ZOOMing into Online Learning

Here, you find Fat Larry and his band singing the praises of Zoom.  What foresight he had to predict the technological capabilities that we would have today, way back in 1994.  Amazing.  Please listen to the whole song, as I believe the lyrics truly describe how @courosa feels about Zoom.

Not to take Zoom off of its well-deserved place on the pedestal, but, I found the first evening of class way back in September – with everyone in the room, catching up with former colleagues and classmates – to be quite enjoyable.  Maybe it was just the fact that I was ducking out of putting three little girls to bed…  but, I’m pretty sure it had at least something to do with the academic energy that filled the Teacher Preparation Centre.  And so, each Tuesday night, I return to that fateful spot…  trying, all alone, and occasionally in the dark (the lights are on timers after 8:00 pm), to recreate that moment (and, yes, in large part, to duck out of putting three little girls to bed).  It hasn’t quite ever been the same.

I DO really enjoy Zoom … it is, by far, the best online meeting space of which I’ve been a part.  The breakout room option is a definite plus, as everyone seems to “reengage” in those smaller spaces.  The chat room is a source of entertainment and information.  Google+ is a fantastic complement, as it allows us to stay connected while we’re not “in class”.  I hadn’t ever used either of these ed tech tools before EC&I 833.

Prior to taking this class, my online learning experience was limited to one class in 2008.  Technology has certainly changed with respect to the delivery of “distance education”!  I don’t recall what tool I used to connect with the professor and classmates, but it was something much less user-friendly than Zoom.  I’ve also Skyped with traveling friends and family members over the years … but I’ve never seen such tools as valuable educational opportunities.

Adam Krammer’s video of children all over the world using Skype to connect with the Aquarius submarine (underwater lab) was amazing.  It was so much more than simply showing children a video of an underwater lab (one-way street)… it was very interactive.  The children were able to ask questions and hear answers on the spot.  I will have to explore opportunities to use this type of “online learning” in my own face-to-face classes.

In my IP 10 class, my students recently completed a unit on Microsoft Word (I can hear the groans now!).  It was actually quite fun (not biased at ALL, as the creator of all of the mini-assignments involved!) … but it required them to work independently, at their own pace, for about 2 weeks…similar to the old “box of lessons delivered to your door” approach to distance learning.  We were all in the same room, but the students had virtually no interaction with anyone during those ten hours of class time.

By the end of the unit, I was going a little crazy.  I had to change things up and have some large group activities with lots of discussion and movement.  I was craving interaction, as were my students.  This experience reminded me why I could never function in the asynchronous educational setting that Jade Ballek described during our last class.  Those quick visits, smiles, and nods of approval are what give many students the boost they need to carry on.

Similarly, as Liz mentioned in her blog, some of her students would struggle with an online course because they need things explained in a different way – or even in several ways – before they understand.  Many of my students are in the same boat.  The ones who would speak up in a face-to-face environment to ask questions are also the ones who would speak up in a chat room or in an online space.  It is the quiet students who can fly under the radar, whether in the classroom or online.

In the article “Shy Students Get a Voice Through Ed Tech”, and as we discussed earlier on in the course, it’s been found that “social media or online chat forums provide a medium for shy students to voice their questions, opinions or knowledge—all without the fear of speaking in front of other classmates”.  I’m certain that many students in EC&I 833 enjoy being heard through their blog posts or through the chat room, as opposed to having to speak up in front of others.

Another benefit that education technology can provide, either to online learners or even in face-to-face settings, is the opportunity for teachers to complete quick, online assessments to gauge student understanding.  This is, again, particularly useful for students who, following the introduction of a new concept, simply nod (with fingers crossed) when they are asked “Does this make sense?” I look forward to hearing from Nicole and her group mates when they talk about using education technology for assessment!

I realize that both of these tactics – using ed tech tools to give shy students and voice and to assess their understanding – could be done (and should be done!) in a face-to-face setting, but they are INHERENT in an online setting.  For this reason, I see online educational environments as being the perfect answer for some students.

