Should Blended and Online Learning Be Here to Stay?

According to elearningindustry.com, “Online learning… refers to the delivery of educational content and instruction through the internet.”

This week’s presentation spoke about different types of online learning; including video conferencing, synchronous, asynchronous, open schedule, and fixed time learning. In our small group, we discussed which type of online learning is most beneficial for us (more on that in a moment).

This current class utilizes a number of tools to reach all of the learners. UR Courses uses Moodle as a hub for everything, Zoom is where we can meet for classes or with our groups (as it is open all the time), and we share work on blogs and can access each other’s work through the blog hub. We also utilize shared documents thanks to Google’s Workspace and use the Discord to ask questions, share resources, and communicate with each other.

coffee, school, homework

Photo by ejlindstrom on Pixabay

As an adult learner with a career and a hectic home schedule, the flexibility that comes with an online course is a necessity… without it, I’m sure I wouldn’t be furthering my education.

That being said, it is my belief that too much flexibility is not beneficial for my own personal learning. I appreciate taking synchronous classes, which were defined in our presentation as having a required class time each week. This allows me to stay on track, ask questions of my classmates and instructor, and keep  more of a routine. I discussed this with my husband, asking if he would prefer synchronous or asynchronous (viewing instructional videos at any time) classes. His response was, “well if you aren’t meeting every week you can just rip out all the videos and do a half decent job to get it over with.”

And therein lies the problem… WHY are we here? Why did I apply to be in this program and pay tuition? To get it over with? To bump myself up on the pay grid? Or did I do it to learn?

I am doing this because I love what I do, and I am in a place where I am ready to learn and grow in my career.

I personally do not believe that I have ever gotten as much knowledge and interest from any asynchronous courses I have taken… it has always been about getting it done. Which is not what learning is about. It’s about finding something that interests you and taking in as much as you can to grow both personally and professionally.

For that reason, I believe that the Zoom class time would be the most useful tool when it comes to online and blended learning.  According to “Teaching in a Digital Age“, this would fall under the category of Social Media.

“Andreas Kaplan and Michael Haenlein (2010) define social media as

a group of Internet-based applications that …allow the creation and exchange of user-generated content, based on interactions among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.”

It is imperative to have that face-to-face time to ask questions and mull things over in discussions.

teacher, learning, school

Photo by 14995841 on Pixabay

When COVID hit us in March 2020, I was having a tough year in the classroom. I was teaching a group that I had already taught in grade 2, and again in grade 3. I knew that they were a challenging group, and that they would test boundaries. To be honest, when they announced that the school would be closing I felt a huge sense of RELIEF. This was my third year with this crew and I was ready for a break.

By May, I was ready to get back into the classroom. I came to realize that I feed off of the energy of those around me, and without the energy of the classroom I was bored with teaching. It also had a profound effect on the students.

In class we talked about how school is more than just the curriculum. My students were coming to school to get breakfast, to learn about hygiene, to learn social skills, problem solving skills, and to feed off of the energy of those around them just like I do. The joy of learning was gone. It just wasn’t the same.

For this reason, I do not think that online education is a good idea for our growing and maturing learners. There will of course be the exceptions to the rule, but being out of the house and around peers is an integral part of the education system. It comes with challenges, yes… but those challenges inspire growth in students that will lead to happy, healthy, and successful futures. As someone who was truly looking forward to distance learning, I can say with confidence that (in most cases) this is NOT beneficial to our students.

Productivity Suites… yes please!

Productivity Suites

What is a productivity suite, and what is their current role in education?

According to Forbes, an office (or productivity) suite is “… a set of productivity applications that typically include email, file sharing, document editing and collaborative tools.”

NYTimes.com explains the popularity of Google’s Productivity Suite by stating that “Today, more than half the nation’s primary-and secondary-school students… use Google education apps like Gmail and Docs”

In my own teaching experience, Google really took over in my school division around 2015. Instead of using large laptops to create presentations on Powerpoint and type essays on Word we began making the switch to Chromebooks, which were clearly a more affordable option. It also allowed us to move from 1 device per 2 students to a 1:1 device to student ratio.

logo google, google, research

Photo by ElisaRiva on Pixabay

Slowly, I started to see the benefits of moving to Google’s Productivity Suites:

  • It was easy to move my Word Files and Powerpoints into Docs and Slides
  • Students were able to collaborate on presentations and assignments without sharing a device
  • Files were accessible from everywhere
  • Students could share their working assignments with me for some additional support, instead of needing to bring a laptop up to me for assistance.

