Tag Archives: online learning

Supporting the (Online) Student as Individual

This year, I had the opportunity to work directly and almost daily with the online teaching team at LEARN. My job: to facilitate and guide (heaven help them!) the design, development and delivery of our new Self-Paced Blended Learning courses. I joke because although I’ve worked in the field for well over 20 years, I’m still a relative newbie compared to some of the incredible veteran educators with whom I collaborate. And, although I never had any real contact with our online students, through our teaching team, I feel that I know them.

The student was at the heart of almost every discussion we had about learning (online). The teachers talked about the students who needed more support and preferred meeting in our one-on-one teaching platform, or via email, or even Twitter; those who loved to use Desmos, Geogebra and VoiceThread; those who participated more actively in forums and reflection activities; the ones who needed learning materials to be provided at a more accelerated pace; and the special few who insisted on staying connected and on top of their studies… in the bush… during goose hunting season!

What we were essentially exploring and allowing to drive our pedagogical model and practice was the idea of personalization. How could we vary our instruction to effectively reach and teach as many students as possible? Not a new idea… but not an easy one. It takes a group of responsive/dedicated/innovative teachers, a supportive/forward-thinking administration, and an organizational culture that embraces the student and his/her success as its raison d’être.

Two weeks ago, we surveyed this year’s online cohort about their experience as learners. We asked what the students perceived as the advantages of learning in an online, blended environment, and whether they felt that their individual learning needs had been met. Below is a representative sampling of their responses, grouped by a few of the core elements of personalization, which speak to how all learning can be designed to support individual needs, preferences, aspirations and backgrounds.

Pacing & Flexibility:

We can re-watch classes, do things at your own pace and do more practice questions.

There are many resources readily available to students all the time. In self-paced, you can also take topics at your own pace (within reason). If I struggle with one specific topic, I can take a bit more time on it, while I go through topics I understand more quickly.

You get to work at your own pace, doing the work when you have time instead of cramming everything in one night.

No matter what time of day, I don’t need be in school to ask questions, and when I do, it is made sure that I understand everything.

 I find the teachers are more available to help and there are a lot more resources to help the students.

 I think the advantages of taking an online course are the flexibility in our schedules and learning to organize and motivate ourselves to do the work on time.

 My online teachers are very flexible when it comes to helping, I find that they make themselves available at nearly anytime if we need it. For instance, we can ask them a question through Twitter after class time and it won’t be long before we get a reply.

 You can move through the class at your own pace and re-watch the class at home if needed.

 The online class allows me to have an opportunity to take classes that are not offered at my school. It has helped my understanding in my course and I think I am improving because of it.

 No snow days! No sick days! It’s one of the most convenient things ever, being able to continue to go to class even if we’re stuck at home. It’s also so much easier to catch up on missed work, what with VTs and archived classes.

Varied Instructional Approaches/Tools:

Having access to all of the resources to help learn/study at any second.

The slides in class and the VoiceThreads help me a lot because I’d say that I’m a visual learner

 As a more kinaesthetic learner I’ve found some of the stuff hard as it can be very visual/auditory based and my teachers have worked with me to find a way of learning that helps me understand everything.

 My teacher has helped me every time I’ve asked. She’s been really good to adjust for us and host tutoring sessions to enrich our learning. She is also very consistent which is important as an online teacher and she allows for learning and understanding before switching topics.

 Well I’m a visual learner, if I see it once or twice, I usually get a good grasp on a concept. So, if the class shows a visual example of how to do it (which online math seems to do quite often) I usually get it. And the teacher was there to support me if I am struggling at a certain concept, or if I have a question I’d like answered, I always get a good answer.

 I’ve always taken into account the organization of online classes. Compared to my in-school classes, I find that every class/test/homework is planned out in advance and we’re provided with overviews that are always followed. The recordings are also a great advantage, being able to re-watch a class or watch one you were absent for is extremely useful. Online classes also present us with many online tools and get us familiar with computer-oriented working.

 As a student coming from a school where I’ve had the same teachers since pre-k, it is super refreshing to have new teachers. Also, you get the opportunity to take courses required for certain college programs.

 I think one advantage would be the flipped classes, because it allows us to work with the teacher during classes, and learn at home through VT’s (VoiceThreads).

 The teachers explain super well, and provide many resources that help a lot. If there is something I don’t understand, the teacher will take the time to help and make sure we can succeed.

 The VoiceThreads really supported my needs. I’m able to hear how we do things which allows me to understand that much more. When in class, the board allows me to visualize everything we’re doing and that way I can learn a lot more information than if we did this without it. I love how the teacher always explains it in full and always makes sure you understand entirely.

 Online you can do cool stuff like online project slideshows and the use programs on Zenlive that make it more active for both students and teachers.

 Flipped classroom! When done correctly, like with online math, flipped classroom is the greatest way to learn! I can press pause on what the teacher is saying, take notes, and take time to understand. The way flipped classroom is, it’s easier to understand and to learn, easier to digest the information spewed at a fast rate. It gives more freedom, allows all of us to learn in our own ways. 

Opportunities for Student Voice & Agency:

Although this is a harder course, I get to choose when, where, why, and how I learn. This is very special, and what makes online classes so important.

 In an online class you can be more open to ask questions if you’re a shy person since you aren’t face to face with other students and you can message your teachers questions anytime you have one even if you aren’t in class.

