EdTech & Design, Engagement, Opinion, Promising Practices, School Community

An innovative pilot project in Alberta asks …“Do credit hours equal learning?”

Since reading Westley, Zimmerman and Quinn-Patton’s Getting to Maybe: How the World is Changed (2006), I’ve found myself looking at educational change in a lot of new ways. The authors ask a lot of compelling questions, but one in particular really stuck with me: “What is holding the system in its status quo?”

All organizations have a tendency to hold on to some things even if after they’ve stopped serving their original purpose. Could the way we organize time in schools be one of the things we’re holding onto in education? Might the relationships between time and teaching and learning be holding the status quo in place in school systems despite years of educational change efforts?

Since the early days of public schooling the school day has been driven by time. Many years ago we might have been able to argue that schools were organized in ways that fit with conventional knowledge about how young people learn. Our knowledge about learning has grown immensely since the turn of the twentieth century and yet the school day, especially in high schools, looks very much the same as it did 100 years ago.

In November I had the pleasure of working with staff from 16 high schools participating in Alberta’s High School Flexibility Enhancement Pilot. This innovative project was designed to address tensions between contemporary beliefs about learning expressed in Alberta’s curriculum and the practice of funding all credits on the basis of the Carnegie Unit of 25 hours of face-to-face instructional time per credit. Carnegie Units took hold across North America as a system for accrediting and funding high school credits in the early 1900s. By releasing 16 high schools from policy requirements built around this unit, Alberta Education will discover, among other things, if they continue to hold educational value in the 21st century. 

Through the pilot project, a diverse group of high schools (large and small, urban and rural, French and English-language) are exploring the relationship between hours of face-to-face instruction and student success (e.g. achievement, engagement, school completion) and the merits of various innovative high school designs for teaching and learning. Over the course of the three-year pilots (2011-2013) students, parents and staff at each school will work together closely to develop an approach to school organization that does not necessarily equate time with credit. 

The project’s leader – Gerry Fijal – and participating schools are currently finalizing an evaluation plan for the project that will include What did you do in school today? measures of social, institutional and intellectual engagement.  Outcomes of the project will likely be available in 2013, but regular updates will be posted on the project website where you can also find a copy of the literature review written to stimulate thinking about innovative practices for high school redesign including,

  • Increasing learning opportunities for students;
  • Enhancing engagement of students in their learning;
  • Addressing diverse learning needs of students;
  • Enhancing relationships in the school community; and,
  • Enhancing teacher collaboration.

What do you think might be holding up the status quo in our school systems? Are you exploring innovative ideas to disrupt policies or practices that might not be working anymore in your district or region? If you are, share your ideas here and look back here in a few weeks to see others that I’m learning about through What did you do in school today?

Meet the Expert(s)

Jodene Dunleavy

Jodene Dunleavy

Jodene Dunleavy is a Senior Policy Analyst for the Nova Scotia Department of Education.

Jodene Dunleavy est analyste principale des politiques au ministère de l’Éducation de la Nouvelle-Écosse.

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