In the fall of 1995, the first Canadian online course, designed in Notepad, became viewable to anyone using the Netscape browser. This grade 11 biology course was developed by Steve Baker while working as a staff member at Goderich District Collegiate Institute (GDCI), Huron County Board of Education (HCBE), now the Avon-Maitland District School Board in Ontario. Following the success of the online biology course, Baker worked with John Smallwood in 1996 to develop a Grade 13 Canadian Literature course (ELIOA) which won second prize for best online course in North America at NAWEB 97.
On January 2, 1997, the VirtualHighSchool.com domain was purchased by Baker and used to house the online courses. Baker worked with his local Internet Service Provider,www.odyssey.com, operating at the time in a backroom of a jewelry store in Clinton, Ontario where, along with the HCBE, he built a very rudimentary learning management system which remained unnamed. One of its primary tools was a quizzing engine, developed by Coral Technologies of London. This arrangement required that the student login and write randomized multiple choice tests. This system also included a second tool, a password protected site for the content, developed by the folks at Odyssey.
In 1999, a change in direction at the HCBE stipulated that Virtual High School was about to close and that the school board would be taking full ownership of its two courses. Baker, who had personally paid for the VirtualHighSchool.com domain and never claimed the expense (a common practice among teachers), retained the domain. Baker continued to try to resurrect Virtual High School privately, but not having the ability to grant credits, the school had little chance of success. Despite this, he continued to write, develop, offer and teach the online courses.
Baker was also involved in a peripheral way in helping his children, led by John, to develop another company, Desire2Learn in 1999. In these early days, Desire2Learn used the VHS online courses as a base from which their learning management system was patterned. Despite all of the Bakers’ efforts, VHS had only one student in 2001 and nine students in 2002. Baker applied to the Ministry of Education in Ontario to be granted status as an inspected private school that would have the ability to grant Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) credits. Following a number of inspections by the Ministry, VHS became a fully accredited, inspected private school in Ontario in April, 2003. It could then begin offering its six online courses for OSSD credits.
Virtual High School has remained an accredited private school offering Ontario Secondary School Diploma (OSSD) credits entirely online ever since. Today it has 64 distinct high school courses, an administrative staff of 14 persons, around 60 OCT teachers and over 4600 active students. Against all odds, VHS has become one of the largest online schools in Canada. Students have tremendous flexibility in that they can begin their courses on any day and work on them at their own pace. There are no set deadlines for assignments or tests. The student controls how quickly they move through the course and when they hand in their assignments or take their tests. There is no start or end date to the school day or year. VHS courses are also unique because no textbooks are required. All the content is written and developed by VHS curriculum developers to match the curriculum requirements of the Ministry – and is presented in online lessons to students using Desire2Learn’s Learning Management System. VHS consistently receives positive feedback from students, parents, universities, and colleges on the quality of its courses and its OCT teachers.
Grand Opening EVENT:
Over the past year VHS has been renovating an old hotel, the Martha Ritz, on Main Street in Bayfield. VHS and its staff have now moved into their new office building, making the school a much more visible presence in the community. This Friday, June 1, 2012, VHS is hosting its Grand Opening at its new facility.
Location: 27 Main Street North, Bayfield, ON N0M1G0
Time: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm (Ribbon Cutting at 6:00 pm)
The event will begin with brief speeches from local and political dignitaries followed by the cutting of a ribbon. The event will then move indoors where there will be refreshments and hors d’oeuvres, as well as a live jazz trio. Everyone will have the opportunity to tour the building, meet the staff, and meet the people who worked on the building project.