The American International School of Budapest’s (AISB) mission is to empower learners to build their futures and contribute to a better world. In support of this mission, AISB offers rigorous and relevant learning experiences intended to help students explore their passions and interests, and to transform their curiosity into knowledge and skills that can make meaningful contributions to the world. In order to provide these personalised learning options, we partner with a variety of top-tier educational providers, and we implement structures to foster success, such as providing time in a student’s schedule, supporting them with learning coaches and awarding credit for selected external/online courses.
Opportunities offered, not always gained
For some time, students have been able to choose online courses through providers like Pamoja Education for IB or EdX.org programmes for Advanced Placement. In recent years we have also offered ‘externships’ for students who are interested in gaining experience in a field of interest. (The word externship is a hybrid of ‘experience’ and ‘internship’. It differs from an internship in that participants in an internship generally take on a role in a company, whereas students in an externship generally shadow a practitioner in the field.) Students could also take a wide variety of EdX MOOC courses through universities such as Harvard and MIT. All of these options are good choices, especially for self-motivated, independent learners, as they open up the opportunities for students to study an area of interest.
Despite the clear benefits, we had few students enroll in these courses, perhaps because of the highly independent nature of the learning.
Like most schools, we wanted to take advantage of lessons learned from the pandemic and leverage the positive outcomes that emerged from this disruption. Like others, we also had the opportunity to get to know our students even better by being in their homes, and they in ours. We noticed that some students thrived more in the online learning environment than others, and that some actually preferred this style of learning. At the same time, we were considering other ways to expand our programme of studies and provide new pathways for our high school students.
A new and structured approach
As a result, AISB joined Global Online Academy (GOA), a consortium of more than 130 like-minded schools around the world who aim to foster lifelong learning skills, promote autonomy and support students in exploring their passions in courses such as Medical Problem Solving, Intro to Legal Thinking, Arts Entrepreneurship and Cybersecurity. This partnership allows us to expand opportunities for our students, and it has the advantage of being highly structured and designed specifically for students in grades 9–12.
GOA focuses on 6 core competencies that are directly in line with AISB’s aims for student learning:
- Collaborate with people who don’t share your location.
- Communicate and empathise with people who have different perspectives from your own.
- Curate and create content relevant to real-world issues.
- Reflect on and take responsibility for your learning and that of others.
- Organise your time and tasks to learn independently.
- Leverage digital tools to support and show your learning.
Our high school students have access to more than 55 semester or year-long courses as part of the GOA course catalogue, plus several weeklong Flex Courses available to individuals and classes. Students in grades 7–9 have access to several on-demand Flex Courses that support life skills such as growth mindset, digital ethics and understanding how the brain learns, and our entire faculty has complimentary access to GOA’s professional development catalogue. With Global Online Academy, teachers and students can share their voice on a global stage, improving learning and fostering transferable skills.
GOA course workload and course intensity are equivalent to courses taken on our campus. Students have opportunities to collaborate on challenging and interesting projects with other students their age from around the world. They are also expected to manage their workload and time effectively to support the asynchronous nature of the courses.
A positive impact
In our first year offering GOA courses, we have 39 students enrolled in each semester – more than 70 course enrolments throughout the year. We attribute this success to several factors, including students’ recent experience with online learning and seeing this as a chance to keep a bit of that flexibility and autonomy in their learning. Students also report that they see GOA courses as a way to ascertain whether their current interest might be a possible future area of study.
While some students have required more support than others, we are working with GOA’s robust student support system and our own systems at AISB to continue to help them, and we are seeing most students wholeheartedly embrace this opportunity to take ownership of their learning. We hope that it will continue to help students explore their passions and inform their university and career pathways, but more importantly, we see these opportunities for personalised learning as a way to support students in becoming lifelong learners who can successfully build their futures (and ours!).
Tips for personalised learning course success
- Treat personalised learning courses like other courses on campus. Require reflection, reporting, credit, etc.
- Spend the first part of the course setting students up for success by helping them articulate strategies for organisation, time management, balance and motivation.
- Provide time in the student’s schedule for the course.
- Use a dedicated learning space where the student should report during that class period.
- Have students work with an adult who can support/supervise their learning, even if the support is not in the content, but rather in learning habits and time management.
- Celebrate student learning in public ways in order to reinforce the importance of real-world, lifelong learning.
By Tami Canale, Director of Teaching and Learning at the American International School of Budapest Connect with her on Twitter @canaleteach or email@example.com
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