Building Community and Cooperation: Improving Regina’s Immigrant Orientation Workshops

Creating a welcoming learning atmosphere that encourages community involvement and cooperation is crucial when planning orientation programmes for new arrivals to Regina. Various student-teacher and student-student interactions can enhance the educational process and encourage cultural assimilation. Let’s examine the criteria for guaranteeing the effectiveness of these encounters and how they might be put into practice.

STUDENT INTERACTION TYPES

LMS Discussion Boards:
Discussion boards in the Learning Management System (LMS) give students a place to communicate asynchronously, participate in insightful conversations, ask questions, and exchange experiences. These forums foster peer-to-peer interactions and a feeling of community within the learning community.

Video conversations

Students and teachers can communicate in real-time through live video chats or online office hours. These interactive sessions improve student engagement and collaboration by providing individualised support, quick feedback, and in-depth conversations on course material.

Sessions with Guest Speakers

By inviting guest speakers from the neighbourhood or pertinent organisations, instructors can give students firsthand knowledge, a range of viewpoints, and useful guidance on things like integrating into the local culture, finding work, and gaining access to necessary services in Regina. These classes enhance the educational process and provide learners with connections to resources and networks of support.

Neighbourhood Tours and Field Trips:
Arranging virtual tours or field visits to nearby businesses, historical landmarks, and community organisations exposes students to the local environment and promotes cross-cultural understanding. These opportunities for experiential learning foster interpersonal relationships, the development of useful knowledge, and a stronger feeling of community involvement.

 

GUIDES FOR A SUCCESSFUL INTERACTION

Stated Expectations

Clearly state the intent, frequency, and standards for student interactions in your guidelines. To establish a welcoming learning environment, promote polite conversation, engaged engagement, and helpful criticism.

Organising Questions for Discussion
To encourage thoughtful discussions and critical thinking, provide structured discussion starters that are in line with the goals of the course and actual situations. Motivate pupils to investigate other viewpoints and actively participate in the course material.

Facilitation by the instructor

Engage in lively debates, offer prompt comments, and encourage deep connections among students. Dispel myths, promote inclusive engagement, and recognise the importance of various perspectives to enhance the educational process.

Peer Criticism and Introspection

To encourage group learning and self-awareness, include chances for peer feedback and reflection. Students should be encouraged to assess their work, consider what they have learned, and pinpoint areas where they may improve.

Evaluation of Interaction Quality

Evaluation criteria for student interactions include involvement with peers’ views, depth of analysis, and relevance. Give pupils helpful criticism to help them improve their social skills and create a welcoming learning environment.

Orientation seminars for immigrants in Regina can establish inclusive learning environments that foster cultural integration, collaboration, and empowerment by incorporating various modes of student interaction and enacting efficacious norms. These workshops are vital to the successful adaptation and integration of students into the Regina community because they provide meaningful relationships and encourage student engagement.

Course Prototype – LUMI!

Meagan and I worked together to create introductory lessons for our blended course prototype. For our prototype, Meagan and I are having our students create a radio play. Our prototype design combines in-class instruction with digital components, and Lumi was used as a tool to contribute to an engaging and interactive introductory digital lesson for our students.

You can find my Lumi module here.

My colleague and partner Meagan (please find Meagan’s blog here) focused on introducing Foley Artists and the art of creating sound effects, and I focused on a complementary introductory lesson on the elements of soundscapes. Students will be working toward creating radio plays and will be responsible for creating their own Foley sounds and applying the elements of soundscapes within their work; therefore, it is important for students to understand the world of Foley and the three distinct elements of soundscapes. Lumi allowed Meagan and I the opportunity to create short, interactive launch lessons to introduce both concepts. In addition to using the Lumi platform, we used YouTube and Canva to assist in our final Lumi lessons.

The idea behind my lesson was to introduce the three elements of soundscapes (soundmarks, keynotes, and sound signals), provide the opportunity to identify soundscapes in the classroom, and explore examples of each element in a concise video. I utilized an open-ended question to begin the lesson to gauge what students knew about soundscapes before the lesson. Throughout, I used both multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank questions as an interactive formative assessment for understanding. For my summary task, I posed the following question to close my lesson: what makes an effective soundscape? This will then lead to further exploration and dialogue on the topic.

