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E-classrooms being pursued by Whistler PAC

One teacher could teach two classrooms in district; students could communicate with others around the world Imagine if your kids could talk to Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, or Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, or the leader of the United Nations.

One teacher could teach two classrooms in district; students could communicate with others around the world

Imagine if your kids could talk to Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela, or Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, or the leader of the United Nations.

It’s all possible with the introduction of an e-classroom, a place where technology and imagination can come together to make just about anything possible.

"It inspires kids and that is beyond price," said Chris Vernon-Jarvis, assistant chair of the Whistler Parent Advisory Council, which has already voted to financially support the idea.

"This is another opportunity for expanding their horizons."

But there is also a more tangible reason to introduce this idea. It will make it possible to offer courses not currently available to high school kids by sharing the expense between schools.

"The reasons we would like to have it is that on a purely academic basis it would allow us to run classes with other schools in the district that don’t have a whole class," said Vernon-Jarvis.

"For instance if you have 10 or 12 kids in Whistler and 10 or 12 kids in Pemberton who wish to do Physics 12 you can do that.

In this case the technology would connect a teacher and a class of students to another group of students in another location via live video transmitted over the Internet. They could talk to each other and to the teacher as if they were in the same location.

And since both schools are sharing the teacher it cuts down on the cost of offering the course.

"It is going to save $10,000 per class per year," said Vernon-Jarvis.

"If you run three or four courses like that a year you are going to save $20,000 to $30,000 and that comes back to the district, so that is a good investment."

The school had asked the Ministry of Education for a grant of $75,000 to get the technology in place for the district, but was turned down this fall.

However, it is an idea the government is interested in pursuing. It fact it will be hosting an e-learning roundtable in February as part of the ongoing work of the Premier’s Technology Council.

And there are already several schools involved in a $225,000 e-learning pilot project in the Alberni, Coast Mountain and Prince George school districts.

Education Minister Christy Clark was quoted recently as saying: "Electronic learning is possibly the best way for rural school districts to provide choice."

To set up each school would cost approximately $15,000 to $16,000 per school, plus some teacher training.

The hope is that the municipality would come up with one-quarter of the funds, the PAC will provide a quarter and half would come from the new grant for technology made available through the Whistler Blackcomb Foundation.

Whistler Secondary acting principal Bev Oakey welcomes the exploration of the idea.

"I know we are very interested in looking at something like this," she said.

Burnaby South Secondary has used an e-learning classroom for several years with great success and is a leader in the technology. In the last year students at that school have spoken with historian James Burke and with Heather Mills McCartney – married to pop icon Paul McCartney and champion of those injured by landmines. They’ve also spent a whole day linked to the United Nations and other schools in the developing world to learn about human rights.

"I’m totally sold on it," said Burnaby South teacher and project organizer Jeremy Meharg.

"For the amount of money involved in this I think it has made a much bigger impact, I’d say, than computers in school."

And the impact on the kids is amazing, said Meharg.

"The most common thing that most of these speakers have said to the kids is follow your passion, follow your dream, don’t let other people hold you back, and that is a really good message for kids to get," he said.

"That message and the fact that they are getting it from a primary source and not from a Web page or a history book has an impact."

But there is a catch said Meharg.

"It takes a lot of time to get all these people," he said "The technology is nothing; it is what you do with it. It won’t work unless you put in the time."

For Vernon-Jarvis it would be worth the work. Students would not only have access to world leaders they might even take a class from a leader in that field of research.

School teams might get together to watch sports around the world.

"One of the ways people learn is to watch the experts do it," said Vernon-Jarvis.

Whistler youth could even tune in to watch local heroes compete and talk to them about their experiences.

"We should be following these people," he said.

"We should be calling them heroes and using them as inspiration for our school. We have so many world champions in this valley, why don’t we bring them to the school?"

And this type of access to experts can even be used by teachers, suggested Vernon Jarvis, for professional development.

And if the municipality helped with funding it would also have access to the technology for video-conferencing and learning opportunities.

"I think interacting with other schools and other people is valuable," said Vernon-Jarvis.

"It would bring Whistler to the world and the world to Whistler in another realm than what we have experienced so far, or (will experience with) the Olympics."