 Online math is one of the most comfortable ways to learn. No need for social anxiety, as no one’s there in person. No need to have to tell others to shut up and let you focus, as you don’t have to listen to anyone if you don’t want to. I can focus solely on the teacher and the material. I can relax and learn. Though it is advanced, difficult, and sometimes taxing, online math is very flexible and freeing. A lot more responsibility with time management, but that’s okay.

 It teaches independence and how to take charge of your own studies.

 I can be more responsible as a student, and there are tons of tools to help learn stuff. The flipped classes are also more effective, learning in VT’s and applying it in class.

 It helps you grow as a student independently and teaches you to manage your time wisely. It also helps you familiarize yourself with technology that’s used in the workforce.

Somehow, it’s a more personal form of learning, more tailored to each student’s needs because we, the students, have more control over how we learn.


The Student Meeting (one-on-one support):

Weekly meetings keep us on track and they are available almost all the time when we need them.

 If I ever have any difficulty, my teacher is always available by email and meeting weekly helps to ensure that I’m understanding the material and keeping up with my work. I’ve loved working through LEARN online this year for chemistry and honestly wish I was doing more of my classes online!

 I was struggling near the middle of the year and we’ve had a few discussions about it, which helped set me back on track.

 My teacher has been great she always makes sure I understand the concept of our lessons and always makes sure I’m doing the best work I can. She wants me to succeed at the highest level I can.

 Whenever I felt stressed she was always there to answer my questions. If I didn’t understand a question she would make a VT for me or meet with me in Zenlive. She made tutoring accessible for me. Gave me extra help when I needed it. If I couldn’t attend my usual class she would let me come to another class.

 In my opinion, incredibly, online teachers are so much more present, so much more connected with their students, than offline teachers.

 I have had a lot of online time with the teacher and it has helped me improve in math quite a bit. I am very proud of my work!


I would be negligent if I didn’t mention the learner who, as an individual, simply feels more comfortable working face-to-face, with peers and teacher in the same room. Of LEARN’s online students this year, approximately 8% suggested that they would have preferred to take their course(s) at their own school, with a teacher who was physically present. Online learning, however blended, innovative or personalized, is not for everyone. And, although technology can certainly facilitate key aspects of personalized learning, we can see from our students’ responses (and my colleague Audrey McLaren’s two-part blog post) that the human touch, be it online or in person, remains equally, if not more important in this mix.

Kristine Thibeault
Coordinator of Online Learning, Virtual Campus

Teacher Reflections on LEARN’s Self-Paced Blended Learning Year 1

This is Part 2 of a two-part post. You can read the first part here.

My last post described the creation stages and final product of our first year in what we called the Self-Paced Blended Learning project. This post is a compilation of the reflections on the experience from the teacher point of view, so even though I use the pronoun “I”, I’m speaking on behalf of the teaching staff.

The Creation Stage:

Simply put, this stage was a huge amount of work, and required some dedicated time through holidays, just to meet the deadlines. But the benefits far outweighed that.

I had thought it would be a simple matter to take all of the digital content we’d all created over the years for our own courses (yes, we create our own and we have SO MUCH STUFF) and rearrange it all in one online space, in a visually appealing and easy-to-understand way. Hilarious. Adorable even.

When you have to add in context – those crucial bits of text that make it possible for a student aged 15-ish to keep motivated, to understand what to do, when to do it, where to put their work, and know that a real human being cares whether or not they are ok, you quickly discover all kinds of holes. You also discover just how much just-in-time on-the-spot teaching and spontaneous learning happens during the live class! We all ended up creating many new resources to make the Self-Paced experience as close as possible to the Real-Time one.

At this point it is clear that even if no one had taken the SPBL course, this process would’ve nevertheless ended up benefiting everyone – in the short term and the long term:

  • Because of the SPBL deadlines, I was prepared and ready for my Real-Time classes an entire month ahead, which I had NEVER been in my entire career. That was a double-edged sword, mind you, because it freed my mind to come up with lots more spontaneous ideas during class, which in turn meant more SPBL stuff to include in the weekly meetings… not a vicious cycle, but a self-perpetuating one!
  • As I mentioned before, a lot of holes got filled even for my Real-Time students. They benefited from much more thorough and frequent checks-for-understanding, as well as new and better VoiceThreads that otherwise wouldn’t have been made, at least not all in one year.
  • Writing those Introduction & Why Are We Learning This? blurbs at the beginning of each unit gave me a deeper appreciation for the content. I’ve never been comfortable answering “When are we ever going to use this?” with “On the final exam”, but neither have I ever given the question much deep thought. It made me appreciate how these things fit into the bigger picture. I should have been doing this all along.
  • The big picture – I had never had the opportunity to look at the whole course in one spot before, and as it took shape over the year, many connections between topics were suddenly revealed to me. Orthogonal vectors & trigonometric points. Hyperbolas and rational functions. The linear thread through EVERYTHING – every single kind of equation we learn how to solve gets turned into some kind of linear equation! Who knew?
  • Also big picture, but for next year: The yearly overview makes it easy to schedule certain routines, like “Always, Sometimes, or Never?” or “Which One Doesn’t Belong?” on a regular basis, instead of whenever I happened to have the presence of mind to think of it.

