I’ve recently had interactions with Verena Roberts that culminated in a guest post from her on this blog announcing the CANeLearn Summit to be held in Toronto this summer. Verena is also going to present at the 2014 Bring IT, Together Conference. I thought that it might be nice to introduce her to Ontario Educators via an interview. So, here goes.
Doug: OK, I’ve got to know. YOU contacted me first. How does someone from Alberta find this guy in Ontario?
Verena: I am pretty active on Twitter. I noticed many of the conversations I would watch, from Ontario, often included you. From my perspective I could see people asking you questions and checking for your opinion. So I googled you – I read your blog and thought it was interesting. When the CANeLearn team asked me who I thought we should connect with – I suggested you because you appeared like an online focus for many Ontario educators.
Doug: Well, OK. Sometimes a noisy distraction. So, tell us a little about yourself. How long have you been in education? What areas have you taught?
Verena: I started teaching in 1996 at the Canadian International School in Singapore. Then I taught in Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton. I started teaching online with @KOOL (Kamloops Open Online Learning), and have since taught with Alberta Distance Learning Centre and now Palliser BB. I have taught from Kindergarten through University but my focus area is Social Studies and most recently MOOCs for K12. Over the last two years, I have been consulting and my proudest projects include learning how to integrate MOOCs in K12, the #Gamifi-ED Project and Healthy Healers.
Doug: You’ve been a busy person with a great deal of global experience. What is Palliser Beyond Borders? How many students are enrolled there?
Verena: Palliser Beyond Borders in a new online school in the Palliser School District in Alberta. It is located between Calgary and Lethbridge. We have just started, so only about 30 students, but we plan on supporting many more in the new school year. Alison Hancox is the Principal, and she is an innovator who thinks outside the box. It is a pretty exciting opportunity to be working with an Innovative Team and District.
Doug: What is CANeLearn? How did you get involved?
Verena: In 2012 online and blended leaders from across Canada were invited to the first Summer Summit in Toronto. Many of the leaders had met at iNACOL and they decided to come together to create an Association of K12 Online and Blended Learning in Canada. I heard about the summit and asked if I could come as a consultant. I became the acting Chief Innovation Officer last summer. We have spent the last year working on developing the Association across Canada.
The CANeLearn Board includes leaders in Blended and online Learning from BC to Nova Scotia. We also have representation from First Nations Virtual Schools. We are looking for more participation from Northern Canada and Ontario. Click here for the list of the founding Board Members.
Doug: Your upcoming summit is a natural extension to this then. CANeLearn is reaching out to educators across Canada. What is the ultimate goal? How will this benefit teachers in Ontario?
Verena: In my opinion, I learn the most by finding out what other people are doing and how they are learning. Working with online and blended educators from across Canada has helped me in my open learning projects and encouraged me to promote pedagogy first in my learning design and practice. Ontario has a unique online and blended learning system, in that no other province has one resource centre, one LMS and one support network for public schools. Ontario teachers will be able to create and build networks which will help with professional development and hopefully lead to cross-Country projects. We are also promoting Open Educational Resources and considering a National LOR (Learning Object Repository) opportunities. My focus area is the “Centre for Innovation” where we hope to promote research across Canada in online and Blended learning as well as provide opportunities for EdTech companies and industry to work with organizations. Finally, we are starting our professional development programs which include teacher hosted webinars about their programs and possibly a University course on “How to .Teach in k12 Online and Blended Environments”
We’re delighted that you submitted a proposal and were accepted for the 2014 #BIT14 conference. What can attendees to your session expect?
Verena: The #BIT14 Session will be a collaborative #CANeLearn effort. #CANeLearn will be sponsoring the annual, “State of the Nation: K12 Online Learning in Canada” Report this year. Much of the research and writing about the different programs across Canada will be included in the Report over the next few months – and I will be able to speak about what we have discovered. The focus will be on Emerging Trends and Innovation – so session participants will learn about options to take back to their own learning environments.
Doug: I’m very interested in your iNACOL award for innovation. Can you tell us what that’s about? What did you do that made them notice your efforts?
Verena: I wrote about it in my blog here. I called it the truth about being an Innovator because being an Innovator can be very difficult.. I remember Susan Patrick, the President and CEO of iNACOL introduced me and my iNACOL award. She summarized that I was able to prove that you could create a whole online school – completely in the open, based on my work in the OC@ADLC (the Open Classroom at ADLC). I had never thought about it that way – but I guess I created my own “school in the cloud” while working within a more traditional online organization.
Doug: Will you share your thoughts and advice about innovation at the conference? Is it something that everyone should be known for?
Verena: Be real. People can tell when you are fake. Stay true to your values. Follow through on what you believe in. Admit when you are wrong and fail and try again. Collaboration and different opinions are priceless – so look for conflict and different people to work with.
Doug: Readers should know that a lot of our correspondence has happened while you’re watching soccer. Can you share some details about that?
Verena: I am a mom with three busy kids and their most recent passion is soccer. My husband helps coach my older son’s team and I am the Assistant Coach to my younger son’s U5 Team. Whenever things get too crazy or overwhelming at work – or in my online world – I just have to sit back and watch these amazing kids. They have just gotten to the point that they realize they are supposed to score a goal – but it is way more fun to play, “What Time is it Mr Wolf”. They ensure that I remember play is the most important part of learning – no matter the situation or environment.
Doug: We’re looking forward to welcoming you to Niagara Falls and hope that you can take in the entire experience – the learning and the social. Do you have something in particular that you want to take in while at the Falls?
Verena: I have never seen Niagara Falls so that will be BIG! I also am really looking forward to connecting and hopefully meeting with people I follow on twitter or I met at #ConnectED 2 years ago in Calgary. I also heard about the amazing social activities at #BIT14 – like going for a morning jog (although for me it will be a morning walk) or tweetups. I want to be involved in conversations in order to learn new things.
Doug: If it’s the first time at Niagara Falls, make sure that you book a falls view room. The lights at night are amazing. Plus, bring your camera and join the Photowalk to take some spectacular pictures to bring home. You won’t regret it.
Thank you for the interview, Verena. I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, hopefully at the Summit and certainly at the #bit14 conference.
Verena: Thank you!
You can follow Verena on Twitter at @verenanz.
Her web presence includes a Google Site at: https://sites.google.com/site/verenanz/