Blog Post

Piloting a blended ESL delivery model in rural Saskatchewan (podcast episode)

By: Marco Campana
May 6, 2021

Innovation in the ESL and settlement space has always existed. It's gems like this interview that help us to understand how creative, flexible, and innovative settlement practitioners are. And have always been. Well before our recent pivot to completely digital and remote service delivery, many were already meeting the needs of newcomers in their communities. They focused on making service more accessible, both at home and in the workplace.

In this 2014 ten minute LearnIT2teach Podcasts episode, Nicola Finnson of Carleton Trail College describes the challenges newcomers and the college faced, and the impact of the pilot program on learners, their course attendance and participation, and their workplaces.

Episode description

Child care, transportation, cold winters and work shifts are some of the challenges learners face in getting to LINC classes in rural Saskatchewan. To make it easier to participate in LINC, Carleton Trail College in south central Saskatchewan has piloted a delivery model where face to face study in a classroom is combined with online studies at home, or in the workplace. The result for immigrants is a more flexible delivery option.

Nicola Finnson led the piloting of the delivery model. Carleton Trail wanted to preserve the social aspects of face to face learning while making it easier for learners to participate when not in class. The college created three blended learning ‘sites’ and initiated a 16-week pilot project.

Finnson reports, “The results were phenomenal”: great language training results and positive impacts on learner retention and participation numbers. For example, pilot attendance was 89% versus 77.2% in traditional classrooms. Employers report communication gains at work, including more ‘mingling’ between older employees and the newcomers. The pilot has been extended.

Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript of our conversation using The transcript has not been edited. It may contain errors and odd sentence breaks and is not a substitute for listening to the audio.

Rob McBride 0:04
In rural Canada, access to language instruction is a challenge for many newcomers, and so is providing it to make it easier to participate in link. Carleton trail College in South Central Saskatchewan has piloted a delivery model where face to face study in a classroom is combined with online studies at home or in the workplace.

Rob McBride 0:26
The result for immigrants is a more flexible delivery option. Nicola fencin led the piloting of the delivery model. In this 10 minute podcast, she describes the challenges newcomers and the college faced and the impact of the pilot program on learners, their course attendance and participation and their workplaces. Nicola, could you tell us a bit about the vision you've been developing for ESL in rural Saskatchewan?

Nicola Finnson 1:00
Sure, so

Nicola Finnson 1:02
some of the challenges we've had in in running ESL programs in the past or some of the barriers that our ESL students have faced, I have been childcare, transportation, cold winters, and workshift. Predominantly the workforce in the areas. The mining industry, manufacturing, industry, and agriculture. And most of our students work in the manufacturing industry, which means shift work. And also many of our students hold down more than one job, sometimes two, sometimes three part time or casual positions. So they it's very difficult for them to commit to any type of schedule. So out of understanding these barriers and wanting to make them which training more available to a greater number of newcomers in need. We, Carlton trail has developed a vision of doing a blended learning approach where we're offering face to face language training, along with computer assisted learning this training, blended learning can be done in many, many ways. We see a great benefit in the face to face community, the camaraderie and the support that comes with with the classrooms. So we didn't want to take away from that. But we did want to have flexibility. So we made it a 5050 program where they're 50% in class and 50% learning on their own through a facilitation with their instructor.

Rob McBride 2:31
So you started last fall I gathered by doing a pilot project, can you tell us a bit about the pilot project, what you intended it to accomplish and what the outcomes were?

Nicola Finnson 2:42
Sure. So what happened is we had started our year off as we normally normally had, we had eight programs up and running. And they were six hours a week, six hours face to face. And so that was usually broken up into two classes to three hour classes. And I come to know about a few pockets of newcomers in the area. And they weren't accessing language training. And when I went out to find out why it was it was because they couldn't make it to class for usually it was workplace or work schedule. And some instances it was transportation, so they couldn't make it to where we were hosting the class. So I had gone to the community and spoke with the employer, one of the major employers in that community to find out what they felt the need was of their immigrant employees, and to find out how we as a ESL training provider could assist them in helping their employees meet their language goals. So together the employer and myself worked out a plan we discussed all the barriers, we discussed what we what we need, what we were mandated to offer, and the rule we needed to follow and how we could align our program to benefit everybody. And through that we have come up with a vision of blended learning. So once one, I had one employer in place, and they were excited about the project then I went out to a few other employers who I knew had the same situation. employees that work shifts work that couldn't attend classes and but at the same time their employer needed them to like learn, have better English language skills, not only for in the workplace, but also for retention purposes and for integration into the community. So I approached those employers as well to find out if they would be interested in in a blended learning project. And if they felt it would be a benefit to their employees as well as to their organization and, and they all agreed and so we moved forth with three learning learning sites with the employer supporting the project. It started in September and it was a 16 week pilot project. So it ran until just before Christmas, and the success was phenomenal. The attendance rates were phenomenal and the retention was fantastic. The employers were happy We requested an extension from CIC and we regretted that extension as well, we were able to pick up another location.

