BlendED Symposium 2016: Evaluating K-12 Digital Tools

Teacher Editorial | By Joy Trick (BOLT student)

Prologue

The second annual blendED Symposium was held in Edmonton, Alberta on October 23-25, 2016. I attended this conference for these two days and where possible I have provided links to either the presentation or session notes (made by those in attendance at each session). My apologies in advance to anyone whose session has not been mentioned as this in no way makes your contribution less meaningful. The following is a summary of “my take” on the symposium based on the sessions I attended and also comments from other delegates gleamed through sharing and networking during the three day event. My apologies also if I have “overlinked”. My goal was to make access to the presentations and resources as simple as possible so that you are able to pick and choose as you so need or desire.

What is blendED?

The conference theme for this year was on “using technology to enhance and extend learning and applying flexible learning strategies in various learning spaces”. (http://www.blendedalberta.ca/about.html)  As a distance education teacher with both print and online students, this description interested me as most often

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conferences and professional teacher development offerings relate directly to the regular classroom teacher in a bricks and mortar school. The phrase – various learning spaces – caught my eye because I work in a not so traditional space, giving support to students mainly at a distance through phone, e-mail and online programs with occasional face-to-face meetings with students.

Interesting enough, during the panel discussion, it came to light that Alberta Education’s definition of “blended education” involves an aspect of home education related more to home schooling, which is not at all what most of the delegates were thinking. Our table discussion group agreed that blended education somehow involved technology to enhance the learning experience.

The blendEd Alberta website describes blendEd as follows:

Whether in an Outreach program, learning centre, distance learning program or classroom, teachers are using the online environment to expand and extend learning opportunities, building flexibility to student learning. (http://www.blendedalberta.ca/about.html )

To learn more about blended learning, view Laurel Beaton’s presentation, “Introduction to Blended Learning”.

Who should attend a blendED Symposium?

I attended the conference as a distance education teacher along with many other teachers and administrators from outreach, online and distance education programs. But that does not mean that this symposium is exclusive, as it is also for the classroom teacher from a regular school. (Note that the classroom was mentioned in the previous description.) The information shared is just as relevant for a traditional “learning space” as it is for mine. Technology is here to stay and research has shown that the proper use of technology in teaching and learning enhances the learning experience.

What happens at the blendED Symposium?

The blendED 2016 Symposium is designed to share emerging practices while providing opportunities for networking with sessions that will inspire and provoke delegates to think outside the traditional learning environment.(http://www.blendedalberta.ca/about.html)

To my surprise, this actually happened! Many of the sessions involved the sharing of experiences and engagement of ideas along with the opportunity to build a network with other symposium delegates and presenters. This sharing of knowledge was accomplished during the symposium by using Twitter, Facebook, table discussions and a shared Google Document of audience made notes for each session offered.

I attended the session “Blending in Outreach: What are we doing? What are you doing?”. In this session, strategies for success for students were shared by both the presenters and with other delegates during our table discussions. Topics discussed included intake meetings, student monitoring, resources, environment (social and study spaces) along with face-to-face opportunities through field trips and volunteering to build student-teacher relationships.

In a panel session held on Tuesday morning, Monti Tanner, associate principal of CBe-learn shared a link to his Teaching and Learning Online site along with insights into how much face-to-face time is needed (Answer: Just the right amount!). Keith Harrison shared how his school is “training students to be effective online learners” in his presentation “School Wide Universal Design – Designing Courses to Increase Student Access to Learning”. Other sessions that I was not able to attend that included the sharing of practice were PAVEing the Way to Engagement, Enhanced Learning Model, Teaching Presence (Ignite Session) and BCLN Collaborative Development in BC.

