It seems that in just a few months, anyone interested in or having to do with education is trying to understand the differences between distance learning, online learning, blended learning, flipped learning, virtual learning…you get the idea. Many of these terms have been used interchangeably with similar descriptions, but there are differences. For example, what’s the difference between a virtual learning environment and a virtual classroom? Then, once a difference has been identified…so what?
How many of us have heard the terms “distance teaching,” “online learning,” “virtual classroom,” “blended learning”, or “hybrid learning” more in the past few months than they have in the past few years? Teachers, how many of you had to use multiple sites, systems, and platforms to close out the year? Besides the challenges of teaching from home, many teachers also had to deal with the online programs that had been implemented at the beginning of the school year and “flip the switch” for the rest of the school year. Not to mention the difficulties of helping their students virtually, or through other means when remote learning was not possible (due to lack of internet access and/or web-enabled devices). I’m sure we can all agree that the end of the school year couldn’t have come soon enough.
Our children are experiencing a time in history that’s unique to us all. They have had limited connection with their teachers, classmates, and friends. They are seeing and hearing events on the news and in social media that can cause feelings of anxiety and fear. They might not be able to handle or process the emotions that are bubbling up. With more and more time spent on devices, our children – regardless of age – struggle with skills such as cooperation, conflict resolution, managing thoughts, and problem solving. Because of this, fostering social-emotional skills has been a focus in education since at least the 1990s.
It’s doubtful that you haven’t already heard of the concept of blended learning, or possibly have already implemented a blended learning model. But, just in case, this approach combines face-to-face learning with online learning experiences. Basically, blended learning changes what has been traditionally ‘front-of-class’ style of lesson delivery to incorporating digital tools and features to create a more interactive and engaging experience. Blended learning used to be a novel idea that some teachers saw as an innovative opportunity to explore, but it has become more necessary as learners – digital natives – spend more time creating and viewing content on web-enabled devices (think Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok).
At one time in my career, I engaged in, facilitated, and tried to stay awake through quite a few professional development sessions. Most were mandated and scheduled right before school started in the hopes that something would transform our practise so much that 100% of our students mastered all learning objectives in the school year. After a few weeks of teaching, many of us were overwhelmed and discouraged that all those exciting strategies and techniques didn’t work with every situation, every subject, or every student. I do not envy school leadership tasked with the responsibility of selecting and organising professional development each year.
Maths questions and story problems have the unique reputation of being the focus of many memes on how confusing they can be (Question: If you have 3 pencils and 6 oranges, how many clowns will fit in a car? Answer: Blue because ducks quack.). Now imagine a teacher repeating, reviewing, and restating terms and solution steps so that students finally understand. A scheduled one-hour lesson can easily take half a day! Now imagine that scenario in a virtual classroom. (I can already hear the crying…from teachers, students, and parents!) Thankfully, G Suite for Education has tools that can support Maths teaching and learning, while making the experience engaging, interactive, and successful.
As we have all learned recently, not only can teachers adapt well to change, but they can do it quickly! Having been accustomed to in-person interaction — roaming a classroom to check ongoing progress, meeting with small groups at the “round table” for personalised instruction, and generally just being able to be with their students -- shifting to a remote, distance teaching environment has been a challenge. Yet, millions of teachers have done so with an enthusiasm and grace that is astounding and admirable.
Assessment isn’t a new idea or one limited to teaching. We assess daily – What is it that I like about this television programme and should I watch it again? What criteria will I look for in my next sofa purchase? What is my diet goal and how will I check my progress in meeting that goal? Learners of all ages are regularly assessing things like clothes, games, movies, even social media platforms according to a set of criteria.