Being “book smart” is just one dimension of an exceptional education. That’s why at Virtual Branksome’s Open Universe
, which officially goes live today, April 22, there’s ample opportunity to jump into a “Day in the Life” career-shadowing course, sharpen your personal finance acumen, try your hand at coding or data analytics, take a Thai cooking class, and plenty more.
“The inspiration behind Open U is to give students an open platform that could evolve to meet their interests, while exposing them to ideas and tools they can carry forward in life beyond Branksome,” says Michael Ianni-Palarchio, Director, Technology and Innovation.
Open U is currently designed as an extension program for graduating-year students looking for opportunities for further learning as well as fun and productive things to do. The school is also exploring the platform’s expansion in mission and programming for the broader Branksome Hall community.
All sessions are categorized around key themes such as academic extension (i.e. book clubs, writing and researching for university); university clinics (i.e. panel discussions with alums and getting involved in school life); wellbeing (i.e. solution-focused approaches and fitness classes); and life skills (i.e. time management and employment readiness).
Since its soft launch on the Moodle platform on April 15, Grade 12 students have enjoyed several 30-minute Zoom sessions of “Grade 12 Teachers Do Cooking,” co-hosted by English Teacher and Instructional Leader Jill Strimas and Head Prefect Elaine, along with a guest chef.
“It was really nice to interact with the students, without evaluation, in an extremely informal way,” says Science Teacher John Heder, who showcased his risotto-making prowess.
Registrants have access to such offerings as learning to “Live Courageously” with Deputy Principal Karrie Weinstock, based on Dr. Brené Brown’s research on vulnerability and courage, or a “Day in the Life of a Prosecutor” with Weinstock’s son, Sam, a lawyer.
While students are enjoying the sessions for the learning, no grades are given—just badges and certificates for courses completed. New sessions are set to be added weekly, running until May 22, with enthusiastic support and session suggestions coming in from both staff and faculty thus far. Alums and parents are also welcome to offer hosting capacity or program ideas.
“The Branksome community has been tremendously enthusiastic about developing these opportunities for supporting GYs in transitioning to university,” says Heather Friesen, Head, Curriculum Innovation and Professional Learning. As Friesen notes, the key source of relevant program inspiration has of course been the students themselves.
“We surveyed students to find out what interests they have and are building programming to meet these needs,” she says.
As part of Virtual Branksome, the goal of Open U is to be as responsive and nimble as possible, reflective of the world at large. Says Ianni-Palarchio, “There are lots of choices and more are being created every day.”