You are on page 1of 14



ETEC 500 - Group Assignment #3

Online Elective Courses in Rural Schools

Kamille Brodber, Janna Duval, Diana Loewen

University of British Columbia



Facilitating elective courses for high school students in rural and smaller school districts

poses significant challenges. The use of online learning is seen as one way to help

alleviate some of the problems posed. This study seeks to determine if students in these

schools would be interested in taking elective courses online. We also seek to determine

what kinds of course electives students might be interested in taking. The proposed study

will use a mixed method online survey given to a group of students from two high

schools in rural areas of British Columbia and Alberta.


Rural and smaller schools have unique challenges that are not common to schools in

more urban areas. This puts students living in rural areas at a disadvantage when it comes

to post-secondary employment opportunities or college applications. The purpose of this

study is to determine, 1) student interest in taking online elective courses and, 2) which courses

are of interest, so that districts and schools can use this information to guide future

decision making around their course planning.


Rural and smaller schools face declining enrollments, socioeconomically disadvantaged

populations, high transportation costs and a lack of computer and Internet access in

homes (Nordine, 2014). Low population and a small tax base mean that many schools

struggle with being able to attract qualified and competent teachers and hence are not

able to offer their students the range and depth of courses that are offered in urban areas

(de la Varre, Keane & Irvin, 2010).

The first online schools or “virtual schools” were established around 1996 with the

purpose of providing affordable and equitable access to “high-quality educational

opportunities for students who need them most: rural, underserved, and at-risk

populations" (Davis & Robyler, 2005). Online courses offer many advantages for

students in rural areas. A 2004 policy brief on Distance Learning in Rural Education,

indicates that high school students living in rural areas who participate in distance

learning programs experience the following academic advantages: opportunity for

curriculum enhancement; a chance to enrol in AP classes; and more scheduling and

academic options. (Hobbs, 2004). An additional benefit of online learning is that it has

been shown to increase their participation in courses and allow them to be more active

participants in their own learning, (Badri, Al Rashedi, Yang, Mohaidat, & Al Hammadi,


In 2001, a study found that rates of participation in K-12 courses delivered via the

Internet were highest in rural and small schools, (Clark, 2001). Susan Patrick, President

and CEO of International Association for K-12 Online Learning, claims that online

learning, “levels the playing field” (as cited in, Vander Ark, 2013). By allowing students

to take online courses, these rural schools are giving their students opportunities that they

would not otherwise have had.


Provincial governments in British Columbia and Alberta also support online learning,

through programs such as distributed learning course in Kindergarten - Grade 12 through

a program called LearnNowBC. The Alberta government offers a comparable service,

with a variety of course options, called LearnAlberta. However, these services come at a

cost of lost revenue to the local schools as they do not receive funding for courses

students do not take with them, and school resources such as computers and internet

services are used by the online student. Financially burdening an already budget-strained

school does not seem like a viable choice for rural school districts. This means that

students may not be given these online learning options.

In our study, it is assumed that students are more engaged in courses that they enjoy and

are interested in. Having access to elective courses that are in their areas of interest will

help to promote intrinsic motivation. In fact, studies show that students who have a

personal interest in the course material are more intrinsically motivated and engaged in

the content and report more satisfaction with online courses, (Smart, 2006).

However, it is not a given that students will be interested in taking online elective

courses. Students of rural and smaller schools are accustomed to small classrooms which

provide them with more closeness with their teachers and a greater sense of belonging (de

la Varre, Keane & Irvin, 2010). Some virtual schools, such as the Florida Virtual School

have chosen to alleviate the disconnect that some students feel from their teachers by

mandating a specific amount of instructor contact, plus a 24 hour turnaround for student

questions, (Blaylock, & Newman, 2005). In addition to possible apprehension about


losing the classroom experience, some high school students may lack the maturity to

successfully participate in an online course. Studies have shown that online learning

requires a significant amount of self-discipline and self-motivation (Badri, Al Rashedi,

Yang, Mohaidat, & Al Hammadi, 2016). Regardless of whether they are interested in the

course content, if the student is not yet ready to commit to online learning, it might not be

the best solution for them.

Despite facing common challenges, every rural community and high school is

unique. Our survey results will reveal useful statistics about Chetwynd Secondary

School and Paul Rowe Jr/Sr High School that may help course planners in deciding how

best to approach course selection for students in the future.


High school students attending Chetwynd Secondary School and Paul Rowe Jr/Sr High

School will prefer to increase the choices available to them by taking elective courses

online rather than traditional electives offered to them in their school.

