Learning (or should we call it connecting?) Online in Troubled Times

Yes. Especially at this tumultuous (yet, for some lucky people, incredibly boring) point in time, we need to be talking about connection when it comes to learning. (When I say connect, I mean primarily as in human connection but also as in infrastructure.)

Connecting Online in Troubled Times.

There have been a whole new slew of online meeting and learning memes since we have started to work and school from home. Most of them refer to either inappropriate dress (or lack thereof altogether…) in meetings or the extreme boredom, exhaustion, and frustration of them. I could include a ton of pictures of actual online meeting fails…but they involve real people and my friend Avi reminded me how sad it is for them to be reminded of their fails all the time, so here’s a joke video that pretty much sums them up.

But we have a desire to connect, a desire to connect to some kind of normalcy in these very un-normal times so we try to be productive online. Meetings, classes, more meetings, more classes. If we just continue as usual, but online, then we can quasi pretend that we aren’t going through traumatic life shifts. That not only “everything will be alright“, but it is alright.

I hear from some parents, “If only teachers would teach online, that will solve things for me and my children!” I hear from our Ministry of Education (though the last I heard from them was quite a while back…), education consultants, and PD presenters, “Here are lists (and lists and lists and lists) of things you can do to make learning happen. To solve things for those parents asking for solutions.” And so teachers forward these lists to parents weekly but they say, “No! We don’t want lists of things to do, we want…online teaching! We want you to do your jobs in our homes!”

It is all very exhausting and overwhelming. I started tuning the lists out a few weeks ago. At this point there are soooooo many lists that whenever I do need an idea I can just Google what I need and I’ll be ok. But as more of my own learning and connecting experiences are taking place online (and I used to do a lot of online learning and connecting in my former job!) the exhaustion is returning.

For the most part, these experiences are presenter focused. That is, a very traditional lecture-based presentation….despite the possibilities that online learning has for connection, collaboration, and interaction.

Last year, I experimented with working in stations during online PD sessions and I find myself reflecting on those experiences now.

The magic of online stations (which are very doable with breakout rooms in Zoom or Via ‘ateliers’ and even manageable with multiple Meet rooms) is the same as the magic of classroom stations work: the relationship and connection that is created when working with small groups of learners.

At this point in history, after months (in some cases) of being apart, connection needs to be the driving force of online learning – whether for professional development or for student development. We can’t just throw content at our students or participants. We need to design opportunities for them to connect with us, with each other, and with the material.

Some of our students have suffered great loss with sick and dying relatives. Some of our students are alone at home with parents who work at home, yet are in another room for much of the day. Some of our students can’t meet with us online because they don’t have the tech to do so. Or they can’t meet with us because their parents work in essential services and they are at emergency daycare services. All of our students are grieving the loss of their friends, their lives, their fun, their experiences during this forced time at home. Many of them are scared of this loss and of this virus (and so are we.) We can’t ignore these very real facts.

Consider this when arranging to meet with your students or teachers online. How are they connecting with you and with their peers? Are you muting them all because it is just too noisy (and taking away their means to connect and express)? Or are you planning for small group work that they will do in separate meeting rooms so that they can talk with each other and the presenters and not be overwhelmed by 20+ learners talking at the same time? Are you making sure that you have time to connect with each of the small groups so they can ask questions or say things that they may not be brave enough to utter in a large group?

This works. I know because I have lived it a variety of levels. And if you can do this with teaching partners, it works even better because each of the small online breakout rooms can have a teacher to guide the conversations and check in with students. And the bonus is that we teachers get to support and connect with each other as well as we, in turn, support our students and their families in these very troubled times.

We are not teaching. We are connecting.

On unlearning or the summer slide.

I am listening to CBC while waiting for Jack to finish his smoothie and get out of his bath (multitasking). Listening specifically to an interview about the dangers of unlearning over the summer.

(I can’t find a CBC reference but here is a CTV article that mentions the same person being interviewed: Is the Summer Slide Real? Why children fall behind and how to stop it.)

Unlearning doesn’t exist. You don’t unlearn. You forget. And this phenomenon is a symptom of memorization and rote learning.

When learning masquerades as spelling bees, weekly math drills, and memorizing how to differentiate verbs from nouns then yes, it will be forgotten.

And yet, this interviewee is saying that, because children – especially in low socioeconomic brackets – don’t read with their parents over the summer, they are ‘unlearning’ and ruining the gains they had made in the previous school year.

I am amazed at how people are trying to shift the issue from instructional practice to children and families.

Yes. Reading is the key to learning. But it is only a key. And it is a huge gift.

Using that gift to memorize for spelling bees and math and science facts is not inspiring. It is not, dare I say, learning.

Our job is to inspire learning through empathy, reading, written expression, conversation, creativity, problem solving, and a sincere respect of children and their stories.

How dare you blame children and their families for schooling that doesn’t inspire learning and call it unlearning as if that is a thing.

A note (again) on digital citizenship

I originally published this post in May of 2013. I feel this rant coming on again…so here you go.

I hear so many educators complain about how technology is hijacking our students’ education. How they don’t know how to be digital citizens. How they are addicted. How all they care about is YouTube and Facebook and their social lives. So instead of teaching it they dismiss it, poopoo it, and try to ban it.

Tell me… How do you propose students learn about being digital citizens if not at school?

Note over. And out.

On gardening and understanding

When I garden I want to tear my hair out along with the weeds and grass at times because there just seems to be so much to pull to let the plants I love to breathe and shine.


My first inclination could be to just pull haphazardly but I’ve noticed that if I patiently allow my hands to travel to the root of what it is I want to suss out, then a gentle tug is enough to remove a whole tangle of unwanted grass and weeds.

Understanding why and locating where is enough to tend to just about any garden.

French Help…Whenever!

Learning a second language requires as much practice time with the language as possible. For second language learners, it can be truly overwhelming to try to squeeze all of your language learning into the few hours allotted for it during class-time. Now you (or your students :) can expand your learning to whenever it is convenient to you by subscribing to the YouTube Channel, French Help…Whenever!

For the better part of a year I have been involved with a project spearheaded by Marc-Andre Lalande, Pedagogical Consultant with the RECIT Provincial Service for FGA (Huh? Basically he is the consultant for technology and pedagogical renewal in the adult education sector of Quebec’s English public education system). I am incredibly fortunate to be able to collaborate with awesome educators from around Quebec as we create learning capsules for French second language students in adult education (or anyone else who wants to use them).

One of the best things about the project is that, as we are working on video capsules to help our adult learners, we are learning so much ourselves! We are stretching our knowledge about second language learning and in so doing we will be better equipped to help our students succeed.

Our first video capsule – Frenchlation by Karine Bellefeuille-Ward and Véronique Bernard – is now live and new videos will be available on a regular basis, so stay tuned!

I am very happy to see this project come to life!