The Weekly Student Meetings:

Everything that happened in a meeting could also have happened in a real- time class, but it’s very different in a one-on-one. Put a student in a class of 20-30 people, in which the teacher says “How are you today?” Then put that same student in a one-on-one meeting with the same teacher asking the exact same thing, and those words will have a profoundly different impact. Words sound entirely different, indeed the message they convey IS entirely different, when you know they are directed at you and only you.

You might think that the amount of time the SPBL students spent on their own made the format rather impersonal and bereft of human interaction, but the exact opposite was true. First of all, in our weekly meetings, we’re going over one person’s work, focusing on exactly what they and only they need, as opposed to the usual showing of all the solutions to everyone, regardless of what kind of results they got.

Moreover, the one-on-one meetings make it impossible to hide, impossible to not make your personality known. By contrast, in an online synchronous class, where there is no body language to colour everything you say, it’s the relatively rare student whose personality is accurately and fully transmitted to the other people online. Obviously, the teacher is an expert at that, but most students would rather remain as invisible as possible, choosing to text their comments rather than use their microphone. Of course this is not even remotely possible in the weekly meetings. It was nice to not be the only one using their voice for a change.

The agenda for each meeting was set by the teacher, and even though there were plenty of opportunities for the student to add his or her own items, it felt rather teacher-driven. Since SP students are required to be more active participants in these one-on-one sessions, we’re hoping next year they will be the ones driving the meetings.

The meetings, along with the friendly tone of the blurbs and instructions scattered throughout Sakai, were hopefully enough to make the whole experience human for our inaugural students. It’s hard to imagine anyone being able to complete a course that only involves automated interactions, in which no one is invested emotionally or even intellectually. Teenagers especially need to know someone cares about their success, even if they themselves get discouraged and lose motivation.

The Overall Experience:

I was excited about this project when we first started talking about it, then when we were in the thick of it I got a bit discouraged, because it really seemed at one point like the content was too complex to be covered in an almost exclusively asynchronous way. I turned a corner about halfway through the year, when I began making actual slides for my meetings, and when the students started settling into the routine. It really helped when they did well in their midterms (as well or better than my Real-Time students). That was when it stopped feeling like an experiment and started to feel like an exciting new direction for LEARN. As is always the case with everything LEARN does, it all comes down to the students.

If it works for them, we’re in.


Living in a World of “Not-Yetness”

Last week, Amy Collier and Jen Ross talked about the idea of “not-yetness” at the #OpenEd15 Conference in Vancouver, BC. They connected the idea of not-yetness in terms of the messy, risky and frustratingly hard experiences that educators and learners go through with emerging digital learning.

When I asked my son, “What does ‘not-yet’ mean to you?” he responded, “Don’t do whatever you are doing”. Alternatively, when I asked my daughter the same thing, she said, “You can’t do whatever you’re doing right now, but you can do it later.”

Different reactions to the same words.  Like my son, when I hear “not yet,” I hear, “Stop doing that!” In fact as an innovator and teacher who thinks outside of the box, I was often told, “not yet” when I told others about an idea. Although curious by nature, I feel hesitant and lose confidence when I hear the words, “not yet”.

However, my daughter’s response intrigued me. Why did she hear something else when she heard the words, “not-yet”?

I thought about my favourite t-shirt with the following image on it:

CC BY-SA 2.0
https://www.flickr.com/photos/rodtnytt/18585507373/in/photolist-6ovXhu-ujkzQi/ – CC BY-SA 2.0


My daughter laughs when I wear the t-shirt. She loves the idea of no boundaries and always thinking outside the box. My son has asked me to take the t-shirt off because it breaks all the rules and it isn’t right.

The best thing about the topic of “not-yetness” for a blogpost, is that the chapter Complexity, mess, and not-yetness: Teaching online with emerging technologies (Collier & Ross, in press), is “not-yet” published in the forthcoming second edition of Emerging Technologies in Distance Education. So I can write about the possibilities of “not-yetness” ahead of time, I can break all the rules and I don’t have to be right.

Based on the context of messiness and not-yetness in digital learning, in her ET4Online Plenary talk Ross said that, “We can use (not-yetness) to tell new stories about what teachers, students, developers, designers and researchers are doing in our digital practices, and why it is hard, and why it matters. We can take better account of issues of power, responsibility, sustainability, reach and contact in digital education. We can be more open about the work of education.” (2015)

The idea of, “not-yetness” appears to encourage learners to learn without barriers, take leaps of faith and trust the process. Learners are encouraged to be independent and driven by self-directed inquiry while using collaborative learning strategies when they need some extra support or want to discuss an idea.

“Not-yetness” reminds me of the idea of the Growth Mindset. “In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually all great people have had these qualities.” (Dweck, 2006)

When my daughter defined “not-yetness” she added, “My teachers tell me, “Instead of saying ‘I can’t do it’, say ‘I can’t do it yet’.”  

I didn’t learn to teach using digital tools by following the same set of rules and guidelines I used when I learned how to teach in a regular f2f classroom. I learned by trial and error, hours of practice, development of skills I never knew I had, knew I needed, or even knew existed. I learned to code, embed, ask questions, collaborate, connect, and trust the process. I learned that it’s ok to fail one day and succeed the next and that failure can feel good and success can feel bad. I learned to give up control and focus on listening to others. I learned to push boundaries and look for alternatives. I learned that there are worlds out there in which I can learn – that I don’t know anything about, and that’s ok.

