I was having this discussion with Paul McGuire and it got really interesting and I ended up thinking that his insights would be good to share with all of you.
He had tagged me here;
So, here it is.
Doug: What started all this was a resource from the University of Ottawa that you shared with me. It’s an Open Document designed for pre-service teachers called “Learning to Teach Online”.
Can you tell us a bit about the authors and the purpose of the document?
Paul: The two authors are Dr. Michelle Shira Hagerman and Dr. Hugh Kellam. They are both professors at the Faculty of Education, University of Ottawa and have been working on this course for the past few months. Among other things, Michelle teachers Integrating Technology in the Classroom to teacher candidates. She is an exceptional educator and has worked on online education for many years. I know I will be basing my online teaching this year on Michelle’s work.
The purpose of the document is to give all of us a grounding on how best to teach in an online environment. It is much more complicated than foring up a Zoom conversation and there are many factors that really need to be considered before starting teaching.
Doug: The title indicates that the document is for pre-service teachers. Why would you suggest that it be a good resource for all teachers?
Paul: I think it is an essential resource. How many of us have truly thought through the implications of teaching online? The spring was an emergency and I know teachers did their best, but we all really need to examine best practices. I have spent a good deal of the summer taking part in discussions and webinars on how to teach online and it is an immense commitment. We really need to have a paradigm shift in the way we teach if we are going to do a good job at this.
I really see this as a foundational document to reorientate teachers to a really new teaching environment. There is a great deal to think through this year before everyone gets started.
Doug: Can you step us through the document? It’s laid out as a series of seven modules
Paul: Yes Module 0 is an introduction. It outlines the structure of the course. All of this is modelled in the rest of the course:
- Important norms for participating in ethical, professional ways, and in ways that enable all participants to connect with ideas and with this learning community;
- The Learning Objectives for the course;
- The Organizational Map for the course, including the two-minute screencast overview;
- The List of learning activities designed to help every course participant to consolidate their understandings of key ideas in each module.
Each of the following modules is organized into three sections – Think Big, Reflect and Practice. In talking with Michelle, I learned that this is how she organizes all of her online learning. A three-hour time slot should never be a long, tiresome lecture. I think more than an hour at any time is too much. Michelle organizes her own sessions into some form of lecture (Big Ideas) followed by some activity that reflects back on the lecture then finally some form of sharing.
What is important is all this is a consistent structure. Predictability and consistency are really important for online learning. Without a predictable structure, teachers will increase the anxiety level of their students. Above all teachers must continue to focus on the emotional health of their students. Even if we are not in the same room, this remains an essential component of our teaching.
Module 1 focuses on relationships and establishing safe zones for students. Developing a ‘climate of care’ has become really important in the work I am doing to design my online courses for the fall. As Michelle writes:
Whether we deliver face-to-face, online, or some hybrid version of in-school and online instruction this year, the 2020-2021 model of instruction in schools will likely shift over time. It will certainly require everyone to adopt public-health protocols and make accommodations. It will most likely involve the design of online course materials. This course will take you through a range of how-to tips and recommendations. But before you design a single online lesson, it is important to step back and think about how you will create the conditions in your online and hybrid courses that will enable your students to feel safe, supported and connected to their teacher(s) and to their peers. As Noddings reminds us, a climate of care, when established and maintained, enables everything else to go better.
The remaining modules take students through the design of equitable accessible learning environments, learning management systems, assessment and evaluation, strategies for student participation in videoconferencing and email etiquette. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should give one a taste of what is covered i the rest of the course.
Doug: If you were still principal of your old school, how would you use this document with your staff? When would you share it with them?
Paul: Although I hate bothering teachers in the summertime, I would make an exception here. Everyone is talking about cohorts, cleaning and the safest size for student gathering, but at some point soon we are all going to have to pay close attention to how we are teaching in an online environment.
Too much of the time we tell teachers what to do without showing them how to do this. I know there will be PD time reserved for the beginning of the school year. I would reserve the majority of that time to train teachers on different online platforms like Adobe Connect, Microsoft Teams and other online engagement tools mentioned in this course.
But again, I would start with Module 1. Building your online relationship will be a key component of what you do. Teachers need to think this through before they do anything else.
Doug: Most school districts will be having professional learning events the few days before school buildings actually open in September. Could it be used then? Won’t there be a lot of health and safety training done at that time?
Paul: Well, I think this learning should be starting now. I don’t really think it is fair to put this on teachers a few days before the beginning of the school year. Remember, this is really a paradigm shift. This will take time, we should be having these discussions with our teachers right now.
Doug: There isn’t one platform used across the province to address all that’s needed. That further distances some teachers from others. Is it time for a single Learning Management System partnered with a single Video Conferencing System?
Paul: No, I don’t think so. I really think we need to give teachers the freedom to explore different tools for teaching. No school board is going to drop their current LMS at this point and I don’t think that is necessary. It will be important for all teachers to become really comfortable with whatever LMS their board is using. It is really not acceptable to avoid Hapara, Google Classroom or D2L. Teachers need to get really good at navigating whatever system their board is using.
Doug: Will this resource be used this fall at the University of Ottawa in its education program? How will that program be delivered? Online or face-to-face? How would this document fit into the planning?
Paul: I am not sure. I hope we will all be using this course as we prepare for the fall.
Doug: Are the authors approachable by teachers who have questions?
Paul: Yes, I am sure they are and it would be great for them to have a platform to talk in more detail about this course.
Doug: Since this is an “Open” document, are the authors looking for feedback and additional ideas for content?
Paul: I am sure they are.
Doug: As a professional educator, you may not have “seen it all” but you’ve “seen a lot”! What words of advice would you have for teachers as they return this fall
Paul: I think people need to open to the challenges they face. They need to be honest about what they are concerned about and all educators need to be flexible and support each other. This is an unprecedented time and we all need to do our best to take things one step at a time, be gentle with each other and accept change with grace.
Thank you so much for your thoughts and for sharing this resource with the province, Paul. I’m sure that there are many educators who will get some great advice and inspiration from this.