The Sofa Student

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CC Image via Pixabay by alphalight1

In 2012 I decided it was time for me to go back to school to pursue my Masters of Education degree. At this point in my life, my kids were 9 and 7 years old and my husband worked shift work. Classes being 1 night a week at the University was sometimes difficult with a young family and a husband who wasn’t always home in the evenings. I had to rely a lot on my parents and in-laws to watch the kids while I went off to school. The guilt was real.

When I discovered that I could take classes online, I was hesitant because I had never taken such a class but equally thrilled because now I wouldn’t have to rely on Grandpas and Grandmas while I took classes. I’ve had two types of experiences with online classes: Alec’s version and “the other kind”.

Audrey Watters wrote:

the original aspirations, even — of ed-tech: the idea that some sort of mechanism could be developed to not only deliver content — that’s what Edison imagines — but to handle both instruction and assessment.

In Alec’s courses, I feel that even though we are learning from the comforts of our own homes or classrooms, we still get the engagement piece through the use of Zoom. One aspect I do like about Zoom is we get to “see” the person who is talking and hear them. The content is delivered through screen sharing, slides and conferencing.  We also have the opportunities to use the breakout rooms and chat using the chat features. The use of Twitter, Google Community, Blogs and Google Docs allows for the assessment pieces. Plus, I get to sit on my couch, with a hot tea and my learning partner next to me!

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In my other class, we simply used MOODLE/UR Courses. There was no interaction, no set time and date to meet up and our only communication with our professors was through email. If you weren’t a self-motivated learner, this class had no appeal. The delivery of content was through readings, there was no instruction (other than the syllabus) and assessment happened with us turning in papers to faceless names.  It was not an ideal experience in my opinion.

So how about distance and online learning in the elementary classroom. Teachers nowadays feel as though they need to create a high level of engagement among students in order to feel they are reaching and teaching their target audiences. So can online learning or distance learning keep elementary students engaged?

When I taught Grade 7/8, I tried using the flipped classroom as a sort of distance/online learning tool. I would create a PowerPoint presentation (pre-Google slides era) of my lesson, record myself going through the slides, put in questions to ponder and discuss for next class and give the students the questions they would be working on in class. For my students who were heavily involved in extra-curricular activities, they enjoyed the fact that their only homework was to listen to a presentation and prepare to discuss certain questions in class the next time we met.

The downfall to my flipped classroom was it was a ton of more work for me. The presentations took twice as long as a regular class would be and we ended up discussing just as much in class when we next met. However, the one real big positive was that the students commented that they enjoyed being able to go back to my presentations for preparing for tests or doing projects. Even though they may not have understood the presentations at the beginning, they enjoyed being able to reference back to them later on.

I guess that is no different then what we are doing here in ECI 833. Just like my flipped classroom, when I need to refer back to class, I have the opportunity to replay it and retrieve the information I need.

I truly believe that, in a sense, with Google Classroom, we are beginning to see an amalgamation on Online/Distance learning with traditional school based learning. Students who may be absent for illness or vacations can always access Google Classrooms to retrieve content they may have missed (so long as they have internet access) and teachers can post from anywhere at anytime (say for instance – Hawaii…).

However, the use of technology for online/distance learning brings up another issue and one that is maybe for another blog post – what are the benchmarks students need to achieve in educational technology to be successful at learning online? For example “By the end of Grade 3 all students will be able to share a Google Doc with their teacher.” Amy Singh and I are currently on a committee with Regina Public Schools addressing such questions and working on Digital Essential Learnings that will be integrated into classrooms through a framework or continuum. As we discuss the use of technology in classrooms and outside of the classrooms, it is important that we remember that students are not born knowing how to use technology so at some point, we need to teach them how to use it.

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