Whether you are a believer in “not-yetness”, growth mindset, or otherwise, the power of the unknown can motivate and challenge learners. It is wrong to take away the magic of the “not yet” when it is full of potential learning energy. Next time you hear or say, “not-yet” take a moment to think about the context and consider if you are encouraging or preventing new learning from happening.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.

To Tweet or not To Tweet? Twitter in My Classroom

Twitter for me? Twitter for my classroom? Is it really possible? I mean Twitter is for finding out what Justin Bieber eats for breakfast or which NHL hockey players are injured for the next game. Or so I thought… Four years ago, I attended the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. The theme was “Exploring Excellence”. One of the workshops I attended changed my whole outlook on social media in the classroom. The workshop turned out to be extremely overwhelming—hashtags, retweet, twitter handles, follow, #ff, and much more. But there was one statement that caught my attention. “You make it what you want to make it. Follow your interests and your passion.” My passion is teaching. I am a math teacher. I teach secondary 4 students. My goal as a teacher is to provide opportunities for my students to be active in their learning. Math is not a spectator course and I feel students have to express their thoughts about their trials, their errors, and their celebrations. I am continuously seeking ways to help teenagers become comfortable, confident and I want to instill a love for learning. That summer, after the conference, I lurked. I became comfortable with Twitter. I learned the language. I discovered a tremendous amount of resources I am now using in my classroom and I made connections with the most inspiring educators on this planet. And so, –three years later—yes, I tweet with my students.

Why I think Twitter is a powerful teaching tool Often, teenagers feel their voice is not important. They feel they are not contributing anything worthwhile. To them, their thoughts are unimportant for their teachers and their peers. A hashtag I created, #mystrategy, was to prompt the students to share what makes them successful when they are solving a math problem. One of my students tweeted


And I responded.


If the students feel their input is valued, they will feel they have a voice.

How I set up our class Twitter account First, we have a class discussion. What is Twitter? Every year, I discover not many students have Twitter accounts, nor do they know how to use Twitter. And they do not really know how we will use it. So, I start with a definition. Then, we discuss, “Why will we use Twitter?” We discuss how valuable this tool can be for their math learning. We exchange ideas on the importance of collaboration. We talk about leaving a digital footprint and the importance of being careful about what we share on the internet. After our discussion, I provide the following slides:

Slides my students will see

  Examples of tweets/hashtags

For the first three months, students do not know what to tweet. It is important to create prompts. Here are some examples along with some student tweets: The students tweet about math “Make a statement about the graph”




The students share happy moments

“What was your happiest learning moment this week?”


The students share what works for them when using a math concept

“What steps must I be careful with when using the quadratic formula?”




And the students become very creative:



The students encourage each other before an evaluation

“How will you prepare for the evaluation” or “What will you put on your memory aid”



The students have conversations:



The students share their questions, thoughts, ideas, and words of encouragement.




And there are many other hashtags we use.

#INTU (I need to understand)




And I tweet.



Here is a voicthread. You will find out what my students think of twitter.

What my students say


As a teacher I have gained so much on Twitter. My teaching practices have changed because of the ideas that are shared by my Professional Learning Network. (PLN) Here are a few awesome educators that have had an impact on my outlook on what it means to be engaged, connected and collaborative in a classroom; @cybraryman1, @c_durley,@ShellTerrell, @coolcatteacher. And the most inspirational person for me is @angelamaiers. On the last day of school, I tweeted the following. It was inspired by Angela Maiers’ popular hashtag, #youmatter


Always Learning – possibilities and practicalities

Photo by Chris James, shared under a CC license

The beginning of the school year always has me energized. I’m ready to learn new things and switch around the way I do things. I’m no longer in the classroom, but I love to share with teachers. There has  never been a better time for teachers to have the opportunity to learn from the experts – other teachers, consultants and people in the field in a variety of capacities. There are so many possibilities.

Then there are the practicalities. How do you learn best? Face to Face? Online? How much time do you have to spend on your personal PD? Here are a few of the many offerings coming up.

tabsumTablet Summit

(full disclosure – LEARN is organizing this along with the local RECIT)
October 21, 2013 in Laval

One face to face opportunity coming up is the Table Summit which will feature teachers in the field who are using tablets (iPads, Chromebooks…)  in the classroom. Wes Freyer will be the keynote speaker. His site: Mapping Media to the Common Core has many suggestions for using tablets for creating (narratives, radio shows and so much more) It’s easy to find web sites that list a myriad of apps, but they can be overwhelming. I like to learn from people who contextualize  – pedagogy first and then the apps that support it. There are lots of sessions being offered. And face to face sessions allow you really to connect with people.


Sometimes we can’t get away from our classrooms or get the funding needed to go to conferences. There are so many opportunities to attend online conferences and workshops at no financial cost. When you are unable to attend synchronously (while it is happening) you can watch sessions later as they are usually archived. Here are a few of the many possibilities for learning from and with educators around the world. I’ve written about some of these before – but a refresher is always handy!


LEARN Web Events

(full disclosure – I help to organize them) http://learnquebec.ca/en/content/professional_development/webevents/index.html

These hour long events are held in zenlive (a kind of online classroom)  and are open to Quebec teachers. They are held once or twice a month, usually in the evening, on a variety of topics. It’s a great opportunity to get in touch with Quebec teachers who are teaching the same curriculum as you are.  Who knows? You might meet someone in the chat who is dealing with the same kinds of issues as you. They could become part of your learning network. You have to register for events. You can check the LEARN site for announcements of upcoming events, or sign up to get emails announcing them.


