system like Moodle were used costs could be even further reduced or even recuperated. The government could then use the liberated funds to begin planning and developing for the future and building one cohesive e-learning and communication network for Alberta. Beyond redistributing current funds the province could apply to numerous e-learning grants, try and sell their developed materials or license their platform to other regions. With the ever-expanding development of the e-learning industry it is important to note that Alberta Education could turn a serious profit if they develop a product the market needs (Sinclair, McClaren, & Griffin, 2009). Since most of these large-scale operations have utilized private, public partnerships, and this is comfortable for Albertans, this may be the preferred direction of the current government (Alberta Education 2010). Partnerships Many forms of Alberta industry have benefitted from public-private partnership and many governments have used this funding strategy effectively in the past (Bates, 2006). By developing partnerships between businesses and other educational institutions or jurisdictions Alberta Education could not only recover some of the costs of the system but also deliver a better product and reach more people. As Bates (2006) discusses these partnerships and consortia with private sector organizations can give way to some innovative technologies being brought to the table and ever-expanding opportunities in e-learning. Conclusion E-learning in public education and its importance in reaching Canadians has become increasingly important and thus should receive the full attention and guidance of the Albertan


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government and educational stakeholders (Murphy and Rodriguez-Manzanares, 2009). The previous government of Alberta has lead the way with an educated, well-designed policy, network infrastructure and partnerships in the area of e-learning and that is not something the new government should wish to change. Instead the focus should be on linking the fragmented e-learning systems of Alberta’s K-12 school boards into something that is standardized, flexible, financially efficient, and most importantly, meets the needs of Albertan students. All of this could be achieved through redistributing current budgets, partnering with private industry and standardizing the system. Albertans want and need an e-learning system that is efficient, not policy, hopefully through these recommendations a system can be developed that better meets their needs and maybe some money will be saved for Albertans in the process.


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References Abrami P. C., Bernard, R. M., Wade, A.; Schmid, R. F., Borokhovski E., Tamim, R.; Surkes, M., Lowerison, G., Zhang, D., Nicolaidou, I., Newman, S., Wozney, W. and Peretiatkowicz, A. A Review of e-Learning in Canada: A Rough Sketch of the Evidence, Gaps and Promising Directions. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology 32(3). Retrieved from http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/viewArticle/27/25 Alberta Education. (1996). Framework for Technology Integration in Education. Retrieved from http://education.alberta.ca/media/822543/mlareport.pdf Alberta Education. (2010). Inspiring Education, A Dialogue with Albertans. Retrieved from http://www.inspiringeducation.alberta.ca/LinkClick.aspx? fileticket=wqYRVMaWPH8%3d&tabid=75 Axia Netmedia Corporation. (2010). The Alberta SuperNet Case Study. Retrieved from http://www.axia.com/documents/networks/Case%20Study_SuperNet_np.pdf Bates, A.W. (2000). Managing technological change: strategies for college and university leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, Chapter 7, pp. 157-159, 163-179. Bullen, M. (2010). Planning & Learning Technologies in Higher Education [course notes]. Retrieved from http://zencoursesites.com/etec520/ Mitchell, D. (2003). The Alberta SuperNet Research Alliance Canadian Journal of Communication, 28(2). Murphy, E. and M. A. Rodriguez-Manzanares. (2009). Research on the E-Teacher in the K-12 Distance Education Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emurphy/encycloentry.pdf


Assignment 3 Service Alberta. (2010). Alberta SuperNet. Retrieved from http://www.servicealberta.gov.ab.ca/AlbertaSuperNet.cfm Sinclair, G., McClaren, M., & Griffin, M. (2006). E-Learning & Beyond. Retrieved from http://www.box.net/shared/8cfx5cfbpi. Stelmach, E. (2010). Education Mandate Letter [Letter to Minister Hancock]. Retrieved from http://www.premier.alberta.ca/documents/Education_Mandate_Letter.pdf

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