Description of Methods

After permission forms (Appendix A) are released and returned to ensure participant and

parent/guardian awareness of student participation in the study, students will complete an

online survey (Appendix B) intended to gauge student interest in taking elective courses

online. Giving allowances for students who do not return permission forms and absences

an estimated approximately 80% of Grade 9-11 students attending two rural secondary

high schools will complete the survey. This purposive sampling method is used as the

students in the junior grades do not generally have elective course options, and Grade 12

students will no longer be attending. The survey identifies school, grade and gender

through demographic questions. Additional quantitative data is collected as students

answer attitudinal questions and open-ended questions. Qualitative data is collected

through short answer, where students can expand on their thoughts about online elective

courses, and if they so wish, provide their name and email address for further follow-up

by researchers in the form of email conversations. This mixed-method approach allows

research subjects to more fully explain their choices and reasoning for their choices.

The students’ interest in online elective courses in general is gauged through the

survey. As well, the survey also determines which courses most interest students. The

elective courses listed in the survey for students to choose from are developed and sold

by a company that publishes and sells courses specifically to schools and districts, (for

example Apex, Blackboard, E-DynamicLearning, K12 Inc., Connections). The

purchased courses are in turn taught by the teachers of the school/district through their

own LMS (Learning Management System).

Each school’s data will be first analyzed separately to compare the results and hypothesis

the possible differences in responses if any.

Quantitative data to be analyzed will include:

• % of students interested in taking online elective courses.

• % of male vs. female students interested in taking online elective courses.


• Grade level of students vs. those interested in online elective courses.

• Elective courses students are most interested in taking online.

Qualitative data

• What students have to say about online courses, and their

interest/disinterest in taking them.

Description of Data Sources

Chetwynd Secondary School teaches grade 8-12 students in Chetwynd British

Columbia. This Northern British Columbia Community found approximately 690 kms

northeast of Edmonton is a resource-based community and is supported by logging, gas

and oilfield, mining and farming. Although the area is financial prosperous and growing

economically the communities’ population remains unchanged as many workers choose

to commute from out-of-province, or are transient.

The school has 250 students and 13 enrolling teachers. Elective courses the school is

currently able to offer are:

• Art • Information Technology

• Digital Media • Mechanics

• Drama • PE

• Foods • Woodwork

• French • Work Experience


Overall the school does not encourage online courses as they do not have them developed

in-house, and would have to pay an online school, which is financially not feasible. They

have looked at purchasing online courses outright from a publishing company and having

one of their own teachers manage the learning. The school does have course-completion,

which is a paper-and-textbook based correspondence course offered in-house. Most

frequently students may take Planning 10 or Earth Science by course-completion to meet

their graduation requirements. However, students are encouraged to take Planning 10 in

the regular classroom. Some students have taken online courses when a course does not

fit into their timetable, or they cannot get the course through the school.

Paul Rowe Jr./Sr. High School is a grade 7-12 school located in Manning, Alberta. This

Northern Alberta community is approximately 600 kms north of Edmonton and is

supported through logging, gas and oilfield development and exploration, and

farming. Approximately 170 attend Paul Rowe, with about 9 enrolling teachers. The

basic elective courses available to students are:

• Art • PE

• Computers • Shop (Woodwork)

• Foods • Outdoor Education

• French • Work Experience

• Metal fabrication

Paul Rowe has offered academic courses through distance learning for over thirty years

and telephone / videoconferencing since 1997. Most of these courses are academic


Proposed Timeline

The survey would be conducted during the semester before the next course selection. We

propose giving participants access to the online survey over a one week period. Results

and data collection will be conducted following the conclusion of the survey. We

anticipate the entire course of research to be complete in four weeks.

Results & Conclusions

Hypothetically, students could show a great deal of interest in online elective courses

because of the limited selection of elective courses rural schools are able to offer.

We suggest that if the results of our survey indicate student interest in taking online

elective courses, then high schools in Chetwynd, B.C. and Manning, Alberta may wish to

develop and offer courses or course pathways that are more customized to their unique

communities, such as the NAT, natural resources cluster, developed by the Calgary

Board of Education, which offers face to face courses that, “focus on conservation and

the sustainable use of natural resources” (Calgary Board of Education, 2017).

Alternatively, students may not show interested in online elective courses because they

are satisfied with the current option courses available to them, or they do not feel they

have the ability to complete an online course because of either technology skills or a

recognition that they have poor self-regulation skills.

Educational Significance

The introduction of online learning has opened a variety of avenues for achieving

learning outcomes. While the use of online learning has become the focus of tertiary and

adult education, the prevalence of its use high schools is becoming more significant.

(Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J., 2009) noted that while research into online learning has

grown rapidly in the last few years much of that research focuses on post-secondary

education and therefore greater emphasis needs to be paid towards the high school

context. This study will therefore help to contribute to the limited research that exists on

online learning in secondary schools.

Students’ attitudes towards any course will have a significant impact on the success of

any program. This study will consider the perceptions of students towards having a

choice of traditional classroom instruction or online instruction for elective courses. It

will therefore add to the depth of information on students’ perceptions of online learning

as well as their attitudes towards elective courses.

The study looks at a providing an alternative to face-to-face instruction, which can be

costly and difficult to achieve for smaller rural schools. Those tasked with making

decisions about courses and programs may use the results of the study as a step towards

determining the feasibility of providing students with the option doing electives online.


Badri, M., Al Rashedi, A., Yang, G., Mohaidat, J., & Al Hammadi, A. (2016). Students’

intention to take online courses in high school: A structural equation model of

causality and determinants. Education and Information Technologies, 21(2), 471-


Blaylock, T. H., & Newman, J. W. (2005). The impact of computer-based

secondaryEducation. Education, 125, 373-384.

Calgary Board of Education (2017). Your Detailed High School Course Guide Course

Guide. Page 24. Retrieved From:



Clark, T. (2001). Virtual schools: Trends and issues - A study of virtual schools in the

United States. Distance Learning Resource Network. Phoenix, AZ.

Davis, N. E., & Roblyer, M. D. (2005). Preparing teachers for the "Schools that

technology Built": Evaluation of a program to train teachers for virtual

schooling." Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 37, 399-409.


de la Varre, C.., Keane, J., & Irvin, M. J. (2010). Enhancing online distance education in

small rural US schools: A hybrid, learner-centered model. Australasian Journal of

Educational Technology, 26(8).

de la Varre, C. ., Irvin, M. J., Jordan, A. W., Hannum, W. H., & Farmer, T. W. (2014).

Reasons for student dropout in an online course in a rural K–12 setting. Distance

Education, 35(3), 324-344.

Harvey, D., Greer, D., Basham, J., & Hu, B. (2014). From the student perspective:

Experiences of middle and high school students in online learning. American

Journal of Distance Education, 28(1), 14-26.

Hobbs, V. (2004). The Promise and the Power of Distance Learning in Rural Education.

Policy Brief. Rural School and Community Trust. 1-9.

LearnAlberta. (2017). Alberta Government. Retrieved From:

LearnNowBC. (2017). BC Learning Services. Retrieved from:

Lynch, M. (2016). Online school provides unique curriculum in rural areas. The Tech

Edvocate. Retrieved from:


Nordine, D. (2014). Online Learning a Lifeline for Rural Schools. Virtual School

Leadership Alliance. Retrieved from:

Picciano, A. G., & Seaman, J. (2009). K-12 Online Learning: A 2008 Follow-Up of the

Survey of US School District Administrators. Sloan Consortium. Newburyport,


Smart, K. L., & Cappel, J. J. (2006). Students' perceptions of online learning: A

comparative study. Journal of Information Technology Education, 5(1).

Vander Ark, T. (2013) How Online Learning is Saving and Improving Rural High

Schools. Getting Smart. Retrieved from:


Appendix A

Dear Students, (Parents & Guardians):

We are currently conducting a Web-based research survey titled “Online Elective Course
Interest Survey,” the purpose of which is to examine if (or what) online elective courses
of are of interest to rural high school students.

Please note that the results of this research will be shared with your school, but
participation in this research is NOT in anyway an indication that your school is
intending to offer online elective courses at this time. However, they may take the results
of the survey under consideration.

The survey can be taken anonymously, or students can provide their name for possible
follow-up questions by researchers. However, only the researchers will know the names
of the students who participate in the follow-up research. Additionally, no individual
information will be shared; only aggregate results will be reported.

Participation in the study is voluntary. If you have any questions regarding the survey
itself, research in general or would like to request a copy of the results please contact the
researchers at:


Kamille Brodber, Janna Duval, Diana Loewen

UBC Masters of Educational Technology Research Students

Please fill out the permission form below to allow your son/daughter to participate in this
online research survey and return the form to the school office by DAY-MONTH-YEAR

I the parent/guardian of ___________________________________________________

give permission for my son/daughter to participate in the Online Elective Course Interest

• I understand that:
• My son/daughter has the option to provide his/her name for further follow-
up research interview questions.
• My child’s name will not be released and only researchers will know
his/her identity if they are interviewed.
• No individual information will be shared; only aggregate results will be

__________________________ __________________________
Please Print Name Please sign name