K12 Online Conference

(full disclosure: I am on the organizing committee)
The opening keynote will be available on October 14
In Week One (October 21 – 25) two sessions a day will be unveiled in each of the following strands: Open Learning and Outside Learning
Week 2 (October 28 – November 1) will feature the same number of sessions in the following strands: Leading Learning and Building Learning.

This is the only totally asynchronous (all sessions are pre-recorded and archived – most of the last 7 years of presentations are still available) conference of which I am aware. The focus of the conference is on pedagogy and technology. This has been a great source of  learning for me. These sessions are created by educators in the field, many of whom are classroom teachers. There have been presentations by people from the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, as well as by teachers from International Schools from around the world. This is an opportunity to learn from the best.



You only have a few minutes at a time to devote to learning new things? Tanya Avrith (from the Lester B. Pearson School Board) and Holly Clark, from San Diego,  have been interviewing educators about their practice. Meet EduSlam. The segments are short, around five minutes, and you can find many ideas for integrating technology in the classroom. These little nuggets are short in terms of time, but long in terms of value!

Classroom 2.0 Live!

Saturdays at noon Eastern Time

Each week focuses on a specific topic with invited guests. With a lot of action in the chat, you learn from both the presenters and the attendees.  All sessions are archived along with a myriad of links in a Livebinder to help you learn about the week’s topic in greater depth. Here’s a sample

Steve Hargadon helps to organize a series of online conferences. Here are the upcoming events. These conference take place 24 hours a day over a few days with speakers from around the world.

stemGlobal STEMx Education Conference

September 19-21, 2013

From their site: “STEMxCon will be a highly inclusive and engaging event that will encourage primary, secondary, and tertiary (K-16) students and educators around the world to share and learn about innovative approaches to STEMx learning and teaching. “ Science and math teachers as well as generalists will find sessions of interest. Not available during the conference? Pick one archived session and watch it – you may get hooked.

connectedConnected Educator Month


This initiative out of the US offers a myriad of events, tweetchats, webinars and opportunities to connect with other educators. Powerful Learning Practice has created a document: The CEM Starter Kit, for teachers who want to participate. There are great tips on how to become a connected educator.

globaledThe Global Education Conference

Monday, November 18 through Friday, November 22, 2013

If last year is any indication, sessions are held 24/7 as there are speakers from around the world. The focus of the conference is global education. In addition to hearing top notch presenters, it is an opportunity to connect with educators from around the world and to find teachers who want to collaborate on global classroom projects. When I last visited the site, speakers had not yet been announced.

Here are a couple more online conferences to check out:

The Reform Symposium RSCON
October 11-13, 2013

Library 2.013 The Future of Libraries
October 18-19, 2013

Then there are online courses, tweetchats

It may seem overwhelming, so pick and choose at your comfort level. There is no shortage of possibilities for learners of all kinds to learn, connect and renew. And in today’s world you can do that practically anywhere!

Online PD: Tasters and Takeaways


F2F Robotics Workshop with Christiane Dufour

In early October, I blogged wistfully about my experiences as an online grad student and highlighted a spanking new teacher PD project that we were initiating at LEARN: Web Events.  Each month, an educational topic, tool or approach was presented via ZenLive (our online platform), to intimate groups of interested folk from Quebec and beyond. Following each live event, an archive of the session, as well as many supplementary resources were made available to all. We did indeed have some very thoughtful presentations and engaging discussions around a wide variety of topics: from blogging in the literacy classroom, to the creation of visual journals, to the use of some really cool online tools in the social sciences, to flipping the class, to the impact of la féminisation in the teaching of FLS. These “tasters” allowed for teachers to get…well a taste…of each of the highlighted themes, as well as suggestions of avenues for further investigation, potential implementation and possible community building.

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 11.48.37 AM
Online Robotics Workshop – Using ZenLive

One very interesting (and promising) offshoot of our monthly web events, was the creation of the web series. This emerging PD model currently involves taking a hands-on workshop, which would traditionally occur f2f over much of one entire day, and breaking it down into more manageable chunks (1 to 1.5 hr), which are then delivered at a distance using widely available online technology. Needless to say, I wanted to be a part of our inaugural sessions and signed myself up as both a behind the scenes supporter and a participant for We Can, WeDO & We Will! Robotics in the Kindergarten Class with Christiane Dufour. Christiane is a veteran educator, who has been providing teacher training and professional development in the integration of technology for learning since 1985. For the past few years, with her LEARN consultant hat on (just one of her many!), she has been giving f2f workshops to kindergarten teachers on how to implement a robotics program in the classroom.

In my previous blog post, I suggested that in order for PD (of any permutation or combination) to be effective it had to meet the generally accepted benchmarks of quality. I interviewed Christiane last week and asked her how she felt her kindergarten robotics web series had done just that. Have a listen to what she has to say…some genuine nuggets about the planning, implementation, successes and challenges of providing good online PD.

How were your sessions content or subject-matter focused with an understanding of student learning needs?

How were you able to provide opportunities for active learning around authentic tasks?

How was collaboration encouraged?

Tell us how you organized the sessions over time?

How did you allow for feedback and follow-up?

What about continued support?

