GANDER, NL – High-tech devices surround Frank Shapleigh at the Centre for Distance Learning and Innovation’s (CDLI) operations in Gander.
“We’re the best-kept secret in Gander, I am sure,” said Shapleigh, CDLI communications and connectivity specialist at the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD).
“And we do quite a fair bit here.”
CDLI develops and delivers distance education programming to high school students in rural, remote and isolated regions of the province. The centre also provides resources and technical support to deliver online professional development for teachers and oversees technology initiatives for schools.
Using technology to make education accessible is not a new concept, said Shapleigh. He led the first pilot to install computers in Newfoundland and Labrador schools in 1981.
In the 1990s, when the internet was in its infancy, Shapleigh co-ordinated the Lighthouse and StemNet projects, which brought the first computer networks and internet to schools.
“This internet thing is not new – we’ve been at it since day one.”
Installation of satellite dishes at schools in 1997 meant faster internet speeds and access for all students. For example, Shapleigh maintains a satellite connection for one student in McCallum on the south coast to learn remotely.
Use of technology breaks down physical barriers to accessing education, said Shapleigh. Use of video-conferencing allows teachers at the local site to communicate with students in real-time in remote locations.
“It is a vital component in the online learning strategy in many of our courses,” he said.
Shapleigh was a physics teacher before taking on his role with CDLI. An electronics hobbyist at an early age, Shapleigh wanted to share this enthusiasm with students in schools by building items and applying software to operate them.
A particular project that bring across this idea is a remote operated vehicle (ROV) that students work on in Grade 6.
Shapleigh said the ROV is equipped with various sensors, showing students there is a way for computers to interface with or control equipment. This visual demonstration helps students understand concepts and bring them to life.
But technology in schools is not given the same priority as other sciences like physics and chemistry, said Shapleigh.
“In many cases, technology courses are put opposite to physics and chemistry, and they are not looked at rigorous courses themselves,” he said. “But I believe the courses in integrated systems – design and fabrication, robotics – are not low-level courses. They are rigorous and high-level courses and students learn how to design in software, and then they learn fabrication.”
Shapleigh believes technology and the demand for technologists is bright, and encourages students to consider it as career paths.
“We live in such a technological time. Jobs in technology pay very well and I would suggest that if there is a tech course being taught, take it.”