My first experience with online learning was as a grad student in EC&I 832 in the winter semester of 2020. I remember thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to learn in the comfort of my own home. Zoom was brand new to me and I found it awkward staring at yourself on the screen. Only two months later, we were shutting everything down and Zoom became a lifeline.
In my role as an administrator I am not assigned a class to teach. During supplemental learning in the spring and the various times this year we have moved to online learning I have not had the same experiences that classroom teachers have had. In March, teachers were thrown very quickly into the online world and just like students, they we at varying levels of comfort and understanding of how to use educational technology. I saw my role as being one of support so that I could be there for the teachers in various ways which included:
- I was always available to answer teachers questions about technology. If I didn’t know the answer I would search until I had one.
- Since many teachers were learning in the moment, I learned more about the features of the tools they were using to help them be as effective as possible.
- I also spent time learning more about new tools that teachers were ready for and guided them to try the tools out.
- I was there to listen to their frustrations and celebrate their triumphs.
- Not to be forgotten in this list was also the support I provided to parents who were struggling to keep up with the various platforms their children were using.
There are so many tools available and at times that really overwhelmed people. My advice was to stick with a few that meet your needs and your students’ needs so that you can use them well. Once a need arose and the tools that were being used were not sufficient, then it was time to look for something else. I found that while everyone was online at times it became a competition to be using the newest and greatest tool. Teachers compared what they were able to do or not do to what other teachers were doing. Parents also chimed in and compared teachers to other teachers and schools to schools. When I think back to that time in the spring, everyone did the best they could. It was an emergency situation in which we were all thrown into. True online learning requires time to plan and use the tools that are designed to create optimal learning experiences. I am proud of the teachers in my school as they came so far very quickly with educational technology. It was the perfect example of just in time learning.
The tools that I used during online learning which were also being used by teachers with their students all were useful and relevant:
While initially not allowed to be used with students within my school division, Zoom was used for staff meetings from the beginning of the pandemic in my school. The features that Zoom has seem to be superior over Google Meet. The waiting room, and the various views are easy to navigate. Once my school division allowed it to be used with students many teachers made the switch. They found that as the pandemic went on, most families were also more familiar with Zoom.
As stated above, Google Meet was the mandated tool to be used with students in my school division. While it provides similar features to Zoom, I found it to be less friendly to use. The grid view only consistently showed if using Chrome and teachers often were frustrated with the screen share. Initially the lack of a waiting room and the ability for students to enter the meet at any time also posed problems. As the pandemic went on, Google for Education heard from teachers and began to change some of the features.
Google Docs provided teachers and students a way to compose documents and share and collaborate with others. We also use Google Docs as a very large staff to keep up with what is going on each day. That way everyone has access to editing and viewing.
SeeSaw was used by all teachers in kindergarten to grade three. As an administrator I was able to be connected with the classroom and view students journals, posted assignments, videos, and voice messages. Parents also find SeeSaw relatively easy to navigate and enjoy the convenience of the messaging feature it provides. SeeSaw has been a favourite of primary teachers and many are disappointed that we are moving away from using it next year.
Google Classroom was used by all teachers teaching grades four to eight. All were happy with the features it provided as it was the place to organize assignments, post announcements, post Google Meet instructions and have students submit their work.
In class this week Josie, Fahmida, Jacquie, and Mike shared that throughout history, there has always been a need for at home or online learning. The pandemic forced us to take teaching away from the classroom and threw us into situations that were not ideal. The emergency type of online teaching that has been required is not a fair representation of what online learning can be. I can connect that even to the grad classes I have taken. Of the eight that I have now participated in online it was very obvious to see which professors were comfortable and had created an online course and others who where thrown into making their course work online.
For me, this version of online teaching in a pandemic has highlighted the importance of connection. We were able to stay very connected with students, colleagues, friends, and families through the use of the many tools technology can provide and for that I am very grateful. At the end of the presentation, Josie, Fahmida, Jacquie, and Mike asked what type of learning we would like for our own students or children in the future. I very quickly answered with face to face. There just is a type of connection that is missing in online learning that technology will never be able to replicate.