doug — off the record

just a place to share some thoughts


I spent a very productive day yesterday with the District eLearning Contacts at the DeLC forum in Mississauga.  We spent the entire day working, reflecting, and planning for the delivering of online courses, blended courses, credit recovery, and just access resources from the Ontario Educational Resource Bank.

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We were in the board office of one of Ontario’s biggest school districts where everything was first rate.  There were about 80 of us all with our laptops ready to learn and you could see all kinds of wireless networks for your use including the public network to which we would attach.  There was also a technician devoted to our happiness.

Even with all this, there were challenges.  People couldn’t get on the wireless network.  Laptop batteries ran low and people were scrambling for outlets.  In one session, there was an incredibly annoying feedback problem with the speakers, a couple of websites were unavailable, there was a content filter that blocked us from some sites, search engines randomly switched from English to French, and the list goes on and on.

I’m sure that, as the presenters practiced and prepared, it went flawlessly at home.  It always does.

What was great to see was the willingness to help with the challenges that people were having.  Nothing was insurmountable and after a second or third try, it either worked or the concept was given up on and we just moved on.  The day was really about ideas, planning, and networking and that aspect was handled very nicely.

On the drive home, I started to think about what a student would do in this environment.  Today’s connected students is used to a certain setup at home where she/he has total control over what they’re doing.  They may go to a friend’s house where they may get connected or do network things – but it might be in a different way.  Then, they go to school where setup is undoubtedly completely different.  They’ll have access to a subset of resources that they might have access to at home.

I’ve often said many times that all students should have to take at least one unit or one course online.  It’s a great learning experience and exposes them to a different situation entirely.  After yesterday, I’m going to amend my comment to think that all teachers should have to teach at least one unit or one course online.

I’m thinking also of the norms and the rules that we try to put into place with respect to the use of technology.  We have standards for documents, file formats, required plug-ins, etc., that go into the whole online experience.  What happens when things go wrong?  Chances are, marks are deducted or students asked to resave in a different format.  They don’t always have the option of skipping over topics or going to a Plan B or many of the things that I saw happening yesterday.

When the day was done, we left so much richer for the experience and most of what was planned came off well.  The goal was learning and collaboration and meeting up with folks and we did that.  I’ll give the organizers top marks for that.  Sometimes the technology and circumstances just don’t cooperate like they should.

As we move towards students being connected, we need to consider the environments to which they connect.  Is the goal the actual learning or is it to customize the product to the environment that the teacher works in?

I’m going to be doing some thinking about this over the next while.  In addition to the explicit agenda of yesterday, there were lots of other things that have my wheels spinning this morning.  In terms of assessment, what defines “perfection” in this world?  – the product produced, or the ability to work in the environment that’s laid on you?

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