Saturday, 9 March 2013

DL and the 21st Century - Distributing Learning A Different Way

Its sometimes curious how circumstances combine to bring an issue into greater focus. A couple of weeks ago I wrote on how my passion for penguins has earned me many invitations to speak to students through out my district. One of the schools extending an invitation was our Northern BC Distance Education School (NBCDES)  That same week I also received an email from the school's principal sharing some frustration over comments made by BCTF President Susan Lambert about distributed learning.  Ms. Lambert had issued a president's message that included the following statements:

   “Some administrators are trying to relieve the pressure by encouraging students (elementary students as well) to enroll in electronic distributed learning (DL) courses. I find this practice unconscionable. While DL provides students who are unable to attend face-to-face classes a crucial alternative, it is not instruction that can ever replicate the richness of a classroom. DL should never be encouraged as an alternative to regular classroom programs unless a student is simply unable to attend school.”  

Ms Lambert's comments were made in the context of a larger article in which she was hi-liting the importance of non enrolling teachers and the TF's belief that the province needs to hire more than 6000 more teachers. (Her entire message can be seen at  ) With all due respect to the BCTF's support for ensuring public education is sufficiently staffed, my experience at NBCDES would indicate that DL instruction is much more than just an alternative for students who cannot attend a bricks and mortar classroom.

I regularly make presentations to students about my experiences with penguins. I had never done my presentation on line,  and didn't really know what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised at just how interactive and rich the teaching experience was. Students did indeed log in from a variety of locations both near and far, but through technology we were able to communicate visually, verbally, by text and by voice. The virtual classroom experience was every bit as vibrant as any face to face presentation I have made, and the students comments and questions, delivered by means of  online chat,  helped shape and guide the conversation just as much as when the students are sitting with me. I was impressed by how expert and comfortable the students were with the technology and was quite aware that in this setting, I was both a presenter and a learner. The patience and interest of both the staff and the students  was incredibly supportive. Everyone came away every bit as excited and charged up by the interaction as I have experienced in a "regular" classroom setting.

The point is, for this learning community,  I was in a regular classroom. As identified by LearnNow BC distributed learning is an important, vibrant growing field of education. Its objective is to offer the same courses as are on offer in a bricks and mortar school. More than just correspondence or distance ed, distributed learning offers a 21st Century alternative means of providing learners with a rich and vibrant learning experience. (More information on DL can be found at both the ministry's website or by contacting NBCDES )

Its significant to note that all of the staff at NBCDES have previously enjoyed success working in regular schools. These folks certainly model lifelong learning. Some of them have come to DL after more than twenty years of successful regular instruction practice. Their passion, enthusiasm and efforts on behalf of students belie the argument that somehow their efforts are less rich than those of their colleagues working in brick and mortar classrooms.

Distributed Learning represents a new way of reaching an ever diversifying student population. Whether they log in from next door or halfway around the world, the DE/DL experience  meets students where they are, and utilizes both the latest in technology and sound pedagogy. The heart of the DL experience is provided by quality teachers who care every bit as much about providing students a quality education as their colleagues in traditional school buildings. Contrary to the opinions of some,  DL is a field that needs to be acknowledged, accepted and celebrated, rather than viewed as an after thought or a threat to conventional education. The goal of public education is to prepare students to adapt to changing world where technology is playing an ever increasing role. Our DL staff and students live that goal every day.

1 comment:

  1. An interesting read. I'd like to share a quick story about a Health & Career Ed unit I taught a few years back. We began covering the topic of "sex-ed". During our introductory lesson, it was clear that the dialogue wasn't very rich due to student comfort, trust, etc. So we decided to use a moodle website with a chat forum. The students provided me with pseudo-names, and we opened up a forum where they would discuss topics using their "alias". I included myself with an alias. So here we all were, within the same classroom, but actually conducting a "distance education" approach to the lesson (one student participated from home).

    What a fantastic way to approach this delicate subject. "Shy" students shared much more while working within this even playing field. Students were very careful to be respectful and thoughtful with their posts (perhaps because what they post is "permanent").