Tools for Distance and Online Education

I found this post challenging to write this week because in essence we are attempting to challenge traditional forms of schooling as we know it. While many classrooms implement tech integration and try a variety of new tools and activities related to emerging technologies, much of what we continue to do — especially in primary classrooms like my own — is rooted in traditional models of teaching.

In a previous blog post, I discuss how I use a blended learning model in my classroom:

In my classroom, I teach from a blended learning approach, combining digital media with other more traditional teaching methods. Before we start learning with technology, we begin in September by learning how to use technology. Included in this learning is management of time, place and the tools we use when it comes to our devices. In a third grade classroom, this means learning about safety online, privacy, being responsible digital citizens and finding balance. All of these understandings must be in place before we begin learning with technology. In my opinion, this blended approach allows for technology to enhance learning in a meaningful way. Key to this approach is the teacher and as my classmate Wendy argued, “it’s not technology that motivates and engages students, its teachers. Bad tech isn’t good learning”. After all, we live in a digital world and students need the skills that technology is providing for them.

In my classroom we use tools such as but not limited to BrainPopJr., Google apps for Education, Seesaw, Twitter, and other various apps that are available through our school board regulated devices.

In our readings this week, I came across this quote: “There’s an inherent conflict…between a culture that demands learning efficiency and a culture that recognizes learning messiness” (Source). The conflict this blogger is discussing is part of what holds, me (and I believe, many others) back from moving towards a less traditional model of teaching. Alec asked us to consider how our current context would be impacted if we were to shift from online/distance learning vs. face to face learning. In a primary classroom, I find this very difficult to imagine. In my opinion, for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable.

However, once students gain more independence, work ethic and intrinsic motivation (among other skills!), it makes sense that online/distance education can be highly beneficial. In our EC&I833 course, there are many benefits to our synchronous online meetings. For example, as Tony Bates (2014) points out, there is a great deal of learner autonomy in our course in terms of content and learning style. There is “openness, in terms of access to the course, content, activities and methods of assessment”, diversity in terms of “varied content, individual perspectives and multiple tools, especially for networking learners and creating opportunities for dialogue and discussion” (Source). In our course, we use Zoom, Google+ Communities, Twitter and a Feedly Hub but have access to many other modes of communication between teacher-student and student-student. An additional benefit is the interactivity of the course; “communication…and co-operative learning [that] results in emergent knowledge” (Source). Lastly, there is increased access to courses and course content and the course becomes available for distance learning.

Meanwhile, Tony Bates (2014) also points out the following criticisms of the connectivist (online/distance learning) approach to teaching and learning:

  • there is no control of the quality of content, or on contributions from participants;
  • assessment can become more difficult
  • learning may not necessarily be academic
  • students may struggle with a lack of structure and can be overwhelmed by the volume of content generated by other students
  • “this kind of learning requires learners already to have at least some level of more formal or traditional education before they participate if they are to fully benefit from this kind of learning experience”.

So, while I maintain that my practice is a blended learning approach with a slight lean towards the traditional, I see great value in online/distance learning for more mature students.

In my primary classroom, I have been intrigued by the idea of a flipped (or partially flipped classroom) for the purpose of engaging students and parents in a different and potentially more connected way.

With parent engagement as one of our division’s primary goals this year, a flipped classroom could play into the action plan well. While I cannot see myself transitioning to a fully flipped classroom, I can see many benefits to using this type of model in a variety of ways. My hope would be that this type of learning would help bridge the gap between home and school. So, what’s stopping me? Well…like most new approaches to learning, there are also many barriers including student/family access to devices, student/family time (what about extra-curricular activities? family time? a break from “school” learning?), what about families that don’t engage with this model? It seems everyone would have to be on board. This makes it difficult for families with parents who work evening shifts or have other responsibilities. So, while I like many aspects of the flipped classroom model, I also see many barriers and currently, too many barriers to encourage me to switch over to this kind of model.

As I mentioned previously, I found this post difficult to craft because of my conflicting opinions on new models of learning as they have many attached advantages and disadvantages. Coming from a primary classroom plays a big role in my opinion of online/distance learning in my current professional content however as a university student, I really enjoy this type of learning. I am eager to read the posts of other primary teachers in this course to see what they think about online/distance learning in their contexts!

 

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6 thoughts on “Tools for Distance and Online Education

  1. I agree the sentiment of your post. You articulate the same struggles I have when conceptualizing online learning with our early primary learners. It’s hard to imagine online learning methods dislodging the more traditional classroom. The face time of students with teachers is what comes to mind for me as well.

    Although I do wonder if I struggle with this because our classroom is all I really know for early primary. When I think about it, the amount of minutes our primary students actually have with their teacher at school can probably be measures by the fingers on our hand…

    Nice post!

  2. Pingback: Online/Blended – could it be the future? – The Musings of Moffatt

  3. Great post that hits on some key points.

    The comment that I appreciated the most was “for young children the face-to-face learning and connection with their teacher is invaluable”. The importance of this cannot be overstated. A grade school teacher has so many responsibilities that go far beyond content and many of those responsibilities don’t translate particularly well to an online setting.

  4. Pingback: A journey through online learning – Scott's Thoughtful(?) Musings

  5. Pingback: My Experience with Distance/Online/Blended Education | Haiming Li's blog

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