I will be honest; it took me a little bit of time to get the hang of using Lumi, and I had many frustrating, and at the same time, AHA! moments. I feel that I have just got started with Lumi and acknowledge that there is so much potential for further exploration and further opportunities for student engagement. I reflected on other interactive options that I could have or should have used, as there were so many options! However, I was satisfied with the product for my first go with Lumi!

One of the features I appreciated about using Lumi was creating our own grading scale, which was relatively reflective of the grading scale that Meagan and I indicated in our initial ADDIE profile. The immediate feedback to students is outstanding and provides an opportunity for formative assessment of this unit. 

Another benefit of using Lumi was the accessibility features that are present on the platform. I was pleasantly surprised and impressed that there were options to translate and allow for spelling mistakes (fill-in-the-blank questions). As identified in our ADDIE model, we have a large percentage of EAL students; these features would be especially helpful for these students.

Pros Cons
– Allows for immediate student feedback.
– Easy assessment for teachers and facilitators.
– Database to access lots of resources made by other educators.
– Shareable link for completed projects.
– Accessibility features to meet the needs of a variety of learners.
– Time consuming to create interactive resources.
– Limit on length of videos/size of files in the free version.
– Would work better for older students; while there are features conducive to younger grades, it would be more difficult for early learners to use this tool.

This pros/cons list is based on the limited and my first-time use of Lumi, and I am sure there are plenty more to add! Meagan and I look forward to hearing back from our colleagues on our respective modules, and we look forward to hearing about your experiences with Lumi as well!!

Lumi Tunes

Ladies and gentlemen, you’re about to witness…

I have to admit that I was a little nervous going into this week’s activities.  I had never heard of Lumi, or H5P, let alone used them before.  Turns out H5P stands for HTML5 package; essentially it uses JavaScript to create interactive elements that we can share on our websites.  Since my online course uses a lot of video elements I thought it would be most fitting to add interactions to several of them.

There was only one small problem – I didn’t have any videos yet.  So I decided to create a few from scratch.  But isn’t that placing the cart before the horse?  My course would certainly need a syllabus.  Right?  Okay, no problem I can put one of those together.  What about a teacher introduction?  A quick start guide?  How about several sleepless evenings of feverishly creating content so I could get back to adding interactive elements to the videos?

I forgot.  I hadn’t made them yet.

Cue the internal screaming.

On your mark, get set, CREATE!

If you didn’t get a chance to read my ADDIE profile (if you didn’t I don’t blame you – its longer than the manifestos of some political parties) here is my course in a nutshell: I am making a unit on leasing and buying vehicles for students who failed grade 12 workplace mathematics (in my province workplace mathematics focuses on on practical day-to-day applications).  My grand scheme is to eventually create several units so students with attendance issues can earn a credit in the course.

Before I could create my nifty videos I needed to set the stage and create the shell of the course in Google Classroom.  I apologize for not linking to it directly, but my school division has created an electronic walled garden of sorts, and outsiders aren’t allowed past the gates (to be fair we did suffer a massive ransomware attack – so the paranoia is somewhat justified).

The preliminary work is below.

Boring Teacher Stuff

  • The aforementioned ADDIE profile

Getting Started

  • A quick start guide
  • Meet the instructor
  • Introduce yourself – this is the first assignment for my students.  They will create a short video introduction (under 30 seconds) including their name, an interesting fact about them, and why they took workplace mathematics.  I have provided an example of what I am looking for.
  • A course syllabus – I included a code of conduct to set my expectations for student-to-student online interactions

H5P content, assessment, and my rationale

Have you ever been shopping for jeans and you can’t seem to find the right pair?  The pair that are the correct size aren’t the right colour.  The ones in the right colour are way too big, etc.  This is how I felt about the videos I found on YouTube comparing buying and leasing cars.  Some hit on several key points, but left a few out that I wanted to discuss.  The ones that were comprehensive enough went way too long.  So I rolled up my sleeves, fired up PowerPoint, plugged in my microphone, and made my own video.

