I was looking for some inspiration to get the ball rolling on this blog post, so I started by looking up some funny quotes about how emergency online/distance learning was going. Here are some of my favourites:
Needless to say, I think most people got off to a rocky start. At the time, I had just finished my EC&I 832 course with Alec. In this class, I had the opportunity to explore different educational apps. It just so happened that my choices were conducive to an online learning context, as I did my major project on YouTube and Flipgrid. This was definitely helpful, as I used my newly created YouTube channel to share lessons with my students. I certainly did not feel prepared, but I was probably in better shape than most. I have some experience integrating technology into the classroom, plus I followed the journey of many of my classmates who completed projects around different educational tools, such as Google Classroom. Plus, we can’t forget the importance of having internet access and devices at home to use, which I was fortunate enough to have. Covid-19 definitely threw everyone for a loop and caused people heartbreak, anxiety, and stress. On the flip side of that statement, it also brought about much creativity, opportunity, and highlighted inequities in our society that are now finally being addressed.
I never would have thought of myself as “techy” or the “go to” person for anything technology related, but I found a lot of satisfaction in applying the skills I acquired last semester in an authentic fashion. I found it challenging, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately I surprised myself. I learned how to create a structure to plan my videos, film the videos, edit using iMovie, operate a Canon M50, use Google Classroom for something other than just posting PDF files, and a slough of other random skills that I never would have learned without this unexpected shift into online/distance learning. My comfort and confidence level is significantly higher when it comes to dealing with technology and learning about new tools. Many of our presenters in class have discussed the use of WeVideo. For the first time ever, I have big plans around learning how to use this tool and I’m excited about experimenting with it, rather than terrified.
My Experience: Useful Tools for Online/Blended Learning
Yes, my educational technology repertoire has expanded, but is still quite limited. I’m going to focus on the tools I used during emergency online/distance learning and tools or strategies I would have preferred or will bear in mind for future use.
WHAT I DID
Prior to the pandemic, my main tool was SeeSaw. This tool was mainly used to communicate with parents, assign activities to my students, and act as an online portfolio of student work. This past spring, SeeSaw was used for those purposes, but they became more of a lifeline for me. I began using SeeSaw for assessment, rather than exclusively sharing student work with families. In light of the pandemic, SeeSaw offered a 60-day free trial to use their “send back” feature. This was convenient, as I could review student work and send it back with pointers for the student without posting the item. SeeSaw was an excellent communication tool and helped bridge the gap between home and “school…” or my home I suppose? In addition, SeeSaw has an excellent Help Center, which came in handy!
With making the switch to online/distance learning so quickly, some days it felt like I was just keeping my head above water. That being said, I don’t feel like I was really using SeeSaw to its full capacity. I did not create my own activities on SeeSaw, which I wish I had spent more time learning. One of my co-teachers learned how to do this and raved about how simple it was to do! In addition, SeeSaw has tons of online PD to take advantage of as well. Although this did not happen during the spring last year, I want to take the time to learn more about using SeeSaw and customizing my experience!
The second tool I used last spring was Google Classroom. I found Google Classroom quite user friendly and easy to create assignments for my students. However, we were not using Google Classroom at the outset of our school year, so kids were essentially learning how to use this tool at home with their parents. In retrospect, that was probably where the root of my problem was with this tool. Most questions I fielded about this tool were how to submit assignments, how to get logged on, how to get logged into Google, etc. However, aside from that issue (which was more of a “me” mistake, than an issue with the tool) it worked well once I got my families organized. For math, I created quizzes through Google Forms on Google Classroom, posted material (PDF copies of resources for the students), and gave assignments on Google Classroom. I used to have students type their assignments, then share it with me through Google Docs or Google Slides. Rather than having 27 students share individual documents or slideshows with you that clutter your Drive, you can give students assignments on Google Classroom and make a copy for each student… Everything is in one place, making it easier for me to check in on my students. For that reason and in the event we need to resort to online/distance learning again, I have decided to use Google Classroom this year and getting my students familiar with the tool right from the start. Something I didn’t know at the time, but figured out this year, you can create topics in order to categorize assignments or material that you post. This not only makes the teacher end of things easier to use, but also on the student end.
Another tool I used was YouTube. At the outset of teaching online/from a distance, I already had some experience creating videos and had a YouTube channel created, which some of my students were already following. On the student end of things, no one had any issues with this! All students needed to do was click the link and watch. On the creator end, it did take some getting used to, which luckily I got out of the way prior to school closures. I was a little slow at first, but eventually I became more efficient at planning and filming my video lessons as well as editing them on iMovie. For the most part, students have had experience with YouTube outside of school, so this was something that they were comfortable with from the beginning, making this tool that much easier to use.
