Online learning holds promise for student enrichment, extension of
learning, and differentiation of instruction across all divisions at
Garrison Forest. Research shows that quality blended learning strategies
increase student motivation and engagement, self-discipline,
responsibility, and organization. Other skills strengthened
by online learning include teamwork, problem-solving, and higher-order thinking.
In 2009, under the strategic direction of the Garrison Forest Board of Trustees and in response to the National Association of Independent Schools
(NAIS) call for independent schools to take steps toward Programmatic Sustainability, Garrison Forest began developing online education options for students. By collaborating with our faculty and partnering with respected online-learning providers, Garrison Forest employs a blended learning model to strike the right balance between traditional teaching and exciting technological teaching tools available today.
In the hands of Garrison Forest teachers, this technology offers myriad opportunities to augment the traditional classroom with the shared goals of developing our students' digital fluency skills to be effective leaders in 21st century communities and workplaces and to extend learning beyond the academic day. A blended learning environment puts a variety of resources into the hands of learners, enabling them to learn and review anytime, anywhere.
GFS teachers have been trained on using a blended learning curriculum
through Moodle, the GFS Learning Management System (see sidebar) and developing expertise in an array of online and Web 2.0
resources, such as blogging, screencasting, creating videos, VoiceThread, and
the use of a variety of social media tools. Dubbed MoodleMoot and funded through GFS faculty
development funds, the summer 2010 hands-on training workshops were created and led by GFS teachers.
In addition to the blended learning model in the classroom through Moodle, the use of fully online courses is being piloted in the Upper School and Middle School. This effort allows GFS to offer better scheduling flexibility for students in special programs such as WISE, and to address special placement and sequencing needs. Given the breadth and depth of research in recent years that has verified the efficacy of online learning, the School seeks to match students with online courses when such placement is to the student’s advantage.
Students are recommended for these pilot online learning opportunities by department chairs, in close collaboration with the Division Head and the appropriate advisor. Typically, a GFS learning coach is assigned to the student to act as a liaison with the online course provider and to monitor student progress.
To continue and ensure its ability to provide rigorous, high quality options for students in this learning format, Garrison Forest is working with select online course providers and has joined the Online School for Girls
as a Charter Affiliate. Partnering with the Online School for Girls and other providers allows the School access to online courses of equal caliber to in-school offerings and input into the development of new courses that meet students’ needs.