Emerging Theme

From the welcome and opening remarks from our Minister of Education, David Eggen, to our opening and closing keynote speakers (Dr. George Siemens and Shelley Wright) I sensed an emerging theme of “being human in the digital age” along with the altruistic vision of the sharing of resources with the building of connections for both students and teachers. Dr. George Siemens thought-provoking ideas related to AI (artificial intelligence) paving the way for a change from the pursuit of knowledge to a pursuit of humanness for the building of students into responsible world citizens. Shelley Wright ( @wrightsroom) as the closing keynote shared her real life experience with students making dramatic impacts in their communities and the world through digital technologies.

Dr. Michael Barbour in his session, “State of the Nation: K-12 E-Learning in Canada” highlighted how each province regulates (or doesn’t) online/distance learning giving examples of the sharing and collaboration that is taking place throughout Canada. (Session Notes)

Dr. Rory McGreal, Athabasca University’s UNESCO Chair in Open Educational Resources,  emphasized the concept of sharing through the use of OER (Open Educational resources). He captured my interest with his presentation of the historical aspects of copyright and how copyright was initially an “Act to Promote the Program of Science and the Visual Arts” (Queen Anne Statute 1710) yet is more often interpreted as ownership or property. He encouraged us to share by using Creative Commons License citing this among many reasons as a way to save money building courses by replacing commercial products with OER. In his words, “Openness is the skeleton key that unlocks every attempt at vendor control”. (session notes)

Another session Going Global: Making Classroom Connections Easy, given by Terry Godwaldt, representing the Centre for Global Education, described how they unite students around the world to be participants (rather than watchers) in global issues.

Technology Sharing

Neela Bell shared her experience, resources and know-how with useful technologies in her session on “Rock the Design of Your Course”. She shared her insights on visual design and her collection of resources through Symbaloo. (session notes)

A “What’s App” session by ADLC teachers Stacy Harper and Carey Klassen highlighted several technologies for teaching, assessment and management including Tackk, Flipbook, Canva, Boomerang for Gmail, Remind, Quizlet, and Socrative just to name a few!

Phoebe Arcilla in her session “Project Robot: Short Circuits and the mechanical Teacher” shared her experience and knowledge as a Robotics teacher at ADLC. (session notes)

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Andrea Belke presented on Moodle & Weebly: Dynamic Online Learning Environments.

Where to go from here?

Overwhelmed? Well so am I. When I first started as an online teacher, a wise colleague and mentor once told me that it was okay to be overwhelmed especially during our weekly school vision/tech sessions that often seemed surreal and out of my grasp. Her advice was to take one thing out of the session to apply to my online teaching practice. Over the past year, I have been exposed to research through my BOLT (Blended and Online Learning and Teaching) studies that has emphasized the value of student-student engagement in learning; this experience has led to a realisation of the lack of this option in my own online courses. The concepts of building connections and sharing of resources emphasized during the blendED symposium is something that can be extended to my students. Through ideas such as the audience created google doc notes,my goal will be to introduce an option in my online courses for student to share their learning with each other.

Whether you view one or several of these presentations, I encourage you to think of one change you can make to your teaching practice “to expand and extend learning opportunities, building flexibility to student learning”. (http://www.blendedalberta.ca/about.html). Such changes are ongoing; and, to support further professional growth in these areas perhaps you have been thinking about furthering your education past a bachelor’s degree. Small steps toward a Masters degree is possible through the Centre for Distance Education at Athabasca University’s BOLT initiative with the one month modules designed especially for practicing teachers. To learn more about BOLT and how it has changed teachers’ digital pedagogy, check out Dr. Connie Blomgren’s symposium presentation “BOLT Students’ Learning: Personal, Professional, and Practice Based”.

And last but not least, consider attending the blendED2017 Symposium as you plan your PD for the next school year.  Like me, you will be glad you did attend.

About the Contributor

Joy Trick is a senior high math teacher with over 30 years of experience teaching teens and adults. Joy graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Science in 1981 and an After Degree Bachelor of Education in 1983. She has been involved in online teaching for the past 10 years and is currently taking Master’s level courses at Athabasca University to fulfill the requirements for a Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Technology Based Learning as part of the Blended and Online Learning and Teaching (BOLT) initiative.

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