Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Quick Reflections on VSS 2009

Though the title says quick reflections, I've been reflecting on the Virtual School Society Annual Spring Conference since the first round of sessions kicked off.  The VSS and the pre-conference are an opportunity for people involved in distributed learning (DL) and educators who use digital technology in education to get together and share what they've been up to.  Briefly, here are some of my take aways:

Mast reflections by DonGato CC Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative works.

  • Tying in with Michael Horn's keynote, DisruptingClass: How Disruptive Innovation is Changing the Way the World Learns, web 2.0 tools and the young field of DL are part of the current disruptive innovation.  Horn says that to be successful, disruptive innovations must be allowed to be separate from the status quo and not judged by the current/old norms.  My take--Don't force your DL program to be like the regular school program; let your DL teachers and admin experiment and innovate--they have the potential to help many of those kids whose needs are not currently being met in schools.

  • DL schools don't necessarily fit with the rest of the school system

  • there is as shift to teaching mastery: a DL environment is the perfect place for this

  • More educators are finding that tools like Elluminate Live! can be very powerful, especially with math instruction and tutoring.  (**A Province-wide license means that Elluminate Live! is free to use for all BC educators--go here to find out more)

  • A surprising small number of DL educators are on Twitter, but perhaps more will be after Ellen Wagner's keynote :-)

  • A surprising number of delegates have not yet dipped their toes in the web 2.0 waters

  • There is a shift away from the tools to the pedagogy of teaching and learning in a DL environment

  • No two DL schools are alike--some offer only synchronous programs, some offer asynchronous and continuous enrollment, some are 12 month operations, some are big, some are small, some offer special ed, some don't...

  • More people are willing to share their stuff; not just their ideas, but the things they have created.

My last point is BIG.  Two years ago when I went to the predecessor of the VSS conference, the BC Ed Online, the mood was one of competition.  We were all competing for the same pool of DL students.  Talk was of how to protect what we've created, not how to share.   I'm glad for the change in perspective.

My brain will be mulling over the VSS sessions and discussions for quite a while to come and this post was a chance for me to finally put down my thoughts.  The conference will inform the direction my school takes over the next little while, and that is pretty exciting.

The Last Words
My questions for you are, (1) have you noticed a shift towards sharing?  I mean, it's so gosh darned easy now to share what you have created in the digital world, shouldn't we all be sharing?  Doesn't that give more value to what you've spent time creating?  (2) Are you starting to notice a shift away from the tools and towards best practices in this increasingly digital world?

As always, thanks for reading!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Power of Observation

One of the best things about my teaching practicum, oh those many years ago, was the chance to sit in and observe other teachers in their classrooms.  Everyone has a different teaching style and there is always something to take away and make your own.  Since my practicum days I have taken the opportunity a few times to sit in on colleagues' classes, but never as often as I would have liked.

student teacher by peiqianlong
Attribution License

Blogs, Twitter, and social networks are making it easier to network with and learn from other educators, but for the most part they don't allow for actual observation.  Lately, however, I've been able to get in some virtual classroom observations and it's been great!  This past year I've taken a number of week long on-line professional development classes through KnowSchools.  In addition, I've been training to be an assistant facilitator for KnowSchools which has allowed me an inside peek as to how the different facilitators organize and run their week long classes.  The classes are done using Moodle and it has been fascinating to see how the different facilitators make use of the different features in Moodle.  So I'm learning about some great ways to improve my teaching practice and I'm getting to observe talented educators and how they teach.

I've also participated in some virtual PD offered in Elluminate Live from a variety of sources; today I popped in (briefly) to Classroom 2.0's weekly show.  I use Elluminate Live with my distributed learning students so whenever I'm in a session that someone else is moderating I'm looking for good ideas that I can steal!  It's also good to experience an Elluminate Live session as a participant.  It reminds me that it is boring just to sit and listen to the moderator; I need to give my students an active way to participate and discuss ideas and I need to engage them with good visuals.

Do you take the opportunity to observe your colleagues as they teach?  If so, how do you make time to do this?  Do you prefer live and in person, or virtual observations?  I'd love to hear from you :-)