In 2017, a colleague introduced me to Google Classrooms, and it was an absolute game changer for me as an educator. It was a way to organize assignments, grades, due dates, everything in one place. I wasn’t chasing down papers or keeping constant checklists, because everything could be submitted and tallied on the Google Classroom. In my mind, this opened up my time to focus more on the content I was teaching instead of organizing and collecting everything.

cluttered, desk, dirty

Might as well be a photo of my desk before Productivity Suites – Photo by OpenClipart-Vectors on Pixabay

That being said, this was a time when I was teaching in a community school, where many of our students did not have access to technology at home. The way we worked with this was by giving students the option to print out any unfinished work at school, and take it home to complete by hand. I needed to remember to focus on the quality of their work and not just the outward appearance.

macbook, laptop, google

Photo by 377053 on Pixabay

There is the issue of copy and pasting from the internet and claiming it as one’s own work, but I truly don’t believe this is a new thing. When we were strictly using textbooks, students always copied word-for-word from the textbook. I even remember my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Friesen, explaining to my class back in 2002 that we needed to explain answers in our own words, and try to make connections to our own lives/previous learning to show that we truly understand something.

If anything, it is easier for me to check if students have been copy-pasting from websites. All I need to do is copy a snippet into Google and it will likely locate the source of the plagiarized information for me.

Access to Productivity Suites and online tools means that we need to look at how we are teaching and WHY we are teaching it. What base knowledge should students have, and where should we teach them how to help themselves? How can they locate trustworthy websites and sources when you can pretty much search up any answer that you want to find online? How can they give authors credit where credit is due?

Now, to something that I had truly never considered before last week’s presentation…

What is Google getting from this? According to Google Workspace for Education itself, School Divisions are indeed paying for it’s services. The Classroom Help page also states that:

Classroom doesn’t use your content for advertising

There are no ads in Google Workspace for Education Core Services, and core service data is not used for advertising purposes. Also, if ads are shown in Additional Services and you’re using your Google Workspace for Education account in K-12 (primary and secondary school), we don’t show you personalized ads, which means we don’t use information from your account or past activity to target ads. However, we may show ads based on general factors like your search query, the time of day, or the content of a page you’re reading.

However, because I have the ability to search for whatever answers I truly want to find, I can also find an article from The Verge that says “Google uses student data from Chromebooks and Google Workplace for Education ‘for its own purposes,’ which isn’t allowed under European privacy law.” The article further goes on to stay that Denmark may be phasing out Chromebooks due to this.

I don’t know what to believe or who to believe… what I want to know is what information would be collected and how is it used? I’m going to ask our Supervisor of Learning and Technology to see what I can learn from them.

To be continued…

Can You Tell Me How to Get to Sesame Street?

“…We now know that “Sesame Street” encourages children to love school only if school is like “Sesame Street.” Which is to say, we now know that “Sesame Street” undermines what the traditional idea of schooling represents.” – Neil Postman 

ernie and bert, sesame street, electric car

Photo by Kapa65 on Pixabay

Postman brought up so many great points in this article, Learning in the Age of Television. I find it so fascinating that the ideas he wrote about in 1985 are still very applicable today.

He says that Sesame Street relieved parents of the responsibility of teaching their children how to read and  lessened the guilt of leaving their children in front of the TV. (Postman, Learning in the Age of Television)

This brings up thoughts of CoComelon‘s educational nursery rhyme videos on repeat for my nieces and nephews, and Ms Rachel’s Toddler Learning Videos that successfully distract my friends’ toddlers while they prepare meals or tidy up the house. I have always feared that over-exposure to screen time at an early age had links to ADHD and emotional regulation difficulties, but if it’s educational, is it still an issue? Is it the content, or the bright colours, or the sound, or the constant scene changes that is the real problem?

I watched my sister raise her first child with a strict no-screen policy. She took it upon herself to create learning experiences for her child, and I also believe that because of this, my first niece has a lot of patience, a long attention span, and is able to entertain herself with anything readily available. That being said, she may be the exact same child now even with exposure to screen time.

television, kids, cartoons

Photo by Vika_Glitter on Pixabay

It’s my own belief that we need to find a balance to everything. If something seems too good to be true, then there is a reason why.

Audio Visual Technology has an important place in education, particularly when it comes to creating meaningful learning experiences. According to the Regeneration Music Project, “The combination of sound and visuals creates a multisensory experience that can evoke emotions, drive engagement, and leave a lasting impression. ”

  • My question to you is, if that we overdo it with the AV Technology, does it minimize these emotions, engagement, and lasting impressions mentioned in the above quote?

  • Should there be a place in education for the more “mundane” tasks, that teach our students to complete things that are not always fun but necessary as they become independent adults?

