I’ve always dreamed of teaching a distance education course and perhaps in the coming years, I’ll have the opportunity to realize that goal. Having been a student of many distance education courses at a high school level and this being my 5thdistance course at the university level, I’ve been part of many different formats and have used a panoply of technological tools to assist in my learning experience. I’ve used tools like Moodle and Blackboard as content management systems. I’ve used Hotmail, YahooMail, First Class and Gmail as email systems for communications. I’m used ICQ, MSN and Gmail for instant messaging. I’ve used scanners, digital cameras, faxes, e-mail and the postal service to send and receive assignments. I’ve used Tandberg video conference systems, Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom to interact visually with my teachers.
Through the use of all these technologies, I’ve come to realize that there are pros and cons to every tool we use as teachers. EC&I 833 has introduced to me even more tools that could prove useful in the context of both distance education classes and also traditional face to face classes. As I evolve in my teaching career, the more I tend to lean towards teaching in an environment that resembles Blended Learning. Although there are still many technological challenges related to availability of computers and reliability of said technology, I’m finding increasing amounts of success in integrating varies technologies within the courses I teach.
As communication is essential in the context of efficient learning, this is the domain in which I see most progress in my teaching practice. Although my school still encourages the use of paper agendas as a tool for communicating with home, I find it more efficient to move towards online calendars such as Google Agenda. The sharing of dates and important time sensitive information through a public online calendar has proven quite effective as it removes many of the mistake factors associated with paper agendas. The ability to subscribe to online calendars and receive notifications though email or smart phone apps makes distributing information very efficient.
Although email is not as prevalent with newer generations of students, I find it is still quite efficient for longform communication and to distribute electronic documents. The ability to retain a history of communications with students, parents and colleagues is very important when evaluating the progression of students. Perhaps in the future, I’ll progress to using an online collaboration tool such as Slack or dig into the world of Google Classroom.
A newer tool that I would like to integrate in the future is Remind. As more and more of my students now have Smartphones in their pockets, it’s only natural to utilize a tool like this to once again, keep open then lines of communications with students and parents. With all these technologies at our disposal as teachers, there are no excuses for lack of communication between teachers, parents and students.
Tools that have been presented in EC&I 833 that have drawn most of my curiosity are some of the formative assessment and data collecting tools that are being used every week. Mentimeter, Padlet and Polly are all interactive data collecting visualization tools that provide an unequalled amount of interactivity between students and teachers that otherwise would be difficult using traditional classroom activities based on pen, paper and oral communication. Although I have yet to integrate any of these technologies in my classroom, they will definitely be part of my teaching in the years to come as they provide extremely valuable feedback that I would otherwise not be able to collect. Their use during our weekly class has opened my eyes to their usefulness and their power.
Other Learning technologies
Technologies I have been exploiting regularity over the past years has been things like YouTube, Kahn Academy and Google Docs. I often use YouTube as a source of content for explaining certain concepts that are extremely difficult to explain using a whiteboard or even words. The visuals that accompany an online video or animation is priceless when trying to understand certain concepts. I acknowledge that finding and vetting content can be time consuming and frustrating at times, but on occasion, nuggets of gold can be found and become an essential part of your pedagogy. When I find a great video or clip, I don’t hesitate to download it (I know we aren’t supposed to do this as it violates the terms of service or certain companies, therefore I won’t be mentioning any tools that accomplish this task.) so as to never lose it. In addition, at times, I created my own videos for when I’m away from the classroom or when there is a concept that I would like to review but would take too much time to redo in class. I can simply send the link to students and they can view the video on their own if they think they need it, thus allowing everyone to spend their time more efficiently.
Online collaboration tools like Google Docs/Slides represent a central part of how I teach my classes. Sharing live documents and having students work collaboratively on projects provides great value that could otherwise never be accomplished. As witnessed in our own EC&I 833 course, these tools allow student to work together not only in the context of the classroom but also at home. I’ve witnessed many students collaborate together over weekends and many evenings on projects which is impossible otherwise. In parallel with Google Docs/Slides, video conferencing software such a Facetime, Skype or Zoom has allowed me to break down barriers related student isolation. Although I do not use these videoconferencing tools often as I teach face to face 99% of the time, the occasions I’ve had to utilize them has been a lifesaver in terms of efficiency of communication.
One Special Mention
Dropbox is the first application I install on every computer I get. If contains my life’s work as a teacher and without it, I would be lost. The ability to jump from one machine to another and having your work and your content be everywhere is priceless. Too many of my colleagues rely on USB keys and one hard drive to contain all of their teaching data. (Exams, presentations, handouts, etc.) The tears and the sadness I have witnessed over the past few years related to people losing all of their data due to horrible backup practice has led me to believe that a service like this one is ESSENTIAL to all teachers. The automated backup of my data is of such great value that I do not hesitate to pay a yearly subscription for 1TB of storage. There are other companies that offer similar services, but Dropbox is the one that I have been using for almost a decade and could not live without.
As I reflect on my practice as a teacher, I am tending to believe that using distance education tools and techniques in courses that have a face to face context is a winning combination. As Scott mentions in his blog: “The flexibility that online courses provide is the #1 gamechanger for me.” Blended learning and the use of varied technologies provide flexibility that is helping us reach students that we would otherwise not be able to reach.