New Brunswick

The blended-learning effect: Experts weigh in on whether it gives N.B. students an edge

The unique learning model followed by New Brunswick high school students is drawing conflicting predictions about whether it will be a help or a hindrance when they apply to university or college.

Could province's unique learning model be an advantage for university applicants? Depends who you ask

New Brunswick high school students could be put at a disadvantage compared to their peers in other provinces because of the Department of Education's model of in-class learning only every other day, said Paul Bennett, an education consultant in Halifax. (Schoolhouse Consulting)

The unique learning model followed by New Brunswick high school students is drawing conflicting predictions about whether it will be a help or a hindrance when they apply to university or college.

Under the blended learning model, introduced at the start of the school year last fall, students alternate between in-class and at-home lessons, attending in-person classes one day and completing homework and assignments from home the next day.

Education consultant Paul Bennett says that could be a disadvantage for getting accepted to universities and colleges, and in preparing them for the workforce once they graduate.

"In comparison with the nearest provinces like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island and Quebec and parts of Ontario, I would say [New Brunswick high school students] are at a bit of a disadvantage because they're the only province where there was hybrid blended learning for all students," said Bennett, director of Schoolhouse Consulting in Halifax.

Meanwhile, some universities say the blended learning model won't have an effect on how they consider those students when applying to their programs.

And one school says it could even put them at an advantage. 

The Department of Education closed all schools in New Brunswick at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic last March.

When schools reopened in September, elementary and middle school students returned to full-time classroom instruction, while high school students adopted a model that saw them physically going to school only every other day, completing assignments from home on the alternate days.

The department recently announced that the blended model was being tweaked for the second half of the 2020-2021 year. Students now have to establish some form of connection with their teachers even on the days they're not scheduled to go to school.

Bennett says that still leaves him with concerns about how well prepared students will be for life after graduation.

"There are legitimate concerns about preparedness for universities, colleges and the workplace by virtue of the fact that [with] blended hybrid learning, there will be less subject content covered," Bennett said.

"There's a disadvantage that comes from being in an experimental cohort of students."

Model could help prepare for university

CBC News asked several universities in the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario whether New Brunswick's use of the blended learning model will affect their consideration of applicants from the province's high schools.

In some cases, universities said the blended learning model wouldn't have an effect on how they consider those students when applying to their programs, while one university — New Brunswick's Mount Allison — said it could give them an edge.

Mount Allison University (Submitted by Mount Allison )

Universities across Canada, including Mount Allison, offered either blended or fully online programs this year, and are likely to continue doing so this fall.

"That should make the New Brunswick student better prepared to face a primarily online learning environment," Mark Lasanowski, an admissions counsellor at Mount Allison, said in an interview.

"We want to know that they'll be ready for the in-class environment, whether that classroom is going to be a physical classroom or online classroom. ... We feel the mix of modes that we see there is in many ways preparing them quite well."

In an interview, Ann MacDonald, associate director of admissions at Dalhousie University, said the blended model for high school hasn't affected how the university considers applicants from New Brunswick.

"We trust that the program that's being offered will meet our requirements," MacDonald said.

"We've not been aware of any changes to content or to outcomes in the programming. So with what we know and how we treat the applications, there certainly hasn't been any concern in that regard."

Other universities in Quebec and Ontario didn't specifically say whether the blended learning model will impact how they consider New Brunswick applicants.

Katherine Gombay, spokesperson for McGill University, said McGill is committed to providing an equitable admissions process to all applicants, and recognizes that students in high schools across Canada have been affected by the pandemic in different ways.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and work with our partners in higher education to minimize the impact of these interruptions and examine whether other measures will need to be implemented to better evaluate student records," she said in an email.

Julie Brown, spokesperson for Queen's University, said the school is monitoring the impact of the pandemic on schools and testing centres, and will work with school officials and examination boards to minimize associated impacts to the application process and requirements.

Isabelle Mailloux-Pulkinghorn, spokesperson for the University of Ottawa, said the university is "adapting to the changing reality of high schools and CEGEPs" and remains flexible in its admission processes.

"We are taking into account the challenges that the measures schools must implement to adjust to the health crisis represent," she said in an email.

Minister stands by learning model

Education Minister Dominic Cardy concedes it's not ideal for students to miss out on daily face-to-face interaction with teachers, but says the blended model offers a "sustainable" system in the face of the pandemic.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy said the blended learning model for high school students offers stability in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"I'd much rather take the stability that we've been able to offer compared to the random reopenings, closings, reopenings, closings that have marked the responses in a lot of provinces, the States and other countries who our students will all be working to compete against to get into universities," he said in an interview.

Cardy said with the blended model, the goal is to teach students as much of the curriculum as possible within the year.

"I want to see a school system where teachers are given the power to deliver the learning materials that are going to engage their students, and you get as much of that done as possible in the time they have," he said.

"That applies just as much in a time of COVID as it did before. And I can't speak to exactly what percentage people are going to be able to get done, because a lot of that depends on the coronavirus, which, as much as I wish I did, I don't control."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aidan Cox

Web reporter/editor

Aidan Cox is a web reporter and editor for the CBC based in Fredericton.

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