Posted in ECI 833

Distance Education? For it, against it, or sitting on the fence?

When it comes to my experience with technology, I am continuously being introduced to new technology tools each and every week, sometimes day by day. Before EC&I 832, 830 and now 833, I was barely doing more than emailing, Facetime, Facebook, and word documents. For me, making online photo albums around 2009/10 (when Regina Public Schools provided Macbook computers for teachers) was a big accomplishment. I must say, that, “A lot has changed!”

Week after week, blog after blog my mind is baffled at the variety and sheer number of online educational tools that are available and are being utilized in classrooms. I continuously wonder how I will keep track of them all or how I will organize and save all of them. Other than bookmarking websites, I have yet to organize my favourite websites, blogs, etc. in organizers such as Thoughtbox.es, Evernote, or Instapaper.

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What organizing tools do some of you use?

Using zoom for our weekly on line class exceeds my expectations every time. It runs smoothly, glitches or freezing have happened rarely, travel time and expenses are not an issue, and I am able to learn and interact with my classmates almost as if we were in a classroom setting. It continues to amaze me that we are all sitting at home, in our classroom, or office (sometimes in a car or in Hawaii), interacting, sharing computer screens, and watching Google Slides or Powerpoint presentations. Group activities in a break out room feel a lot like meeting with a small group face to face in a classroom. It’s a little uncomfortable at first, but someone breaks the ice and then the conversation begins.

My first online class with Alec used Blackboard. I remember thinking it was very cool because it was a new tool that I was unfamiliar with and it was my first time taking an online class. I sometimes had problems logging into blackboard for the simple reason that I lacked experience to know what to do and how to problem shoot something that would inevitably go wrong. Another obstacle was that it would often freeze or there would be glitches. But for the most part, it would work well!

I really appreciated reading about Heidi’s experience with distance education. Being 3 hours away from a college or university has many challenges that I personally have never had to experience. Being faced with trying to learn without a teacher or interaction from peers is not an ideal situation, I’m sure. I have always had a teacher there for me so I really don’t know what that would be like. Heidi states that;

As I look back, not a lot had changed in 10 years. The modules still came in the mail, and assignments were sent back and forth via “snail mail” to be graded. On occasion, I would fax an assignment if it was really close to the deadline- that’s a techie as it got!

I guess I really can’t complain about traveling from the Northwest Regina to the University of Regina anymore. And yet I still do!

 I also wanted to respond to Allison‘s concerns about distance education. She offered suggestions or other points of view so I wanted to contribute to the concerns that I have.

We know as educators that it is important for children to learn in social situations with their peers and teacher(s). Their is tremendous value in the interactions, learning, laughs, sharing of stories, etc. that we see everyday. The problem is that many of the students who are shy or have anxiety either don’t come to school or never put up their hand to share answers and information.

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Social Anxiety and Helping Anxious Kids Make Friends

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The mental health issues discussed in Bonny Barr’s article are a very real concern for student’s who are struggling with a mental health issue. Clearly, many students are overlooked, their success is compromised, and their health is at risk when they are dealing with a mental health issue.

Looking at this issue from a different lens, focuses my attention on the mental health of the students who stay at home but are behind academically because they do not attend school. Whether it is an issue of anxiety, fear, bullying, shyness, etc., these social experiences at school can be extremely traumatic for some students. A lot of these children can go unaddressed due to the work load of a teacher, other behavioural and learning problems in the classroom, or the coping capabilities of students who know how to blend in and go unnoticed.  Learning from a distance, for at least part of the time, might alleviate some of the stressors that occur for some children when they do come to school. Perhaps, if some learning took place in the comfort of their own home, as well as at school, the needs of these students would be addressed, resulting in a more balanced learning environment.

I have personally taught students who I felt are better off at home for the safety of themselves and/or others. There are no simple solutions to this issue but I often think about the amount of content and learning that is missed at home. Whether a student watches lessons recorded on a video,  connects to Flocabulary or CrashCourse, is joining the class via Skype, or is participating via Google Classroom/Docs. These are all valuable options! Obviously, some sort of learning, connecting, and communication will be valuable for the children who are not able to come to school.

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At Dr. Hanna School, our goal is that ‘All Children Can Read!’ Along with our goal, the school board initiative is  ‘Attendance Matters.’ It seems very likely that there is a correlation between the two. Often times, the students who are chronically absent from school fall below grade level reading. When a student misses just 10% (about 18 days) it makes it harder to learn or read. If a student misses 20% of school, they have essentially missed 2 months. Again, when students are chronically absent, year after year, this can quickly add up to a whole year of school missed in their first few years of school when learning to read is such a valuable time.

These statistics definitely hit home because I always have students who miss a lot of school. I work on building relationships a little bit more and encourage them to come to school. We celebrate reading at school and provide fun, interactive reading and writing opportunities at school daily. Part of me worries that it won’t be enough, so I am thankful for this weeks topic of distance learning. Wouldn’t it be great if children who stay home have an option for keeping up with missed lessons, assignments and projects. Google Classroom/Docs is one great way, as well as Flipped Classroom/Learning videos to watch at home.

The article, ‘Addressing Chronic Absenteeism,’ by edutopia provides insight into this problematic area;

  • Communicate with students. Help students see the importance of attendance on their educational futures. Celebrate attendance (for example, with certificates for good and improving attendance and raffling off prizes for students who attend regularly)
  • Strengthen after-school programs. Students in after-school programs attend more school than their peers, according to some research
  • Develop new attendance goals. Often school attendance goals are based on ADA. Add new goals based on chronic absenteeism

What are some of your thoughts for solving this complex problem to meet all children’s learning styles?

Is there a way to include Distance Education to meet these student’s needs?

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Author:

My name is Jennifer and I am a Grade 4/5 teacher with the Regina Public School Board. I am taking my 8th class towards my Master's degree in Curriculum and Instruction. EC&I 833 Foundations of Educational Technology: History, Theory, and Practice.

One thought on “Distance Education? For it, against it, or sitting on the fence?

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