Where the online environment may fall short is in that “personal connection” that many students (and teachers) need.  The article, “Identifying and Addressing the Mental Health Needs of Online Students in Higher Education” addresses this concern dead-on.  Author, Bonny Barr, explains that, without the “direct sensory contact with students”, many suggestions of poor mental health can go unnoticed.  Barr goes on to explain that online and distance educators be tuned in for other signs of depression, such as online learners missing from group sessions, not handing in homework, or not replying to emails, etc.  This becomes a critical part of the educator’s role in an online environment – but without the visual clues that a classroom teacher would have.

Many of my classmates mentioned the progress that has been made in the area of distance learning in the last few decades.  Audrey Watters describes receiving a box of videotaped lectures, a textbook, and worksheets when she first dove into the online educational world.  There was no opportunity for interaction, for diagnostic assessment or for formative assessment.  There was no collaboration with other students in the class … there really WAS no class… just concepts to be learned and worksheets to be completed.  The student was the vessel into which the professor’s knowledge would be poured…. a very archaic view of education that we discussed many weeks ago in class and that author, Vanessa Rodriguez, attempts to squash in her article, “The Teaching Brain and the End of the Empty Vessel”.

It is becoming increasingly accepted that we learn from other learners just as much as we learn from the teacher.  This new view of learning – a connectivist approach – is described by George Siemens in “Connectivist:  A Learning Theory for the Digital Age”.  There, Siemens talks about the importance of “nurturing and maintaining connections” and about relishing in “diversity of opinions”.  This, in my opinion – and, as the title of the article suggests – is most feasible in an online learning environment.

So – as I conclude this post – I am still not sure where I stand when it comes to online education!  As a learner, I enjoy it.  I’m starting to get a handle on the expectation for multi-tasking (chat room, Zoom, Google+, looking up relevant info, etc. all while information is being shared), and I definitely enjoy the convenience of being able to meet up with my prof and classmates from my chosen location.  On the other hand, I don’t think I could successfully TEACH an online course.  I wouldn’t feel as though I could adequately assess student understanding without “making rounds” in the classroom each day.  I also know that I would miss the smiles and laughter that sporadically (occasionally?) occur in my high school classroom.   Perhaps, as I become a better online learner, I will further explore the possibility of someday becoming an online teacher… if, by then, a robot hasn’t already taken my place.

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Photo courtesy of CompFight http://compfight.com”>Compfight</a> <a href=

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6 thoughts on “ZOOMing into Online Learning

  1. Pingback: Separated by distance, connected through a screen – online education. | Ashley Murray

  2. Loved the song.
    I’ve been thinking this week about not having the face to face reading of students but am beginning to consider that after experience looking at the faces of participants you may learn to connect and assess them similarly to that of our regular classroom.

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  3. Thanks Nancy! I agree that connections through online courses are very essential to success. I took a course through Athabasca University once and I only ever heard from the prof via email. It’s so important to allow online communities to flourish so learning can flourish as well.

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  4. Great thoughts on your experience Nancy! I completely understand what you mean about connections. I’ve had a few experiences with online courses, both good and bad, and I would have to say that the instructor and the other students make a huge difference. If an instructor is putting in the effort, they can make it fantastic. If they aren’t but other students are, they can make it still very worthwhile. But if everyone is off in their own little areas I get a lot less out of it. I know a lot of instructors we work with in my job find it to be a lot more work than face to face, mostly because face to face involves work they understand. They show up in a room and don’t have to think through stuff that is ingrained, like looking at students, body language, etc. Online requires more thought and planning.

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  5. With your opening song, you got me thinking about how blogs really encourage students bringing forward their personalities in their online spaces. I am not sure you would have felt as comfortable writing this much of your experience, or expressing yourself through a great Youtube video, if this was a URCourses forum. Space -and who *owns* the space – really makes a difference.

    Also the Barr article and how “mental health can go unnoticed” – this is something that I am becoming more and more aware of as I teach online – and I need to get so much better at. We all do. So, I am thankfully for tools like Zoom that can get us a little closer, but we have a long ways to go, that’s for sure.

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  6. You are completely correct, Alec! The more time I spend in the Zoom space, and with the classmates in EC&I 833, the more comfortable I become. I notice that, with this being my third (?) year using Edmodo with my students – both as a communication tool and for assignment submission – they seem more accepting of it and make better use of it, as well. Thanks for your comments!

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