Next it was time to add H5P content throughout.  But what to add?  Interaction for interaction sake defeats the purpose.  In other words I wanted my tools to enhance the lesson in some sort of meaningful way.  For starters I wanted to keep obtrusive pauses to a minimum.  Every time I threw out a factoid I placed an optional link for students to click on if they wanted to see the source material.  Secondly I used text to summarize the main points made in major sections (again, an optional button rather than something that would kill the pacing of the video).  At several key intersections I placed quizzes to provide formative assessment to students so they could gauge their understanding.  These do stop the video so I tried to keep them spaced apart.  Due to my crippling need to organize everything I placed chapter markers throughout.  This allows students to jump to specific parts of the video when they complete their first written assignment (more on that in a second).  Lastly, there is a summary quiz to wrap up.

Here is a link to my first H5P enabled video created with Lumi.

As my first video is fairly neutral in terms of leasing and buying vehicles I then have students watch a video from Dave Ramsey (an internet finance advice guru) lambasting leasing and an article from a popular driving website defending the decision to lease.

For an assessment I provided the following written assignment (to be submitted through Google classroom).  My priorities where for students to engage in critical thinking and application of the content.  Understanding terminology is important, but I am really interested in how they apply this new knowledge.  The assignment description is below:

For this assignment you will answer the following questions:

1) Why is Dave Ramsey so strongly against leasing (which he refers to pejoratively as “fleecing”) vehicles?  Cite 3 reasons that he directly addresses in his video.  Your answer should be 3-4 sentences long.

Example: Dave Ramsey is strongly against leasing vehicles.  Firstly, he notes that when you lease a vehicle ________________________.

3 marks

2) In his article Benjamin Hunting describes why he ultimately decided to lease a new vehicle for 2 years.  Explain why he reached this decision noting two of his strongest arguments.  Your answer should be 2-3 sentences long.

Example: Although Benjamin Hunting didn’t initially want to lease a vehicle he came to this decision for several reasons.  First, when he ______________________.

2 marks

3) Based on the video in lesson 1 (part 1) and video/article in lesson 1 (part 2) which do you feel is a better option for you, buying or leasing a vehicle?

You cannot “sit on the fence” i.e. you must make a decision.

Example: Given my circumstances and preferences I think it would be best to…

You need to give a minimum of 4 reasons to support your position that should be specific to you and your context.

Example: One of the reasons I chose to lease a vehicle is that I intend to teach English in Korea for two years after graduation.  If I lease a vehicle then I won’t have to worry about selling it when I return home at the end of my contract.

2 marks for clearly stating your position (buying or leasing)
8 marks for your 4 reasons (2 marks each)

15 marks (Assignment Total)

You may submit your assignment as Google Doc, or if you are more comfortable speaking, as a short video on your cell phone (you may have to speak to your instructor on how to do this).

And then I made a bunch more stuff…

I then made several more lessons linking videos and articles.

I made another Lumi video for my second module which you can view here.  It pertains to reading window stickers on new vehicles.  As this is heavily focused on terminology I felt it was appropriate to assess this knowledge using a multiple choice quiz.  Multiple choice quizzes are not always the best – but the worlds of finance and car dealing have a lot of jargon (I think intentionally to confuse the consumer) that needs to be understood.

My Final Thoughts on H5P and Lumi

I like it.  But like all web tools like WordPress it omits the fine granular control that you get from writing your own JavaScript, CSS, and HTML.  It makes the tools accessible to all, but when something doesn’t work the way you want it to, you aren’t left with a lot of options.  As long as you are okay with some of the baked in limitations I think it is an excellent way to enhance content.

But be warned, all the neat interactions cannot compensate for the weak base content.  If the underlying video is inaccurate, biased, or poorly created all the interactive quizzes in the world won’t make it better.

