December 20, 2019

Designing webinars that matter

I need to make a confession. I used to hate webinars. Like, really hate them.

As a participant, I found them insufferable. I’d be one of a list of faceless people to whom the animator asked, on repeat, “can you hear me?” In between those questions, the animator would present her or himself as a head with a microphone, reading the bullet points off of the presentation that surely accompanied them. I’d think – just let me read it myself. More often than not the sound was horrible, amplified by feedback and 2-second delays via participants who left their own microphones on during the presentation. And, when it is all happening in French it becomes not just hard to understand but plain exhausting. 

And as an animator, I would be the one asking, “can you hear me?” since it was often the only time I’d get proof that there were actual people behind the list of names to the left or right of my screen. 

I said that I used to hate them. I am starting to like them. Like, really like them.

Webinar on Flexible Classrooms

Earlier this year, I listened to Martin Lahaie, pedagogical consultant from the Commission scolaire du Chemin-du-Roy, tell the story of a research project on flexible classroom environments involving two teachers: Yannick Buisson (French, CCBE) and Sylvie Gravel (Math, DBE). The project is in conjunction with Nadia Rousseau, researcher from Université de Québec à Trois Rivières.

What I enjoyed about that webinar is that we were a small group, so there was interaction throughout the presentation. The smaller a group is, the more people can talk. This is true in the classroom, the conference room, or via distance education. I felt that he was talking with us and not just presenting the content of his presentation.

Social Media and ME webinar

The following week, I co-hosted a webinar with Caroline Mueller, teacher from Place Cartier Adult Centre of the LBPSB. We wanted to do the same thing – talk with small groups of people instead of at them, but we had a larger group of close to 40 participants. So we took advantage of online breakout rooms and organized the webinar into stations. We were each at a different station and so we each spoke with all of our participants even though it was a larger group. Here is the result of that webinar, including resources and some video: Social Media & ME Webinar resources.

Quebec Social Integration Network webinar

Soon after that, I was involved in an Apres-cours webinar offered by the Quebec Social Integration Network. The teachers who began the network presented a website they had created via an interactive webinar. Each teacher was in a different breakout room to facilitate discussion and sharing about different parts of the website. Participants were able to access the material and presenters easily.

Each of these webinars mattered to me as a co-presenter or participant for different reasons – mainly because in each one I was able to interact with the material and the people in different ways.

Some things I am learning about webinars

It is just another environment for learning so…

  • Mix things up – no one really needs to hear someone read off of a slide.
  • Just like in a classroom or conference room – build relationship. We are all humans connected to each other through the webinar interface. Ask yourself, how do I bring us together?
  • Along that same idea, don’t expect people to interact – just like in person, you need to create meaningful reasons for interaction

That last bullet point is huge. So what can that look like?

  • Create small group activities: We know that the larger a group is, the fewer people speak so create small group activities and choose a webinar platform that allows people to work in breakout rooms (Via and Zoom both have this function).
  • Use online collaboration tools: Design your webinar so that participants are active in their learning. You can place different types of active learning experiences into the different breakout rooms. Here are some that I have used:
    •  Answer garden is great for generating word clouds around questions. You can also use it to question participants at the beginning or at specific points in the workshop and then bring the resulting word clouds into the picture later on for discussion. Example: Reflection questions & Resulting word clouds.
    • FlipGrid is great for video reflections. Participants can also respond to each other. You can respond to them, too.
    • Google slideshow is useful for creating collaborative visual products.
    • Google forms (or office 365 forms) is another good tool for collecting info remotely, you can also view visuals of the responses to share with your group.
  • Use a website to organize material for yourself and your participants: This helps to increase access to the learning material. When you include all of the instructions on a site, it also helps those who may have missed the initial instructions and it creates a permanent place that participants can refer back to. Here are two examples, using Google Sites:
  • Give people time to think when you ask questions. It is ok to have some silence.
  • Remember, it also takes time to write into the chat box for people who are interacting that way. Give people time and respond to what they write.
  • Participants, interact. Ask questions. Offer answers. Let the animator and the other participants know that you are there and that you care about them.

And please don’t forget to…

  • Turn off your microphone if you are not talking. When your microphone is on, it can send other sounds back to the webinar. More often than not, those sounds are the webinar itself…but on a 2 second delay.
  • …and remember to turn it back on when you do talk 🙂

So, my hate affair with webinars is starting to end. When we think about online learning as just another way to learn then we realize that, just like when we are face to face, we want to focus on creating opportunities for connection and interaction with the learning materials and with each other.

Posted in: Blended Learning
December 3, 2018

Why I still love teaching in stations.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to work in stations in three very different environments:

  • Online – in a stations-based webinar session for teachers, directors, and consultants across Quebec.
  • In the classroom – with Secondary 5 students and their awesome teacher, Natasha, at Place Cartier.
  • At a conference – with teachers in a workshop for the Collaborate. Create. Innovate conference.

