Since 2002, students and teachers in the Rocky View Schools (RVS) division have had access to an amazing array of online resources through the Alberta Library’s Online Reference Centre (ORC) – which, according to RVS Learning Specialist Verena Roberts, provides invaluable tools to teachers and students alike.
“The number one benefit is it provides access to information that is credible in the moment. It’s vetted. It’s checked, unlike other content out there,” she said. “Every single school and every single child has access, including if they go to the public library, and they can have access from home.”
The ORC includes more than $1.4 million worth of resources, ranging from those dedicated to providing information about Canada’s political system to detailed book reviews. The system also offers access to authors and resources in languages other than English.
The resources are available to both students and teachers from kindergarten to Grade 12. According to Roberts, one of the most impressive elements of the ORC is the way it links to the curriculum.
“What the ORC did is they spent the time to go through…and they’ve split it all up based on subject level and then directly connected the curriculum,” she said. “It just makes things faster for (teachers)…and they can get content right away.”
The Alberta Library has also provided teachers with a website – onlinereferencecentre.ca – which includes training material, videos and webinars they can use to help their students get the most from the ORC. RVS does professional learning workshops for teachers on the ORC.
According to Roberts, many of the available resources have been designed with accessibility in mind.
“Some have bigger text or different languages or different colours in the background. That aspect makes it a lot easier for every child in the district to have the opportunity (to access them),” she said.
Other accessibility features include text-to-speech, text translation, text highlighting, text prediction and embedded dictionaries. Students can share information via social media or subscribe to RSS feeds on a number of the resources.
Roberts said she is very enthusiastic about the benefits the ORC can give to students and teachers and how it will continue to grow. She said she anticipates the ORC will soon include Open Education Resources (OER) – resources that have a Creative Commons license, which enables the free distribution of otherwise copyrighted material for anyone to use and modify.
“In 2018, we should have the ability to personalize content and change it to meet the students’ needs, to be really, really inclusive. That’s the direction I think they’re going,” she said. “We want students to be able to build upon the content and to participate with the content in some way, rather than just be given it.”
Access to the ORC is available on LearnAlberta.ca but requires a username and password, which students and teachers can get from their schools.