Course Prototype – Community in Online Learning: Guidelines

For our prototype, Meagan and I are having our students create a radio play. Drama can be a subject that takes many students out of their comfort zone; therefore, doing so in a blended learning environment can meet the needs of many students. Our design is a mix of in class instruction with digital components to create our summative piece of a radio play.

Our prototype incorporates Microsoft Teams, Seesaw,and WeVideo. Along with these digital pieces, we will also be incorporating in class learning to teach some important pieces and have students work face-to-face in small groups.

One of the six strategies mentioned in the article is Creating a plan for communication. Using Teams to create this assignment is a one-stop shop to keep everyone informed and on the same page. We can use the class notebook, which is embedded in teams, to put handouts and resources the students will need to complete the project. In addition, we can use the assignment feature for students to hand in formative assessments along the way and keep track of the due dates not only for these pieces but for the summative as well. Finally, Teams also allow students to communicate with others through the channels where they can chat and pose questions to the teachers or to their peers. By doing this, teams also meet the criteria of establishing a social presence, which is another strategy for building community in online courses.

We decided to use We Video as our editing platform because, in Regina Catholic, teachers in the connected education program can apply for free licenses for the students to use. This allows access to the full version, allowing students to use all the features as opposed to paying or only using the trial version. This version not only allows teachers to create projects but allows students to work collaboratively on the assignment. Again, meeting is another important strategy and “reduces the feelings of isolation.” Being able to use this digital platform as a group is great for students who may be more timid to express themselves in a face-to-face setting, especially in a subject such as drama. Therefore, being in the safety of their own home, in front of only a computer, may allow them to express themselves more effectively to their peers than in the constraints of the classroom. I think being able to work collaboratively live on the project is an essential part of the overall success.

We also decided to use Seesaw to teach various components of the project, such as how to use sound to create effects and other digital pieces.  SeeSaw allows interactive and engaging lessons for students, which helps with engagement without a teacher’s presence. The other important feature of Seesaw is the ability to connect with parents so they can be informed and keep up with the progress of the student. There is also a journal where students can reflect, and parents can comment on their work, which is an effective motivator for many students.

The assessment pieces will all be formative pieces supported by teacher and peer reviews throughout. The Seesaw activities will be formative pieces building the knowledge they need to use soundscape within their radio plays. In class learning will focus on using We Video and how to write a script. Teacher and peer editing will be done periodically to revise their script until it is ready for the final performance. Students will also have a chance to peer and self-evaluate according to our criteria, which we will have established in the beginning.

In order for the project to be effective and meaningful, clear guidelines and expectations need to be set at the beginning during face-to-face instruction. Going forward, weekly check-ins, posting new articles on Microsoft Teams, and posing questions in the chat will help keep students focused on the project. Taking the time to connect with each group during face-to-face time and seeing their progress is also important to ensure the final deadline is met. Teacher interaction and engagement in the process are crucial to the overall success.

There are many things to think about in this project and some digital learning pieces for the students, which I know we will come across along the way. I think new lessons will develop as the project progresses, and we may have to stop and adjust to meet the students where they are. I know it will be a learning experience for everyone!

Course Prototype – Community in Online Learning: Guidelines

For our prototype, Meagan and I are having our students create a radio play. Drama can be a subject that takes many students out of their comfort zone; therefore, doing so in a blended learning environment can meet the needs of many students. Our design is a mix of in class instruction with digital components to create our summative piece of a radio play.

Our prototype incorporates Microsoft Teams, Seesaw,and WeVideo. Along with these digital pieces, we will also be incorporating in class learning to teach some important pieces and have students work face-to-face in small groups.

One of the six strategies mentioned in the article is Creating a plan for communication. Using Teams to create this assignment is a one-stop shop to keep everyone informed and on the same page. We can use the class notebook, which is embedded in teams, to put handouts and resources the students will need to complete the project. In addition, we can use the assignment feature for students to hand in formative assessments along the way and keep track of the due dates not only for these pieces but for the summative as well. Finally, Teams also allow students to communicate with others through the channels where they can chat and pose questions to the teachers or to their peers. By doing this, teams also meet the criteria of establishing a social presence, which is another strategy for building community in online courses.

