Burnaby district boosts online offerings with Arabic, Greek

Introductory Arabic and Greek courses are now among the online courses offered by Burnaby school district, part of a continuing effort to keep students engaged and interested in school.

While Burnaby Online offers most of the regular course offerings a typical high school student might take, it's also a venue for courses that might not have enough interest from students or teachers available to see it taught in a bricks-and-mortar school, said Kevin Brandt, the district's director of instruction in charge of Burnaby Online.

It's hoped Arabic Intro 11 will attract the numerous students in Burnaby whose heritage includes the Arabic language, said Brandt, who noted the district's online courses are open to anyone in B.C. Burnaby will be one of the, if not the only, public school district to offer such a course.

"It allows us to draw from students from across the province and give them the opportunity to learn Arabic."

The district is working with Simon Fraser University's New Media Lab to develop the new courses, which will also include 3D animation 11, and to eventually redevelop its offerings to make them more interactive for today's students using current technology.

Gone are the days when online learning was little more than correspondence courses, with worksheets, that happened to use computers, he said.

Students who take online courses range from those wanting to upgrade marks, those who want to get courses out of the way so they can make room for electives, to those who can't attend regular schools due to health issues or travel.

Brandt said among Burnaby Online's current students are residents of Penticton, Kelowna and Quesnel, with the furthest being a student travelling in Singapore. Last year, three kids took the courses while their family was on a sailing trip to Mexico. Elite student athletes are regulars, and include tennis and soccer players travelling in Europe. It even has a student taking the courses from New York, where she's a ballet dancer.

Burnaby Online has about 1,500 students in total, although most only take one course. They're akin to 250 full-time-equivalent students, the size of a medium-sized elementary school, which is roughly how much the education ministry provides the program through per-student funding, he said.

The program currently breaks even but eventually the district hopes it can become a source of revenue.

Brandt said it's working on numerous other course offerings, including a 3D printing course using the emerging technology of 3D printers, language classes in Mandarin, Punjabi, Italian and German, and in a few years time, Aboriginal languages as well.

The goal is to "keep [students] engaged and interested and really use the technology to drive the learning," he said. "Hopefully they won't even realize they're learning and they're just so engaged in the program."


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