As evidenced by Christiane, the delivery of this type of PD should not be undertaken by the faint of heart. For the animator, it clearly involves a great deal of planning, preparation, persistence & follow-through. But what of the participant…did these sessions meet the needs of the individual, positively impact on practice and improve student outcomes? I am happy to report that we have the anecdotal traces to answer yes to the first two of these important questions, and I look forward to hearing more from you in response to the third and as part of a continuing conversation. Please feel free to leave your feedback or suggestions below.

Videoconferencing: Pitfalls, Pedagogy and Possibilities

by superkimbo
by superkimbo

I have a love/hate relationship with videoconferencing (VC). Ok, hate might be a tad strong. Love/irritation? Love/frustration? You see, living in a rural community here in Quebec, I get to use VC a lot. Granted, it’s incredibly convenient NOT to have to get up in the darkness of early morning and drive for hours in order to attend a meeting or do a presentation in Montreal. But more often than not, I feel that I’m missing out on something by not being physically present: the backchannel conversations that take place out of range of the microphone, the informal discussions around the lunch table, the more subtle body language of participants and colleagues. So, I was very happy to meet Craig Bullett (via VC no less!), as he made me see that this oft-maligned technology as I know it can be used effectively, and not just for something as pedestrian as a meeting, but for the highest of purposes…for teaching and learning.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, your background and experience?

Craig: For the past 4 years, I’ve coordinated videoconferences for the Community Learning Centre initiative that make links to the Quebec curriculum. The CLC concept is a MELS project, with over 37 centres across Quebec, which are dispersed through all 10 English School Boards in the province. These centres serve as hubs for English-language education and community development in their respective communities. We also partner with various local organizations and help them bring their resources to the educational community. I have taught many high school subjects over a 10-year teaching career with specializations in computer & technology and FSL. I also have a Masters in Educational Technology with experience in Distance Ed and e-learning.

Would you share a specific classroom project that you feel was particularly successful in terms of both effective use of VC and student learning outcomes?

Craig: One of the most memorable classroom VC experiences I’ve helped to coordinate was a writing workshop with “The Joy of Spooking” author PJ Bracegirdle. He was in Montreal and the participants were at an elementary school in Magog. This session was good because it was on time, it was on topic, it was on task and…it was interactive! The presenter was teaching a lesson about character development. For the ice-breaker, the author read an excerpt from his novel, a spooky book for young readers. Then, he and the students shared strategies for creating a character’s name. Once the students had a name, they were asked to draw their characters and each student was invited to walk up to the camera for a brief show and tell of the drawing. The final activity involved further development of their new characters and the writing of a sequence of events. The post-event feedback from all involved was highly positive and the teacher reported having difficulty in getting the students to stop writing when it was time to work on other subjects. I was also informed that the school library had to create a waiting list for students requesting spooky books!

Explain how you approach a VC event when working with teachers and others to create engaging learning opportunities. What are some of the conception phase considerations that determine whether VC is an appropriate medium?

Craig: My main caveat is this: If you don’t need interaction/reaction from your participants…DO NOT VC! Unlike face-to-face presentations, with VC you actually need to design the interactions. VC interactivity is more like a game-show or talk show than an infomercial. The host and the participants need to be equally prepared. So, when teachers consider using VC for an event they should be asking themselves:

  • What is the purpose of my event?
  • Who is my audience? (Location and numbers are important.)
  • Why will I use VC? (Think about outcomes. Can VC get me there?)

Once you’ve decided that using VC is the right choice, if you are the organizer some of the pre-planning involves:

  • Setting a date.
  • Inviting participants  (don’t forget to get confirmations or send reminders).
  • Booking a venue(s).
  • Sharing material, resources and links with all involved.
  • Reserving bridging and technical support as needed.

If you are the classroom teacher you will need to:

  • Reserve the VC room.
  • Preview and modify content for your students.
  • Create buzz for learners about the upcoming event.
  • Prep the class to introduce themselves at the beginning and make closing remarks or “thank you’s” at the conclusion.

And once everything is over, evaluating the session is of the utmost importance. Follow-up to confirm successful outcomes and critical reflection on the experience are essential in order to integrate improvements into future events.

Where can interested teachers find resources to help with the ideas stage and planning for a VC event?

Craig: I thought you’d never ask! No, seriously there are tons of great resources listed on the LEARN site and you can find specifics in terms of CLC collaborations and educational videoconferencing here: www.learnquebec.ca/clc

As well, the 2Learn.ca Education Society has some amazing resources that support teachers who are interested in VC opportunities. These are mostly within Alberta but there are many collaborations with Quebec partners: www.2learn.ca/VC

And of course, I’m always available if people want to connect directly!


Have you been involved in any interesting classroom or professional development VC experiences that you’d like to share? Please don’t hesitate to school me in the comments section below 🙂










Thank you!

photo by Ben Fredericson
photo by Ben Fredericson

When I speak with LEARN’s teachers about what is different for them about teaching online compared to their face-to-face experience with students in schools, one of the things that comes up frequently is the gratitude that their students express every day. When I visit classes, I notice it: almost every student includes thanks as part of his/her daily parting words to teachers.
I secretly asked LEARN’s online cycle 2 students if they would like to express their gratitude more publicly this week as part of the celebration of Teacher Appreciation Week in Quebec. Here are some of the responses I received, in the students’ own words:

Dear Mrs. Drolet,

I can’t imagine how fast the year came by. My math classes with you were wonderful and amazing. Throughout the year, I’ve had difficulties in every single chapter we went through but you were always there for me and helped me get through it.