We decided to use We Video as our editing platform because, in Regina Catholic, teachers in the connected education program can apply for free licenses for the students to use. This allows access to the full version, allowing students to use all the features as opposed to paying or only using the trial version. This version not only allows teachers to create projects but allows students to work collaboratively on the assignment. Again, meeting is another important strategy and “reduces the feelings of isolation.” Being able to use this digital platform as a group is great for students who may be more timid to express themselves in a face-to-face setting, especially in a subject such as drama. Therefore, being in the safety of their own home, in front of only a computer, may allow them to express themselves more effectively to their peers than in the constraints of the classroom. I think being able to work collaboratively live on the project is an essential part of the overall success.

We also decided to use Seesaw to teach various components of the project, such as how to use sound to create effects and other digital pieces.  SeeSaw allows interactive and engaging lessons for students, which helps with engagement without a teacher’s presence. The other important feature of Seesaw is the ability to connect with parents so they can be informed and keep up with the progress of the student. There is also a journal where students can reflect, and parents can comment on their work, which is an effective motivator for many students.

The assessment pieces will all be formative pieces supported by teacher and peer reviews throughout. The Seesaw activities will be formative pieces building the knowledge they need to use soundscape within their radio plays. In class learning will focus on using We Video and how to write a script. Teacher and peer editing will be done periodically to revise their script until it is ready for the final performance. Students will also have a chance to peer and self-evaluate according to our criteria, which we will have established in the beginning.

In order for the project to be effective and meaningful, clear guidelines and expectations need to be set at the beginning during face-to-face instruction. Going forward, weekly check-ins, posting new articles on Microsoft Teams, and posing questions in the chat will help keep students focused on the project. Taking the time to connect with each group during face-to-face time and seeing their progress is also important to ensure the final deadline is met. Teacher interaction and engagement in the process are crucial to the overall success.

There are many things to think about in this project and some digital learning pieces for the students, which I know we will come across along the way. I think new lessons will develop as the project progresses, and we may have to stop and adjust to meet the students where they are. I know it will be a learning experience for everyone!

Avoiding Awkward Silence – Planning for Student/Instructor Interaction

A drill sergeant leans in close towards a young man.

USMC-02659 by Staff Sgt. Thomas Perry, Public Domain.

Creating a Conversation

According to Michael Welsch an online course should feel like a conversation.  In his opinion, meaningful dialogue occurs when one engages in responsive teaching practices (integrating student questions and observations into lesson materials, using video introductions, etc.).  This builds a sense of trust and comradery amongst classmates and leads to higher engagement.

Looking at my own course it feels more like an awkward family supper with the in-laws.

Essentially, Welsch is emphasizing relationships, which is hardly a revelation to any veteran instructor.  So why is it so difficult to transfer these practices into online spaces? Why do I find planning a blended course so difficult?

That old sinking feeling

I am far more adept at connecting with people in person given my nearly twenty years of conventional teaching experience.  Call it familiarity, or call it the fear of the unknown, but I don’t feel comfortable with most features of my chosen LMS (Google Classroom).  But more than this am I have a more fundamental worry: I don’t know if my course will be engaging enough.

The purpose of my online course is to help students credit complete a failed class.  Mercifully, due to luck and circumstance (I don’t use those terms when my principal is around) I don’t have many students that flunk.  This creates a unique situation – effective models of online learning like OCL require rich student-to-student interaction, but my community of learners may only consist of one or two students.

How do I build a community amongst my learners if I only have one person taking the course?

It feels like being picked last for dodgeball all over again.

A man sits alone looking out of a window.

Photo by Noah Silliman on Unsplash.