Rob McBride 5:08
What What has the impact been on learners? Do you think?

Nicola Finnson 5:13
Well, I would say the impact is just the greatest impact, I think is the access. Access equals the knowledge, right, or the ability to learn. I feel that the program now it's done now, but it did run for roughly seven months, we had the students that started in September, almost all of them went right until the end of May. The employers report, greater communication at work, more mingling among newcomers and natural Canadians. They are more involved in in staff conversations or meetings. So when I look at that, from the employer perspective, and the employer feedback, and the difference it's made in the workplace, my assumption is that they are also you know, that same confident employee is now going out into the community with a greater confidence as well. And probably more interactive in the school system that they have children or maybe volunteering to teach ball or, you know, there's so many aspects to to life in rural Saskatchewan right. There, their confidence will be applied to all areas.

Rob McBride 6:24
Has it been easier to for students to stay in the program have has there been an impact on retention?

Nicola Finnson 6:30
Yeah, absolutely. The attendance and retention was higher in our blended learning projects than in our, what I refer to as our traditional classrooms, so where they were attending six hours in class. So in the time of a blended learning project, we start in September and ran until the end of December, the blender burning attendance rate on a whole collective was 89.6%, compared to 77.2%. In the traditional classroom. When it comes to retention, we lost four learners in the blended learning program, compared to 29 learners in a traditional classroom. So the numbers to me supports blended learning and support the need for more flexibility and language delivery.

Rob McBride 7:16
So what now what's, what's the future of blended learning and these flexible delivery options at Carleton trail regional college?

Nicola Finnson 7:24
Oh, well, we would like to see more blended learning sites, we have 11 programs running four of them are blended learning, some of them little, some of the remainder may become more blended learning, or we might just do more of computer assisted language learning. So where they're still coming to class six hours a week, but they're we're integrating computers and technology into the classroom by bringing the computer technology and we're helping them increase their workplace skills by teaching them those computer skills, making that comfort there. And as well, then they still have the opportunity to go home later and continue to work on their their Nike to teach program. So there's two facets it might take.

Rob McBride 8:06
I'm glad you mentioned learn it to teach. That was my next question. What role has the blended learning courseware and the teacher training played in your plans?

Nicola Finnson 8:17
Well, I felt really lucky to I sort of stumbled upon learned it to teach in my in my need to find a program that I can use that we could monitor our students. So originally, we were just kind of finding work as best we could and assigning what we could and, you know, expecting them to go home and work on it. But really, we weren't able to monitor a lot of it. So once I came upon a learn it to teach and now that it's that we're using it in our program, is the biggest thing for me from a program perspective is our ability to monitor the learner to see the time that they're spending to see if you have that assessment piece to see how they're understanding. You really get to weed out those ones that really want to, they really want to learn they want to do more. And the ones that maybe need more support. So I think it's I find it to be by and our instructors find it to be a great tool for anybody who needs more of a flexible approach.

Rob McBride 9:16
Well, thank you so much for your time to Dana cola. And best of luck with flexible delivery. Sounds like it's really having some good impact.

Unknown Speaker 9:25
Yeah, and sure, and we're really excited about it. I'm, I'm excited about the future of it in Saskatchewan and I think it will make a big difference for a lot of newcomers that come into the area. And of course, the biggest challenges is the funder buy in right but so far, we've been really lucky with our CIC agents and or author and they've been really good and I think they're starting to see the benefit of it. So I think there certainly is a great opportunity in this area. Terrific. Well, thanks

Rob McBride 9:51

Nicola Finnson 9:52
Okay, thanks, Rob. Have a good day.

Rob McBride 9:54

Rob McBride 9:58
This podcast comes to you From the learn it to teach project. The project is funded by the Government of Canada through Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Thank you for listening

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