Lastly, with my students I used Google Hangouts, as this was approved by our division. However, for staff meetings and other school related items that didn’t involve students we used Zoom. Google Hangouts took some getting used to as the majority of my experience has been with Zoom. Overall, it worked pretty smoothly, but interestingly enough I did have some people within my school division accidentally hop on a Google Meet a few times! To be honest, I’m not quite sure how that happened, but it was probably something I did… Who knows!? This was a major concern with Zoom, which is why were were not permitted to use Zoom with students. My co-teachers and I do a project every year called Decades. Essentially, the students are assigned a strand of art (visual, drama, music, or dance) and a decade. Then, they research that strand of art from their designated decade. We did a screen recording of us dressed up as David Bowie and created an air band to Space Oddity. We also did the same with STOP by the Spice Girls.
Based on the response from families and students regarding our air band videos, I didn’t realize how much students needed to see our faces and feel that personal connection. Our presenters this week highlighted the value of making instructional videos personal by being physically present. Kareem Farah notes in this tweet how badly students are craving human connection and adding personal touches on instruction or feedback is key.
IN THE FUTURE…
I am still using SeeSaw and Google Classroom this year, with the adjustments noted above. Currently, I am not filming my lessons and posting them on YouTube because I am teaching in person. However, should I find myself in an online/distance learning situation again, this is where I would make some changes:
First off, Kristina, Catherine, Amanda, and Nancy… Where was this presentation seven months ago?! Very informative and had my wheels turning! I took a lot of great bits of advice from this presentation, but here are my highlights:
Keep. It. Simple. Sometimes I forget that I have more experience using these tools than my students or my families. What is by now second nature to me is not for them. This coupled with trying to work from home, with everything else going on, can be overwhelming when something is brand new. Looking back I should have only used SeeSaw and honed my skills on creating assignments through this platform, rather than Google Classroom as well.
WeVideo: Since most of my video editing experience was with iMovie, I just stuck with what I knew. It was pretty easy to use once you got in the habit by doing it 2-3 times/week. However, it was a bit of a learning curve and I didn’t feel completely comfortable until closer to the end of the school year. I don’t have a ton of experience with WeVideo, but Amanda has me sold with her reading strategy videos! She had mentioned you are able to edit and use your own footage quite easily. Plus, it has stock images you can use as well. To create the fun backgrounds, she mentioned that she used a green screen and images she found online. This reminded me of an article I shared on Twitter earlier this semester about creating your own green screens. At some point this year, I definitely want to try this– or better yet, get my students to try this out!
Ed Puzzle: I use YouTube constantly to track down materials that explain a certain concept or to add an audio-visual component to my teaching. However, I find that sometimes students either blast through the video, not really taking it in or there are only certain parts I want my students to watch. Not to mention, I sometimes like to chime in with my own pieces in videos. During online/distance learning, I didn’t have a tool to do this, so I would just post the link anyway or make my own video (which was much more time consuming). When our presentation group made note of this tool, I wondered, “This seems too good to be true. I wonder what it costs…?” Turns out, the basic package is free and the pro package is only $11.50 per month. Plus, I would imagine what I would use this tool for, the basic package would suffice. I haven’t had a chance to explore this tool or implement it myself, but it is on my growing list of tools!
Bearing in mind the “keeping it simple” principle, I think I’ll cut my list off here. I really could go on forever, but this little resource sheet is definitely saved for future use!
Teaching With New Tools and Online/Distance Learning vs Face-To-Face Learning
Currently, I am not teaching online. However, I’ve approached this school year trying to be as proactive as possible. We all learned last year just how quickly things can change and we could have another school closure anytime. Bearing this in mind, I’m still teaching as I would in a regular classroom setting: hands-on activities, class discussion, small group instruction (when possible), etc. This year I am making the point to upload PDF copies of all of my student work booklets on Google Classroom and have the students complete assignments or quizzes on this platform to ensure they have some experience should they need to do this remotely. I am also ensuring my students use SeeSaw regularly and that all families are connected (if possible) to prevent any last minute scrambling. For the most part, I think I have done all I can do to be prepared to make the shift to online/distance learning this year if needed. Although, I do believe there will be limits on how much we can be prepared.
Overall, I feel like I would be comfortable implementing some of these tools (e.g.: Ed Puzzle and WeVideo) should I need to shift to online/distance learning. After teaching through the spring last year, not much intimidates me now (insert nervous laughter here). With new challenges lie ample opportunity to surprise yourself with what you know. Of course, I will find myself lost at times, but moving forward I have acquired an arsenal of tools to use and previous experiences to build on upon.
If I needed to teach at the Regina Public eSchool, I think where I would struggle with the most is how to structure a full day of online learning. I have no clue what that looks like! Do you teach all day? Is it a combination of synchronous and asynchronous learning? In general, how does a typical day go? What tools are the easiest to use? The list could go on! I think finding your rhythm will take some time to establish when working in the eSchool. However, as teachers, we are some of the most creative and flexible thinkers out there! Here’s to venturing into the unknown, my fellow educators!