I know you sometimes were disappointed by the work handed in by me, but I did try my best to succeed and have good marks and it is because of you. You were there for me and I am so grateful and happy that you were my teacher this year.
Good thing Marianne convinced me to take the online class or else I wouldn’t have met the awesome teacher you are. I definitely will miss you terribly and you forever will stay in my heart because even though we haven’t met, I love you a lot and you are a great person.

Thank you so much for being there for me. You made me a better person. I am now taking my responsibilities seriously and I can’t be more thankful than I am right now. You definitely were the best friend you told us you’d be at the beginning of the year. My text seems cheesy a bit, but it really is what I think of you. Thank you so much.

Lots of love,


Dear Mrs. McGoldrick,

You have made Math class so interesting for Marica and me, as well as the rest of your other math students. I could’ve never asked for anyone better to teach us math over the internet. This has been my first time doing online courses and no matter how much I panic over not understanding things you’re always there to explain something or giving us help when we need it.

We love your random outbursts and your doodles you write on the whiteboard in class; Marica and I always get a good giggle out of them. We love looking at the new pictures you put on the sakai page every week because it always gives us something to yarn about. You’re so successful with all your awards and such and you should get a #1 teacher button because you deserve it!

You’re so enthusiastic about teaching and it’s amazing how you can put up with us sometimes. (Well, our math class isn’t that rough but you get what I mean 😉 Thank you for being so patient with us and being one of my favorite LEARN teachers.  You don’t understand how much it means to all of us when we say how easy it is to get along with you and how we really enjoy your math class. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help us and thank you for anything else I might have missed.


Mr. Ross,

I think I speak on behalf of all your LEARN students that you are doing a great job as our physics teacher!

Teaching from behind a computer monitor can be a challenging job it seems, but you seem to have adapted very well! I never thought we would be doing labs, in this course, but we have actually done several interesting ones. You always keep the class interesting with all the examples and scenarios you give, and you make sure everyone gets the material well before we move on.

I was also not a very organized person before your class, but I can feel myself improving in that as well!

Thank you for all your effort, and let’s finish off a great year!


Dear Mrs.Cule,

Even though the year is far from over, I wanted to thank you for all that you have done and will do for me and the whole class this year. I want to thank you for all your patience and hard work. It must not always be easy to teach a bunch of teenagers online, but yet, you manage to do it amazingly!

I love how you share your love of chemistry with the class through tons of fun activities, exercises and experiments that we remember and enjoy so much more than reading a textbook and doing the textbook questions all year long! I believe diversity is one of your strength, just like your dedication. Preparing all these activities shows all of us how much you care and I will always be grateful for it.

I have always been the student who wants to do the best she can to assure herself the best future.  In your class, I feel like all is planned to make sure of it, so that I don’t have to worry about missing something, or being scared to get to the end of year exam and rip my hair out because I don’t feel prepared at all. I know you always have our best interests in mind and that you will do everything you can for us to succeed. I know that even if I don’t understand something and feel discouraged, you will always have my back and that we will work through it together to make everything be fine in the end.

It is for all of this, and much more, that I am the luckiest chemistry student because I have you as a teacher.


Dear Mrs. Pasteris,

 First of all, thank you for putting up with all of us! I’d also like to thank you for all the hard work and effort you have put in for us to ensure we really understand the material.

I appreciate all of your dedication, hard work, patience and understanding. You are such a fantastic teacher! I remember when I couldn’t really understand the first chapter, and I just didn’t get how all the online stuff worked and how to understand it, but you made sure that I did and helped me through. Not all teachers are so caring and helpful like you have been. It must be so tough to do it as well over the internet rather than person to person. I can’t imagine the amount of patience you have with all of us.

 I just really want to thank you and tell you how much I appreciate you and how much work and time you have put in for the class and me. Thank you so much Mrs. Pasteris! I hope we get to actually meet one day!



To all of Quebec’s teachers:  Thank you and happy Teacher Appreciation Week to you all!  What would be a meaningful teacher gift for you?

Students:  Feel free to leave a comment to add thanks for your teacher(s).  Let your teacher(s) know that you appreciate what they do for you and your classmates every day.


Online PD or What I’ve Learned In My PJ’s

On the laptop in pyjamas
photo by Sharon Drummond

It was our last class together as senior seminar students with Dr. Anderson. For most of us, the moment represented the penultimate step in completing a rather lengthy graduate degree and…we were elated. Together, we shared virtual eggnog and recounted stories of how our families traditionally celebrated the holidays. A number of students were located in Eastern Canada, a few on the West Coast, one in the Bahamas and another in Dubai.  We were teachers, administrators, two emergency room doctors, a nurse, a web developer and an instructional designer. During the previous three months, once a week, we had all come together at the same time, to explore the then current trends in distance education.

On this particular night, I remember Dr. Anderson cheekily asking us to fess up and tell him what we really did while we participated in his class. He knew that we weren’t always sitting there, glued to our computers, pen and paper in hand, waiting for an epiphany. For nearly five years of my life, I had spent what could have been my daily downtime chillin’ in front of the TV or zoned out with a good book, revved up and thinking about distance ed practice and pedagogy. And yes, I’ll admit it now, sequestered in my basement office, I sometimes had one ear on a baby monitor, a stack of laundry at my elbow, and was often sporting my flannel jammies! Nonetheless, I was still able to actively engage with the process, the people and the content.

