Saturday, June 25, 2005

Quality Learning Globally

Over the last year or so, I've been involved with a "Quality Learning Globally" consortium organized by our school district's technology resource teacher Rob Lewis. The group assembled teachers and admin/district staff, most of which were tech leaders, to inquire into some key problems emerging with tech-based learning. We met about 8 times, studied, and experimented with distance/blended/synchronous/asynchronous environments. The QLG research concluded with a number of observations aimed directly at three connected questions faced by (and encouraged by) the district:
  1. What should distributed learning look like... should it occur at many schools and be integrated into the options faced by students (course selection) and teachers (course design, career specialization), or should distributed learning be the purview of our distance ed school?
  2. What technology should we use, and why... virtual classrooms, CMS, platforms, peripherals, access issues, budget & greening issues, what works in various contexts?
  3. What pedagogy emerges from, or shapes, the technology and the choice of delivery models... synchronous vs asynchronous, what degree of "blending," how is the vision, coordination, and support sustained in schools and in the district? 
The research looked at teacher and student experiences in contexts that explored as many of the possibilities brought up by these questions as possible. The QLG group asked these questions from the perspective of teachers and students, and in the end we recommended:
  1. Distributed Learning should happen at every school, at any time in which teachers in these schools were willing to experiment in such a way that could be supported by administration. Teachers excited to try teaching an online course or increase the amount of interactive technology they use with regular classes are the best bet for success. Dumping online course work and new tech on unwilling teachers will not work and will halt any momentum built elsewhere. While the integration of distributed learning has a logical place at the secondary level, it should be placed within the continuum of integrating all forms of teaching and learning strategies that make use of rich media and interactive technology, not just the ones that lead to more independent (distant) student learning. This has implications for the continued promotion of technology skills and digital literacy among staff and students, and commitments to support, training, and leadership.
  2. Online and distance learning works best when the students are also connected to a learning community and teachers -- real people (with bodies and nuanced expression) and real social environments that are essential for human development, so some face-to-face is a must except for special cases and for most should be the the primary experience, even at higher grades. The group spent a lot of time on the creative/collaborative/critical process involved in building and analyzing content (distributed "learning objects," resources , courses). Some felt there should be an attempt to build original, professional resources specific to BC curriculum contexts, while others were confident that existing online (free/external) resources would increasingly meet learning needs. This has implications for inter-school communication/collaboration and the coordination of some aspects of course programming across the district.
  3. Technology and distributed learning should not remove and try to replicate the best of the classroom experience, but should seek to revolutionize the worst and most problematic aspects of the classroom experience. Thus virtual classrooms that imitate real discussions are often a step backward unless no alternatives exist. Just as the powerpoint can take a meaningful presentation and turn it into something segmented, trite, or didactic, interactive technology can create addictive, self-absorbed recluses where once were curious, social kids. The group was confident that the interactive web could extend and enrich but not replace the social fabric of schools. This has implications for school and district tech direction, planning and licensing.

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