Back in January, things were looking pretty rosey. I was on track with the COETAIL final project, tech integration was growing at a fantastic rate in the classrooms, we were just about to start our digital citizenship program with grades 6 through 10, and I had done a considerable chunk of the yearbook, which caused me a lot of pain in the previous year; mostly down to the fact that I had only two months to do it in. And then the rug was pulled out from all of us, with what would become a pandemic. Words that we seldom used before, would enter our everyday vocabulary, like quarantine, self isolation, social distancing, and contact tracing. Life, as we knew it, had to go on pause for a while. It was a time of great uncertainty for everyone. I consider myself one of the lucky ones, as neither I or anyone I know get sick from this disease, but my heart goes out to those who have suffered from this affliction, directly through health issues, or financially, through the global shutdowns that quickly followed. It was hard to predict what would happen next, and I often felt powerless and lost, almost like being lost at sea.
What followed for me was three months of virtual learning, some of which I spent in Thailand. And it was pretty much all hands on deck for everyone. I have to admit that back then, after my initial anxiety, I was super excited about the opportunities that virtual learning would bring. And, rather surprisingly, more than a couple of students really came out of their shells and produced quite outstanding work – something I was not quite expecting. However, it is my opinion that there is no absolutely no substitution for being in the same physical space as your students. I remember now, that before we got our students to complete a textual analysis, we created a Flipgrid to check and connect with our students, rather than dive straight into academic work. This was something that we would redo over the coming weeks and months. It also served as a timely reminder for me about the importance of digital citizenship (ISTE 2c) and the significant role it would have.
In my first blog post way back in course 1, I argued that we should see technology as a platform to project from, and my students did just that. They went from being really shy, and not willing to get onto the camera to upload content to Flipgrid, to using it on a regular basis to share not just their own work, but to give feedback to each other. Furthermore, they have taken part in MS Teams lessons (meetings), interacting with their friends and peers to collaborate and catch up on the latest news. They have communicated openly, without fear of judgement for the Pecha Kucha presentations, each telling their own personal journal over the past three months. I truly believe that our students are seeing the tech that I have introduced in the classroom as a powerful tool, that can be used to stay connected with each other.
Just last Thursday, we had a blended learning (hybrid) lesson, with students working collaboratively in groups both offline and online. You can see from the picture below, that the students are talking to a student who was calling in from Malaysia! They were in a private channel, hosting their own meeting so that the student not in the classroom felt part of the group. It was so exciting to be able to do this, and although it was far from perfect, it was a start in the right direction to making the lesson accessible to those outside the four walls of the classroom.
We also used the classtime to watch each others movies, and give feedback both verbally and in Padlet
A Blessing in Disguise
As I mentioned in my final project video, virtual learning has created a legion of tech integrators the world over. Before, teachers would often invite me into lesson to support, or redesign a unit using technology, but often these would be the same teachers. It is fair to say that some of my colleagues and teaching friends are a little afraid to jump onto the tech integration boat. However, as also mentioned in my first blog post of course 5, they had no choice for virtual learning. They had to, to survive. And in my opinion, they are better off for it.
Just the other day a dear friend and colleague was boasting to me about the 5 screencasts that he had created. Another teacher worked with me, so that she could record a live lesson from her iPad, whilst also simultaneously annotating on it using the Apple pencil, moreover, she was also using it as a document camera. It was epic.
So, thank you COETAIL. Thank you for making me go the extra mile. And thank you to each of my COETAIL 11 colleagues, whom I hope to work with, either virtually or offline, in the future.