I am an online learning convert, but why do I love it so much? Well, there are some pretty obvious benefits to learning at a distance (beyond the accepted garb!) that have been widely discussed. Here are the ones that I can relate to with the most enthusiasm:

Learning online provides freedom and flexibility.  The notion of anytime, anywhere learning is pretty intoxicating for somebody who loves to discover new stuff all of the time, or wants to master what he or she already knows. You don’t have to travel farther than the nearest laptop to be able to actively participate in an online session with master teachers and a group of diverse and invested peers.  For me, the ability to maintain a busy professional and personal life while pursuing graduate studies, without the hassle and expense of travelling to the nearest urban centre, is liberating. Also, with the myriad of available platforms that support both asynchronous and synchronous collaboration, the task of scheduling group work, organizing follow-up sessions, and even attending an impromptu meeting becomes much less cumbersome.

Learning online enables community building on a large scale. I love meeting people who share my professional interests, in the hopes of both learning with them and from them. What better way to open up a community to as many stakeholders as possible than via the net? During my years at Athabasca University, I met people from all over the world, and together we supported each other’s learning and created some pretty cool content that I can still readily access. Of course, sustaining communities of practice or professional learning communities is yet another challenge, but one that is again potentially less difficult to overcome without the constraints of having to be physically present somewhere.

Learning online encourages accountability. This means a couple of different things to me. Online learning helped me be accountable to myself in terms of taking ownership of my learning and development as a professional…in a province where no formal requirement is made of teachers to upgrade either skill set or knowledge base.  Being accountable as a student in an online setting is another aspect.  It’s really hard to hide in an online class with only a dozen or so participants.  Individual participation is easily noted, and it can also be quite obvious when someone doesn’t come prepared or isn’t really “there”.

As much as I appreciate the many benefits of online learning, I acknowledge that in order for online PD to be embraced by more teachers and school boards, it has to be effective, and not just in terms cost savings. So, the question you may be asking is what does GOOD online PD look like? Well…it should probably look like GOOD traditional PD! It should meet the needs of the individual, positively impact on practice, and ultimately improve student outcomes.  But how? The research literature in the field suggests that high-quality PD has to:

  • be content/subject-matter focused with an understanding of student learning needs
  • provide opportunities for active learning around authentic tasks
  • encourage collaboration
  • occur over time
  • allow for feedback and follow-up
  • be supported in order to allow for continued growth and change

Now, all we have to do is figure out how to meet all of these benchmarks,  using the best-suited technology at our disposal. What does THAT look like? Is it a blend of both online and offline learning experiences? I strongly suspect that it is, but what’s the magic combination?

This year, LEARN is offering a series of web events which we hope will respond to a need from within the milieu. We aim to target a different topic or practice each month, across curricula and communities. To me, these initial monthly online sessions are only the very beginning of a grand experiment in which we will collectively discover a model that might help us to systematically implement meaningful PD for our educators.  And, we invite you to please join us as we engage, explore and exchange.

I’ll make sure to keep you posted!

Kristine Thibeault

For more information on LEARN Web Events, click here.

New (School) Year Resolutions

Shopping for school supplies

Confession:  I have never liked New Year’s Eve.  Too much pressure is associated with that one night: going to a huge party, dressing in fancy duds, and staying up late.  Then, we have the angst over making New Year’s resolutions.  Stressful!

For me, the best time to make meaningful resolutions is in the first days of the school year.  This timing makes sense for teachers and students, but also for parents who may have more time to think now that their children are back to school.  We have had a summer to reflect back on the past academic year and look ahead to the one to come.  Starting school means new teachers, new classes, new supplies, new clothes, and most of all, a whole new school year with its amazing potential.  Even now after, dare I write it, 40 school-starting Septembers, I still find this time of year just as exciting and full of possibility.  It is a perfect opportunity to re-focus and make improvements!

There is something very powerful about writing down a few resolutions in the fall.  By putting those positive hopes and plans into words and actually posting them somewhere, they can easily be referred to and you can keep on track with the direction you are hoping to follow for the year.  Of course, this is a great exercise for students, too!

In our first staff meeting of this year, all of LEARN’s online teachers talked about trying new things.  Everyone was excited to share plans and discuss ideas.

This year, it was our most experienced online teacher who most surprised and delighted all of us with his resolution for the school year.  This teacher has been teaching for over 30 years, and has taught online courses for 16 (just in case any of you thought online courses were a new thing!)  He has amazing results and every year he receives many notes from his students and their parents, thanking him for the time and effort he gives students to ensure their success.  With his stellar history, what motivation would he have for changing the way he teaches?

Well…last year, this same teacher observed changes in teaching methods being embraced by other online colleagues.  He witnessed their excitement for flipping the classroom.   He watched them using social media to join and form personal learning networks (Twitter) and for students to share with a wider audience (blogs).  He saw that they were interacting and learning with students and colleagues outside of the class space, and as he said, “I see how much fun you are having!”   Even as a master teacher, he was still open to the excitement and possibility of trying something new that would provide him with more ways to connect to and help students.

My favourite part of being an educator is that I get to start fresh each fall and with each year, I have the opportunity to get better.  Why not take advantage of the New Year and identify a few changes or challenges that will make this year a great one for you and your students?

Have you made any resolutions for 2012-2013?

Happy New Year!