As we continue to steamroll towards the end of the course, we’re coming into a sort of reflective period. We’re getting s a chance for us to reflect on our major projects and what implications our work might have on our practice. We’re also being invited to consider what these implications might mean for the profession as a whole.
My own course project consisted of designing and, by choice, taking a stab at implementing a science unit through an online learning platform. I had the chance to work alongside Dani, a grade 2/3 teacher at Lakeview Elementary school. Having her class as eager participants gave life to our project and has made it much easier for me to realize and consider the real potential of what we are doing. In short, Dani and I decided to use Google Classroom as a learning platform for her students. We did so with some trepidation, being fully aware that there would need to be some serious skill building for her kids to be able to use the platform. There are, after all , many parts to the platform. A lot to learn.
We were right, it was going to take some very direct instruction to get the class moving.We created a couple of smaller modules that had the explicit purpose of familiarizing our students with the platform and some connected assistive technology.
But what I underestimated was their engagement, and how far that would carry these young learners. Right from the get-go, they were hyper enthusiastic. I was taken aback by how quickly they seemed to learn the ins and outs of the various applications at their disposal through their classroom. Yup, there were indeed some hiccups! As related by Dani related, at one point when her class started to actually conceptualize that they were working on the same document, live, it turned into a race and free-for-all to delete each others slides.
Apart from those relatively minor, and perhaps inevitable hiccups, her class truly did dive right into using the platform. Without a whole lot of prompting, I started to notice comments starting to pop on on the class stream. Some students also started working on some of the posted tasks and assignments at home without being asked to. There was something about the platform that, I believe, Dani’s students were connecting to on an intuitive level.
It’s this enthusiasm and rapidly increasing proficiency her students have been showing with the platform that has me thinking about what this means. Both for my own professional practice as well as for the profession in a larger sense.
online learning … potential
I guess my starting point, and a main understanding that has come out of doing this project, is that if a group of grade two/three students can show this kind of proficiency using Google classroom after so short a period of time, there has to be something to it. There is something about it, I believe, that speaks to how our kids our learning today.
As a teacher, I have always put painstaking effort into designing learning experiences that are collaborative and shared. The power of social interactions is hardly news, with proponents like Vygotsky advocating for its worth decades ago. Using an online platform like Google classroom does provide a possible environment for this kind of learning to occur. What is really becoming apparent to me is that this is actually helping Dani and I to fan the flames of these students learning experiences beyond the walls of the classroom. Students are taking initiative and working at home, with friends and family.
Prior to engaging in this project, I hadn’t honestly given serious thought to the concept of a flipped classroom really having much of a place with our younger primary learners. Yet here I am. Bring proven wrong by Dani’s students.
Clearly, there is potential of learning and blended learning to completely transform our classrooms and, perhaps, the way we view schooling altogether. But will it wipe out the need for us as teachers? I think we have to be careful not to overreact and prematurely predict the demise of our school systems as we know it. After all, online education is hardly the first innovation predicted to reduce teachers to redundancy…
“The education of the future, as I see it, will be conducted through the medium of the motion picture, a visualized education, where it should be possible to obtain one hundred percent efficiency.” — Thomas Edison, 1922
Audiovisual certainly did, and continues to have a large impact on education today. But it has hardly replaced teachers. In fact, I don’t even really think it was that effective in dislodging many from traditional practice when I think back to my education of the 80s and 90s.
There are obviously limits to what we can do online. I share in the doubts raised by Amy Ranford:
In theory, assignments, videos and lessons could we posted online and students could complete them at home. So schools could, at this point, be replaced by online learning, but I do not think it is a good idea.
I too do not think it would be a good idea. I might even go farther and say that online learning, at least at the elementary level, probably could not be replaced by online learning. There are limits, and factors we need to consider as teachers. As a teacher in the public elementary school system, where curriculum is not chosen by students but mandated by the province (although interpreted at many levels) we have to be cognizant that not all of our learners will come to school with access to technology or readiness to use online tools. As discussed last week, there may be students coming to school who do not place the same value on using technology, or perhaps even outright reject it. Whatever our own personal views may be, all of our students have the same right to an education.
in the end
In the end, I find the best way to look at the use of online learning platforms and online learning in general is to come back to this notion of it being a tool for us to use. We cannot depend on it entirely any more than we could depend on a computer lab twenty years ago or a TV thirty years ago. We still need teachers employing sound pedagogical practice.
In her article Deeper Learning: A Collaborative Classroom Is Key, Rebecca Alber notes that collaborative learning doesn’t just happen on its own. Like anything else, it needs to be scaffolded, modeled and taught. She goes on to suggest a variety of techniques and activities to teacher kids how to participate respectfully in collaborative groups. I think her points ring equally true for online collaborative learning. We not only have to provide the tools for our students to use, but we have to show them how.
No,online education is NOT stealing our jobs. But it WILL change the way er practice our profession.
Thanks for reading!