Possible Solutions – Possible Problems

  1. Building Social Presence – It is important that students feel a part of something when they take an online course.  With only a handful of students working through my mathematics unit it will be incumbent upon me to step up (more so than someone with the luxury of creating sub-communities within their class).  My initial plan was to post short discussion questions in Google Classroom with students typing out 2-3 sentence responses (to maintain engagement).  Instead I think it would be better if students recorded short video answers to which I could respond with my own videos.  This will help students feel that they are authentically interacting with the instructor and provide an impetus for them to return to the course website frequently.  These short video clips will require clear goals and expectations (length, content, what is appropriate to discuss, etc.) both in written and video form (how can one teach how to respond in video form without making a video themselves?).  Creating an exemplar conversation between myself and a teaching colleague (playing the role of a student) would be helpful.
  2. Structure learning materials to support discussion – As Bates cautions our teaching materials, videos, and readings should be chosen with the explicit purpose of supporting student discussion.  In his view discussion is not an optional addition, it is the core around which all other activities are built.  This means my quizzes and questions in Google Classroom need to generate conversations, rather than being mere summative tools.  Thus after a quiz I will need to post a discussion question asking students to expand upon what they have learned, something to the effect of “After watching the videos and completing the quiz pose one unanswered question you still have.”  Circling back to student engagement I could then use one of these as the next major topic for video discussion (see number 1 above).  This would validate student contributions and make them feel that their input is valued.
  3. Create a relevant resource section – Part of establishing social presence is creating openings for learners to show what they have learned.  To keep students engaged I will create a message board section of my course (or a place on the main newsfeed in Google Classroom) where students will post news articles, or websites that are related to classroom activities.  In particular I would like students to share links to places where they have found information for their final projects.  To keep things simple I will provide examples of what I expect (A sentence describing the website, the link, and why they feel it is relevant to what we are talking about) and respond in either video or text format to encourage their participation.

I am wrestling with the idea of how this should be evaluated.  I would like student responses to flow organically from the material and peer discussion, but I am not sure how to get away from extrinsic motivators (i.e. “is this for marks”).  Obviously as part of my expectations I will have to have some sort of marking scheme (I am thinking about utilizing a rubric, but part of me feels like explaining what I liked about student responses in video form may be more effective – encouraging excellent work and asking questions when work is not hitting the mark), but I am not sure how best to do this.  If I had multiple students working through the course I could ask them which discussion answers they appreciated most, and factor their responses into student grades (perhaps using a google form?).

In short I am very open to your suggestions and feedback.

Designing an Effective Orientation Workshop for New Immigrants with ADDIE Model

 

Regina City

Setting out to create a newbie orientation programme is a rewarding but difficult undertaking. Helping immigrants settle into a new town, like Regina, or employees adjust to a new work culture are two examples of processes that need to be carefully thought out and analysed to be effective. This blog article will go over the critical steps in analysis and design that make up a successful orientation session. In this particular context, the workshop is designed for new immigrants to Regina.

Different models exist in program planning but ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) is quite popular among practitioners. Though this post is an exemplification of ADDIE, it only addresses the first two steps in the process; Analysis and Design. You can watch a quick introductory video to the ADDIE model below.

 


ANALYSIS

Finding the underlying need or issue is the first stage in creating an orientation workshop. Think about the difficulties that recent immigrants encounter, like acclimating to new surroundings, obtaining necessary services, and comprehending local customs. If these needs are not met, loneliness, annoyance, and low productivity may result.

To build a workshop that is suited to the needs of the audience, it is imperative to develop fictitious characters that embody diverse demographics, backgrounds, and issues. By comprehending their distinct viewpoints and experiences, we are able to create activities and information that speak to them personally. The workshop’s main subjects, which include cultural orientation, local resources, career options, and more will be explored. The possibilities and constraints should be examined from a variety of angles, taking into account the domain, learning tools, learners, facilitators, and access/cost considerations.

DESIGN

It is important to ensure that the workshop’s learning objectives are well-defined, stating the desired outcomes for participants after the course. These goals ought to be time-bound, relevant, measurable, achievable, and specific (SMART). Educational opportunities or exercises that complement the goals of the programme should be selected. It is important to ensure every activity—including field trips, role-playing games, guest speaker sessions, and interactive workshops—contributes to the participants’ learning and engagement.

