“Some administrators are trying to relieve the pressure by encouraging students (elementary students as well) to enroll in electronic distributed learning (DL) courses. I find this practice unconscionable. While DL provides students who are unable to attend face-to-face classes a crucial alternative, it is not instruction that can ever replicate the richness of a classroom. DL should never be encouraged as an alternative to regular classroom programs unless a student is simply unable to attend school.”
Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the BCTF leadership in the quaint hamlet of Cedar, British Columbia in a small community high school I was engaging in subversive guerilla style education by replicating a DL style model and delivering two of my courses in an electronic and personalized format. For shame!
In an attempt to avoid turning this into a political diatribe. I would simply like to use this piece as a reflection and a space to share my thoughts on what I’ve observed in the first 5 weeks of my educational experiment, but first a little background.
Inspired by my learnings in OLTD, and my final project for OLTD 503, I decided to deliver two of my four blocks, French 9 and History 12 in a paperless format. Using a Weebly page and having students create their own Weebly pages (eportfolios) students in these two classes now present their work electronically. Assignments, links and instructions are loaded onto my homepage, and students work on their weekly task, and projects at their own pace in a largely digital environment. Three to four classes of their five weekly classes are spent in the lab, and the classroom time is used for lectures, seminars, speaking activities (For French) and other group activities. At the early stage of this experiment here a list of what has stood out for me:
- The level of engagement is increased. In my observations and the shared observations of my peers the time spent on task is shockingly positive.
- Students are becoming increasing self-reliant. I think the nature of personalized learning lends itself to
students finding solutions for themselves.
- Students enjoy working at their own pace. Many of my students have complex lives, juggling work,
problems at home, health issues and extra-curricular activities can be very stressful. For my grade 12’s who seem to take on more responsibilities outside of the classroom the flexibility of a personalized
program and having access to their learning, through their phones or home computers allows them to keep pace with the course, while managing busy lives. I can think of 3 students who have had a major disruptions outside of school: 1 a major sickness, 1 a family separation and 1 a family holiday, who were able to effectively catch up with the learning outcomes of my history 12 course, because of the flexibility, and ease of access offered by my course in this new format.
- Dealing with homework requests for students who have to miss a class is much more efficient and effective. In other words, I no longer have to do scramble to fill out homework requests, as the
assignments are already available online.
- I feel much less engaged in the classroom. As my lessons are explained and demonstrated online, I am no longer the epicenter of the class, the “sage on the stage”. It seems as if students are asking less clarifying questions of me, than before.
In six short weeks my day to day experience as a teacher has changed significantly as I have transitioned my courses online. In some ways it has been almost surreal, and maybe disturbing, as I observe my students hunched over their computers working furiously at individual rates, clearly engaged, but yet I feel like something is missing. Where’s the chaos, the manic energy that is traditionally produced by a grade 9 class on the last block of a Friday afternoon before a long weekend. Where’s the tired teacher grasping deep into their bag of tricks trying desperately to maintain some semblance of order and learning. Where’s the richness of the classroom? In my experimentation with personalized DL style, blended learning am I making myself obsolete, am I harming the students and the fabric of our educational system?