During each of those occasions, I was reminded of why I feel so strongly about working in stations. Before (and beyond!) flexible learning environments, is my relationship with the learners in my classroom…or in my conference room. Stations allow me to work closely with students and teachers at one station while they work closely with each other and learning resources at other stations.

Working with students in Natasha's classroom
I structured the learning at one of the stations in a google form, you can see what that is like here: http://bit.ly/selfiesinform1

As a teacher, when I work in stations, I am closer to my students. It is no longer me vs. a mass. It becomes me with the individuals in each small group. In stations, I can talk with each of my students during a class period and, more significantly, they can talk with each other in small learning groups. Conversation is how we make sense of the world together and talking with each other in small groups is a safe way to test out our sense-making – much safer than when we talk in large groups.

I put all of the content for this workshop in a website to make it easier to access: http://bit.ly/cciselfies 

As a consultant, when I work in stations, I am closer to the participants in a workshop. I get to talk with each person and find out their needs, their ideas, their dreams for teaching. They also get to talk with each other and share their expertise with each other. Teaching can be lonely and we may question what we do on a daily basis but finding out that others have similar experiences and shared ideas is liberating. Conversation is how we make sense of the world together.

I turned the webinar resources and recordings into an e-book so you could experience the webinar in the order you prefer. You can read it online or download it here: http://bit.ly/selfiesbook

Even online, where I tested out virtual stations for the first time on November 20, 2018, I experienced conversation – whether through the chat box or the open mic, we made sense of things together. I sat in a ‘teacher station’ virtual room where small groups of participants rotated in to talk about selfies and different art forms and I learned from each group. It added a very human element to the online webinar format that I intend on continuing to explore.

In each case, I was able to speak with (almost) each of my participants and I learned through those conversations. When we talk to each other we are sharing our stories and stories are what make us, us.  I learned new ideas and new approaches, but most of all I learned about who we are as people. It is these stories and conversations that enable me to keep my work interesting for me and, hopefully, relevant to those who I am working with at any given time. 

So, yeah, teaching in stations is still the bomb and I still love it.

May 22, 2018

What technology do we need to get?

**Update: The digital action plan for education was released on May 30. You can read it here (in French). My understanding is that an English translation should be available in October. Keep posted for my (unofficial) synopsis of it in English in the near future.***

There is no one easy answer to that question. I’d say it depends, as does everything we choose for our classrooms, on our goals.

Right away though, I’d say DON’T buy a whack of devices to put in one room. Remember computer labs? **insert crickets here** I know that some schools and centres still have labs and when asked my opinion, I suggest to take them down and divvy up the machines amongst your classrooms.

Is it time to dismantle the computer lab? How often is everybody ready to use a computer at precisely the same time every Friday?

I would also warn away from putting all of your devices on a cart that needs to be reserved ahead of time.

Many of our schools and centres are moving towards flexible learning environments based on the principles of Universal Design for Learning – this requires flexible access to technology for learning, too.

The best use of technology is when it is available when you need it. If you redistribute the 20-30 computers that are in your computer lab, you can have a few per classroom. And if you have the luxury of purchasing some new devices (and we DO have that luxury this year in Quebec with our plan d’action numérique!) then you can add to those numbers. If you are contemplating a cart for devices (tablets, chromebooks, laptops…), I’d suggest to make sure that each classroom has some devices first and to use a cart for extra devices, when a group does need to all have a device at the same time.

What if each of your classrooms already has a number of devices? Then you may be interested in exploring some of the other items you can purchase to add to your curricula through robotics or open creative spaces. In fact, the only time I would suggest putting a lot of material into one room would be if your school or centre is in the process of developing a culture of shared collaboration and creativity through an open creative space (also known as a maker space). So that room would not be like a computer lab to go sit and do research or type a final copy of something but a room where students and teachers can learn together as they test out new ideas and create new solutions.

Posted in: Blended Learning, EdTech
December 7, 2017

The Magic of Flexibility

(if you are reading this in your inbox, please go see the original article on PdPractice in order to see the videos and other media. Thanks!)

Last Friday, Avi Spector and I facilitated two very intense professional learning sessions with two very different groups of teachers in two very different parts of town.

On a Friday.

When I started the day, I felt exhausted and thought to myself – 8 hours until the weekend! But by the end of the day I felt invigorated. THIS is the magic of working in stations and offering flexible opportunities for teachers to talk about what matters to them. If I had gone in there to present a fancy slideshow, I would have ended the day even more tired from talking all day long.

Listening to teachers talk, watching them interact at different stations, seeing them use technology as par for the course, and hearing their feedback on the different activities, such as this reflection activity using flipgrid, was absolutely inspiring and affirming.