  • Does the role of AV Technology need to change based on our students? If they have constant access to audio visual technologies, do we need to bridge the gap? Isn’t that the role of schooling in the first place?

This brings me to another conversation that I have recently had with one of my colleagues, a pre-kindergarten teacher at a community school. My school division is running a play-based learning pilot program, and as a middle years teacher, it took me some time to wrap my head around. This colleague of mine made the argument that the role of school has always been to give students the learning that they are not receiving at home; in a time where students are exposed to so much screentime, they are missing out on the socialization and learning that can come from play. 

girl, bored, sleepy

Photo by Saydung89 on Pixabay

It is possible that because students have constant access to tablets, televisions and smartphones, they find audio visual technology monotonous and dull?

With the implementation of play-based learning, it seems that we are moving away from the heavy use of AV Technology in the classroom. There is, of course, a place for it in education. But that doesn’t mean that it needs to be part of everything we do in the classroom.

It is my belief that Audio Visual Technology is a great way to ENHANCE student learning, but at the end of the day, the skills that we need to teach students so that they can lead happy, successful lives include interpersonal skills, critical thinking skills, and reslilience. This is something that can’t be taught BY screens, but something that needs to come from us as educators.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the overuse of AV Tech in the classroom and play-based learning! Do you think we are going from one extreme to the other? Do you think there is a fine balance?

Peeke’s Perspective on Learning Theories

Join me on a journey as I look back at my ten years of teaching and reflect on how three different learning theories have shaped my philosophies of education.

Behaviourism

According to Anthony William (Tony) Bates’ book Teaching in a Digital Age, “At the heart of behaviourism is the idea that certain behavioural responses become associated in a mechanistic and invariant way with specific stimuli. Thus a certain stimulus will evoke a particular response.” (Bates, 2.3.3).

I can confidently, but not proudly, say that my earliest teaching years focused heavily on this theory. My first year as an educator, The Zones of Regulation was all the rage. We were asked to have the posters hanging in our rooms so we could point to the different colours and ask our students, “What zone are you in right now? What zone should you be in? What can you do to get back to that green zone?”

traffic light, traffic, three primary colors

Just by drawing the students’ attention to these coloured posters, our questions would prompt them to calm down, and practice mindfulness to get themselves into a learning mindset.

I also spent a year trying out Class Dojo, which was very unsuccessful and short-lived. Although I enjoyed the short lessons on developing a growth mindset, the idea of having points sitting on the board for everyone to see was too distracting and frustrating for students. Very soon after beginning to use this behaviourist technique, I learned that it was counterproductive to subtract points for negative behaviour. This was embarrassing and shameful for the students that it effected, and immediately closed them off. It didn’t build a respectful relationship between myself and the students, and I have never believed in taking things away as a method to sway student behaviour.

office, notepad, whiteboard

Photo by ammcintosh1 on Pixabay

Now, what I try to do is start the year by making sure my classroom is a safe, nurturing community for students to come and feel loved and cared for. We create a class contract and spend time discussing the things that make us feel safe, and the things that allow us to learn. When we are trying something new I try to give students time to goof around and be kids.

This week, for example, we utilized Jamboard. I set aside the beginning of the lesson to make a blank board so students could hop on and play around with it… putting funny emojis and messages to each other, and trying to take over the space. When we were ready, we talked about how it can be used as a great discussion tool.

To sum up behaviourism in my teaching practice, I would say that I am trying to find a delicate balance between fostering a calm, effective learning environment and trying to gain total control over my students.

Cognitivism

“Cognitivists believe that humans learn from thinking. They believe that we learn from our experiences and that we can change our behaviors based on new information. Knowledge is considered an internal process rather than a product.” Main, P (2022, December 09). Cognitivism Learning Theories: A teachers guide. 

As a new teacher, I can say that I didn’t practice this learning theory as much as I do now. Inquiry- Based Learning was new to me and something that seemed too big to conquer. I tried creating inquiry projects to help students reach the learning outcomes in a more meaningful way, but it took a lot of time and a lot of preparation on top of being bounced from grade to grade and starting from scratch each year. When I started teaching, there were a lot of teachers who wanted to get hired, and I took whatever I was offered with the hope of that permanent full time contract.