Evaluations are important in training delivery, as such, both formative and summative tools should be used to gauge participants’ comprehension and advancement. Summative evaluations could be case studies, exams, or presentations; formative evaluations can be quizzes, group discussions, and reflective activities. In terms of instruction, online mode is preferable since it is easily accessible, cost-effective and far-reaching. Instructional technology, such as the learning management system (LMS), will help with the delivery and participation in the session(s). The use of interactive multimedia tools like Zoom, Google Drive, and Canvas will improve learning outcomes and promote teamwork.

A methodical strategy that starts with in-depth study and ends with careful planning is necessary to create an orientation workshop that works. Through comprehension of the audience’s requirements, establishment of precise learning goals, choice of stimulating learning activities, administration of evaluations, and utilisation of instructional tools, we may craft a workshop that enables newcomers to flourish in their new surroundings. We make sure that our workshop has a significant and long-lasting impact by starting our journey with the needs and past experiences of our participants as a priority in the design process.

In conclusion, by implementing standards of excellence in learning design and completing these processes, we may make orientation workshops that enable newcomers to successfully navigate their new environments. A clearer version of the details of the ADDIE steps for this training can be found here. Hopefully, we can explore the other steps of ADDIE in another blog post.

Blended Learning: A Mixed Experience

Blended What?

Sometimes the simplest tasks can cause the most trepidation.  Take for example this week’s blog entry: the relatively simple task of describing my experiences employing blended learning in my classroom.

Easy.

Except that until 48 hours ago I didn’t know what blended learning was.  But no matter, academia will come to the rescue.  Certainly there must be a measured consensus on what constitutes blended learning?  As it turns out the spectrum of modalities (and associated pedagogical practices) through which blended learning may be delivered has resulted in semantic chaos in the literature.

Okay, that may be a bit of hyperbole – but the fact remains that we need a working definition for today’s discussion or we will be chasing our tails all day.  For our purposes we will call blended learning “an approach to education that combines online educational materials and opportunities for interaction online with physical place-based classroom methods.” With that out of the way let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

This is the part where we talk about the pandemic for the 4000th time

For most of my career have I worked face-to-face, shoulder-to-shoulder, teenage body odor to gasping instructor with my students.  I have employed (kicking and screaming the whole way) technology relatively sparingly as the profession has evolved.  I have a Google Classroom, I speak with parents through a learning management system, and I have dabbled with the odd online quiz/game for review purposes.

So like many instructors the shift to teaching online during the pandemic was as refreshing as being hit in the face with a garden shovel.  It is clear from the literature that I was not alone in these feelings.  It has been pointed out that  a lack of preparation and technological challenges left many teachers ill prepared to engage in a online instruction.  As such, Emergency Remote Teaching, or ERT,  should not be compared to well-designed blended learning courses or distance education programs.

Despite this, ERT was my first true experience teaching in a blended learning environment, and I feel it bears further examination.  Outside of a lack of preparation, why did my efforts fail so spectacularly?

Who could have predicted that poor design decisions (ill suited for the audience and medium) would result in disaster?

As Tony Bates points out merely transferring one’s in-person instruction to an online platform is usually met with mixed results, as we saw during the lockdown.  My first instinct was to duplicate my regular classroom in the digital world.  I recorded my lectures, posted assignments (that I had been using for years), and maintained the same pace that I have used with students face-to-face.  There are several flaws with this approach.  First, and possibly most importantly, it failed to take into consideration the needs of my learners.  Learning online is not analogous to attending a brick-and-mortar building.  Students working online have different needs.  For example, long unbroken lectures are ill-suited for screen viewing and should be broken up with activities and small group discussion.  As Bates put it,

It is important then to look at the design that makes the most of the educational affordances of new technologies, because unless the design changes significantly to take full advantage of the potential of the technology, the outcome is likely to be inferior to that of the physical classroom model which it is attempting to imitate.

