This past week, Kristen Hansen, Adam Krammer, Stephanie Grand, Lorraine Wagner, Venessa Vogel, and Sharon Flaman shared their knowledge on tools for distance and online education. After a wonderful presentation (well done team!) where they brought in the amazing Jade Ballek from the Sun West School Division, they challenged us to reflect on our experiences in EC&I 833 as a online class and how we have felt using the online learning tools within this course.
Just like Erin, EC&I 833 is my third online graduate class with the University of Regina. Other than some experience using Skype in my personal life and UR courses for a couple online classes in my undergrad, I too have limited web-conferencing experience. That being said, I am truly enjoying our online class through the web-conferencing tool Zoom. Just like Andy, even with my limited experience, this is my favourite online learning tool thus far. Although it is online, it allows for social interactivity with breakout rooms, a chat function, and big group discussions. The online aspect has not negatively impacted my learning through this course, and I feel as though I learn just as much (if not more!) than I do in non-online classes. With Zoom and our WordPress blogs, I do feel as though I know the other students in this class better than I often know the students in my face-to-face classes.
That being said, I have always felt myself to be an independent and motivated learner. I enjoy the social aspect of the classroom – evidently, given my chosen profession – but it is not necessary for me to happily participate in a class with success (although it definitely helps to see things through a different lens!). However, I know this is not the case for everyone, and just like Luke wrote in his blog, many people thrive in the social environment that exists in the classroom. This environment is necessary for the sharing and development of different ideas and analyses; one that is difficult to emulate in an online classroom. So just like some students respond better to different teaching styles in the classroom, I think that distance learning works well for some, but not for others. For example, some of my students are really enjoying the use of Google Classroom and Google docs for accomplishing our daily tasks, while others are still struggling with these tools. Some really love being able to access everything online, whereas others prefer to have things printed out for them so they can discuss it with their peers in person.
So I struggle to answer how I would feel teaching and using these tools for an online or distance education class; I do not think it would work with my current students, but that is because of the constant teacher-student and student-student interaction I see on a daily basis. In my Math classes, I could teach the concept online through videos similar to Khan Academy, but just like Audrey Watters said in her article, for some, the ability to rewind or replay a video won’t help. They need someone to be there for them, step-by-step, explaining the process in different ways to help them understand it completely. I teach students like this, and therefore I do not think an online course would work given their learning styles and needs. That being said, there are other students that could thrive in this environment and would work well under these circumstances – I also teach some of those students currently. Therefore, if I were to teach an online or distance education class, I think it would need to be for a group of students that could work in that environment and that do not require the teaching elements offered the face-to-face classes.
But I am just assuming how some students would do in this environment, without actually giving them the chance to test it out themselves? Therein lies the problem; I think all students should try an online class – or at least an online component to a class – and see for themselves what they like and what they don’t like. Maybe I am wrong in thinking some of my students wouldn’t thrive in an online course. Who am I to shut it down for these students without giving them the opportunity to test it out themselves? Perhaps it depends on the subject matter for their online environment; maybe for Math, they would prefer a face-to-face class, whereas for Social Studies they would do well in an online environment with a social component, such as blog writing and the use of the Zoom web conferencing tool. Perhaps it is the opposite. We never know until we try.
Through writing this blog, I am beginning to think, in fact, that it is even more important for high school students try online and distance courses (or add this element to their face-to-face classes) to see what they enjoy about them, what they don’t, and what they need to do to see success in these environments. Then, when they get to university, they will have the tools, the knowledge, and the experience to decide which courses they would like to take online for their degree. I know that all online courses are different, and lumping them all together is not an accurate representation for students. It is just like lumping together all non-distance and non-online courses together. However, at least some exposure to online learning and development in high school would be vital for the direction in which our world is going.
So, what does this mean for my teaching? With that concluding remark, it would seem I would need to jump on the bandwagon and learn how to teach an online class. I have never done so, and would feel entirely intimidated and overwhelmed if I was to take one on, but I think it would be important for both my learning and that of my students. I would need to determine a way in which to do it where the social aspect is still present, and students would know that I am present to help them grow. I would have to incorporate elements for those students for which the ‘one video on replay’ doesn’t work. I think to the article written by Dayley and Hoffman that our colleagues asked us to read this week; in it, they noted:
Online education and the quest for profit from convenience led to the mass production of education and a loss of the genuine art of teaching in a classroom. We lost physical presence of the professor. We took away what makes college learning so unique: to sit in a room with a person who is heavily involved in the creation of new knowledge in the field one is studying and learn from that person in an organic and fascinating way; not to mention the cross learning formed between student-to-student interaction
This is something I want to avoid doing if I was to ever lead an online class; although, I am not exactly sure how to accomplish this. Any ideas?