  • I started in Grade 7 along with Grade 5/6 prep coverage
  • Next was one month of grades 1-5 Arts Ed coverage at a French Immersion School (no, I don’t speak French)
  • The rest of that second year I was moved to Grade 2/3 in the mornings in one school, and 5-8 prep coverage in the afternoons at another (Mondays-Thursdays)
  • From there I got a grade 3 position in the mornings, and a Grade 5/6 in the afternoons at a second school (still at 80%, but this time a permanent contract!)
  • Next, I was finally able to get 100%, but 2 mornings a week I was the Music Itinerant at a second school.
  • Finally a spot opened up for me to have Grade 6 full time in one school!
  • Since then I have been bouncing between 5/6 and 6/7

With so much movement, I wasn’t willing to reinvent the wheel each year. So, what I did was keep my teaching basic. Here is the unit, these are the lessons, and at the end there will be a test which will require you to memorize the things.

So you can imagine my excitement when I learned about Genius Hour at a Middle Years Conference – meaningful learning that doesn’t require so much time on my end. It makes perfect sense… why don’t we also focus on teaching our students HOW to learn so they can continue to grow when they leave school?

Genius Hour for me was a wonderful experience when I had a class who was capable of it. My students were learning math, science, research skills, the arts, and everything in between. They were engaged, they were excited, and they loved sharing what they learned with each other! Am I doing Genius Hour this year? Nope. Will I in the future? It depends on the group of kids I have!

Considering Bloom’s Hierarchy of Learning, I felt (and still feel) that this form of learning pushed students beyond beyond remembering facts, past applying what they’ve learned, to creating their own projects and sharing those with others. 

Figure 2.4.1 Cognitive domain Image: © Atherton J S (2013) CC-NC-ND

 

Constructivism

According to Teaching in a Digital Age, “Constructivists believe that meaning or understanding is achieved by assimilating information, relating it to our existing knowledge, and cognitively processing it (in other words, thinking or reflecting on new information).” (Bates, 2.5.1)

This learning theory can also be applied through Genius Hour, but right now I see it most applied through play-based learning.

In my personal teaching, I try to practice the constructivist approach by taking advantage of situations happening to connect them to curricular outcomes and life-lessons. On one of our frigid winter days, we looked out the window and learned about sundogs… what causes them, when we can see them, and how this applied to our weather unit, light unit, or space unit in science.

In health, this looks like a group discussion on the media we consume, and how that media inadvertently shapes our ideas of what it means to be either male or female. To me, it is all about trying to get my students to look at the world more critically and find connections and places where they can better themselves and grow.

One more example of this would be in my English Language Arts program. In the past, I would borrow a novel set, and use it along with chapter questions and vocabulary words to teach.

This year I am working with my principal to do Literature Circles. What I LOVE about this is that my students are able to pick what books interest them out of 16 choices. Each book group has 3-5 members, and each week each member takes on a different role. One of my favourite roles is that of the Investigator. The job of the Investigator is to collect background information on the book to help enlighten the group. This is building curiosity in what we are reading.

For example, in this week’s group, the Investigator of the book Prisoner B-3087 shared information they found about the life of the book’s main character, Yanek Gruener. This led to a meaningful discussion about what humans are able to survive if they maintain hope. We learned about what Death Marches are, the dangerous power of hatred, and talked about why anyone would follow Adolf Hitler when his ideas were so barbaric and evil. To me, this discussion proved far more meaningful than answering basic chapter questions.

Well, that about sums it up! Thank you for sticking with me on this one. I have never sat back and thought about how much my teaching has changed over the course of my career. I am always open to learning and trying new things to better equip my students for a successful life when they leave school.

EdTech & Me

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Maybe, but you can definitely teach this old dog to look at things from a different perspective.

Now, should I consider myself an old dog? Probably not. I’m ten years into my career, believing that I’m pretty tech savvy and up to date with the latest in educational technology.

desk, table, coffee

Photo by kaboompics on Pixabay

In 2013 I was using wikispacesremember wikispaces? – to keep my students up to date on assignments and upcoming work. When that site shut down, I moved to WordPress before my school division made the move to Google Classrooms pre-pandemic. From there I joined my division’s team to support teachers as we rolled out Edsby and started to phase out of Google Classroom.

And there were so many things in between that I gave a try… Edmodo, Class Dojo, Classcraft, among others that are long forgotten.


 

My personal view of educational technology has always been to make things accessible to students from anywhere – removing the excuse of “I forgot”, and also to save valuable paper as budget cuts have hit my schools. My biggest move into using technology was forced when we ran out of paper (now known as the great paper shortage of 2015) and I shifted almost everything I did into a digital space.

After reading Five Things We Need to Know About Technological Change by Niel Postman, however, I’m recognizing that I have always been unconsciously making the assumption that new technology = easier life = GOOD.

I’ve always been ready to jump on the next trend and give new tech a try, and have never stopped to think about the fact that “.. for every advantage a new technology offers, there is always a corresponding disadvantage.” (Postman, 1).

questions, man, head

Photo by jambulboy on Pixabay