Online instruction need to play to the strengths of the digital medium.  Essentially my emergency remote teaching was garbage because I didn’t try to meaningfully and thoughtfully integrate technology throughout.  Had I effectively used blogging, message boards, or met students on platforms that they were comfortable with (TikTok, Instagram, etc.) I may have had better results.

Furthermore, my asynchronous approach was not well suited to the types of students I was teaching.  Distance education is best employed with individuals who have high levels of education, are mature students, or work well independently.  Essentially I was fitting square pegs into round holes with a mallet.  My students were accustomed to a lot of support with differentiated instruction.  Simply dropping dozens of lessons online and saying, “here you go” was never going to work.

So…online is bad?

No. No. A thousand times no.

There is a pervasive belief amongst instructors that online learning is inferior to face-to-face instruction, this view, however, is unsupported by research.  I am embarrassed to say that I believed this as well. I thought that without personal interaction online classes would descend into endless tedium. However, instructional practice is the difference maker.  As Valerie Irvine argued online learning is neither passive nor boring, pedagogy is the chief determinant of engagement, not modality. Online instruction is engaging if you make it engaging.  In a similar vein, face-to-face instruction is engaging if we make it so.  Conversely, instruction is not improved automatically by seasoning it with technology.  It is not parmesan cheese, its mere presence does not make things better (I love parmesan).

A block of parmesan cheese

Parmesan Cheese by Jon Sullivan, Public Domain. If you think adding technology to your lessons will improve them automatically, you’re doing it wrong.

The case for cautious optimism

Blended and online learning made a poor first impression on me.  But in retrospect it was not a fair shake.  I was not given the support required to develop successful blended or online program, and I didn’t put the effort in to make my pandemic teaching work for my students.  This is one of the reasons I have taken this course – it is time to learn how to do this well.

Blog #1 – The Hybrid Huddle… A Look Into Blended Learning

Hello everyone! Welcome to my first blog post for EC&I 834. Enjoy!

My name is Arkin Kauf, and I am a Vice Principal with the Regina Catholic School Division. I have taught grades seven and eight and have had experience teaching in inclusive education settings. EC&I 834 is my tenth course toward the Master’s in Educational Leadership program.

During my time teaching grades seven and eight, I was fortunate to have been accepted in the second round of ‘Connected Educator’ applications within my school division. This program equipped my class with a cart of 1:1 Windows laptops to enhance student learning through the integration of technology. This was an exciting opportunity as the access to technology welcomed authentic and unique assessments and tasks to meet student needs. Further, it allowed for collaboration beyond the classroom walls.

My experience with teaching and learning through the modality of blended learning was introduced during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Valerie Irvine’s (2020) article speaks of the ‘simpler days’ of technology, and through enhancement and development, synchronous and asynchronous modalities became a reality – and with that, “the first layer of semantic confusion” when defining blended learning. For me, blended learning is a combination of face-to-face and virtual learning opportunities. As I ventured to learn a bit more about Brian Beatty’s HyFlex learning, I stumbled upon this video that provides a concise understanding:

Due to safety measures, education relied heavily on technology to deliver and maintain education standards to students while at home. I quickly became familiar with Microsoft Teams and its ‘one-stop’ fit to meet my vision for blended learning. Along with the distribution of paper homework packages, our class used Microsoft Teams to meet each morning to review expectations of the day. This was followed with a live Mathematics lesson using the whiteboard and video-call features. As students became more comfortable with Teams, we expanded to using platforms like SeeSaw, OneNote, Microsoft Forms, and Flipgrid to share our learning and stay connected as a class.

Collaboration became seamless with other grade seven and eight teachers using Microsoft OneNote. A group of us created shared documents for each subject. This ‘pivot’ also encouraged students to collaborate also…but blended learning was met with challenges.

I felt it was difficult to teach or that I was teaching to the wall with no instant response from students. Many students did not turn on their cameras or have access to technology to attend our virtual learning space. I see the potential of blended learning and opportunities that emerge from successful implementation, but it certainly takes a shift in mindset and a lot of educating and modeling! I am looking forward to learning more about blended learning, the benefits, and education around integrating blended learning successfully.