Wednesday, 24 October 2012

A Day in the Life

One kid at a time.

Talked to Mrs. Jones.  Her son was causing her no end of grief.  He is a peer oriented follower who often misses class and goes to the library where he sometimes works and he sometimes disappears.  Sometimes for days.  Mr. and Mrs. Jones don’t always know where he is and this has been going on for a year and a half.  Could we please hang on to her kid for an extra month even though he’s already been enrolled for a whole year?  Social 20-1 could be the one thing he could hang onto-if he passes, then he can take Social 30-1 and graduate from high school.  I promised we would not give up on this kid.  That’s not what we do. 

Got an email from a co-worker. “Kendra” was in her online class but the discussions weren't working out because there were no active students in her cohort. She really wanted to talk about some issues.  Could she be moved to another group?  Kendra has Asperger’s and selective mutism.  Talking to people face to face? Forget it! But if she actually wants to discuss issues online, that’s progress. 

Speaking of discussions, Clinton- diagnosed with ADHD and ODD- was entering into some online discussions.  Not in the aggressive manner we had been led to believe might happen, but in a fantastic supportive way.  And while some educators may say there can be no discussion like face to face discussion, his conversation about “traditions” with a classmate - spending her first Thanksgiving without her dad-was electrifying.  I wonder if that would have happened in a face to face classroom?

Bob called.  He just wrote his final exam in Social 30-2.  What was his mark?  He had written the diploma without having taken the course. He was racing through the content and currently had 38.  With 68 on the diploma  he knew he only needed 32% to get his credits and graduate.  Bob could be about to learn an important life lesson.

Another phone call.  A Social 30-1 student was outraged that his paper on the relevance of Marxism had received a poor grade. Stalin failed so how could Marx be relevant?  A heated discussion ensued- had Jamal contacted me to complain yet?  No...and the next day I found out they had had a very good discussion with some deep learning- on both sides.

A call about another student, suffering from social anxiety and an eating disorder.  She was seeing an outside support worker and had access to a school counsellor but she would not talk to anyone on the phone.  Mom was distraught. How can we help?   Well, we can listen.  We can remember this student’s particular circumstances in our assignment feedback and communications.  And, like a good parent, we can wait- patiently and supportively-as she works through her issues.   Because sometimes that is all you can do.

I may work with my students online. I may never see even one of the dozens of students on my class list.  But I work with every one of them one at a time.  My students are not a nameless mob lost in cyberspace.  Every one of them is real to me.  As a professional I would be derelict in my duties if I believed that the education I offer my students is a pale second in comparison with face to face instruction.  In fact for many of my students, it is the only instruction that will work. 

Friday, 19 October 2012

Lacking evidence to support the position taken

So I'm reading the ATA News, because that's something I do as a professional, and I come across this guest editorial republished from the Globe and Mail.  It's called "The teacher is the real heart of education" and it's written by a university prof, so I'm thinking it will contain a thesis and some supporting evidence.

To my chagrin, I find it's nothing more than an opinion piece.  If I were to mark it according to my grade 12 Social Studies Diploma rubric, I'd give Clifford Orwin a "limited" when it comes to argumentation and evidence. My comments to him might run along the lines of  "you have a good start, but find make sure your evidence supports the position taken.  Be careful with assumptions- your position was based on uninformed belief, and your evidence, while potentially relevant, was incompletely developed."

Professor Orwin suggests that the only way to really teach in a university classroom is when one can "see the whites of their eyes."  The whites of their eyes?  Who are you kidding ?  That is not what I see when I visit today's universities, where teachers need two large screens and the assistance of sound engineers for their voices to be heard as you'll find at the U of A CCIS building.

Furthermore, I wonder about the integrity of of my own professional association when it publishes an article about the state of affairs in post secondary education to imply that the same holds true for distributed learning in Alberta's public schools. Just as we do not have lecture halls that seat 500 students, we also do not have online classrooms with "zillions of students." As an online educator, I am not a "disembodied electronic wraith," nor are my students.  We are all real people.

Online education and teacher presence are not mutually exclusive. To suggest that the heart of a teacher does not lie in the very essence of online education is an error in logic. This assumption denies the reality of distributed learning in Alberta and denies the reality of online relationships in today's world. Online educators are the heart of their virtual classrooms, just as they are in the face to face classroom.

If I teach my students online, it's because I believe it works. That's something I do as a professional, and I expect my association to respect that.