Click here to view the full grid

Friday’s sessions were two in a long line of different PD opportunities since August. Each of them represent another chapter in this year’s story about learning environments. More and more, both Avi and I are examining how we embed the principles of UDL (Universal Design for Learning) in what we do as we redesign our professional learning environments. Because – if we want to see this in our classrooms, we want to model this in our PD. I believe that, deeply.

So here are some highlights from various sessions since August.

We arrive early in order to set up our space. We want to model flexible learning environments that include different stations to facilitate small working groups as well as opportunities for personal learning & reflection. The stations tend to look something like this:

  1. Design Station: a station where teachers are invited to design a learning space, choosing specific design criteria from a booklet of 3 different choices. Sometimes we ask teachers to take pictures of their spaces and share them at the teacher station or on twitter.
  2. Resource Station: a station where teachers can view different resources on PD Mosaic and other platforms, and write or talk about what they learned. We usually offer a lot of choice here, so people can choose the resources they view.
  3. resource cards to choose from

  4. Presentation Station: a station where teachers guide themselves through our presentation and have a discussion or take notes about what they view (we usually have a presentation, we just don’t present it ourselves!). I learned this strategy from Natasha, a teacher in one of our adult centres.
  5. tweet about collaborative presentation notes

    presentation station

  6. Reflection Station: a station where teachers can reflect and respond to different prompts. Sometimes it is an article or a set of questions. Sometimes the reflections are done individually or in pairs. We are starting to use flipgrid to structure these responses.
  7. Teacher Station: a station where teachers can talk to the workshop facilitators about any ideas or questions that come up from the other stations. In the classroom, this would be a great place for some conversation-based formative assessment.
  8. An instruction card from one of our teacher stations.

    teacher station instruction card

Here is an example of what our spaces might look like before we set them up:

And this is what our learning environments tend to look like once we set them up:

We are very intentional in our planning for these kinds of workshops. We design each one based not only on our subject matter but we want to make sure we differentiate our content and activities so that each of our participants can access what we are offering to them according to their comfort level and background knowledge.

To help us do that, we cycle through these orientations, adapted from CASTs 5 tips for designing learning environments:

Design the space to match the goal

Provide resource areas that everyone can access (This includes technology & digital resources)

Make learning processes visible in your environment

Make learning goals visible in your environment

In my next article, I will write about these orientations in more detail. They are becoming super influential in how I approach the learning environments in which I work.

November 7, 2017

Learning and video: Where is the teacher?

I use video a lot in my practice. I make video, I create online resources that incorporate video, and I use video in the workshops I offer. Lately, I hear students (and some parents) talk about how some of their teachers rely too heavily on video, that much of classtime revolves around class viewing of different videos. Also, I’ve begun to see a few articles claiming that video is not all it may be cracked out to be in the grand scheme of learning (see links to other resources at the bottom of this article).

And I agree…

..if all you are doing is getting learners to watch video as a replacement for you, the teacher.

Video will never kill the radio star in education! Why? Because while the location of content may be shifting, we must maintain our role as teacher in order to structure the learning. That has not changed.

I have long argued that the student teacher relationship is essential. I’d push that even further to say that this is even more acute in adult education. Many of our students, not all but a significant amount that I have met, have long-held wariness and even distrust towards the education system. Our relationship, is one of learning. When I show my students that I truly care about them as learners, I am working on relationship.

A student I worked with a few years ago once remarked, when I ask my teacher a question and he tells me to watch a video or go to a website instead of answering me, I feel like I am not important to him.

So how do we manage teaching with video when relationship is so important in learning?

The idea of a flipped classroom, where homework shifts to the watching of content videos outside of school so that classtime can be used for actively applying content instead of listening to the teacher deliver the content, has been around for – believe it or not – about 17 years.

The thing with a flipped classroom is that it holds a number of assumptions that I am just not comfortable making – the biggest one being equal access to technology outside of the classroom. In adult education, where many of our students have jobs and families, there is also the question of equal access to time and place for learning outside of school. This can be an issue at other levels as well.

Also, as teachers we know that the only thing we have control over is what happens in our classrooms. We have no control over things outside of that realm – and that includes over whether or not students will watch video, or do any kind of homework, at home.

Yet, I still believe that video can play an important role in the learning process. For the past couple of years, my colleague Avi Spector and I have been advocating for the well-structured use of video within the classroom. Essentially, you could say that we argue for flipping in the classroom instead of outside of it!

In our collaborations with teachers, we have learned about different strategies that work when it comes to using video for learning.

In this PD Mosaic tile, there is a video of Lindsay, a teacher who talks about how she structures the use of video with her second language adult students. Some of her key points are: ease of access – equity – autonomy.

What she doesn’t mention is that she teaches her class through the use of stations and that she structures the video viewing.

When students watch video on their own at a video station they are not truly on their own because of how a teacher structures the activity. Lindsay and other teachers use instruction cards at each station that clearly outline what is expected of the learners. In that way, the teacher is always present through how she scaffolds each part of a learning situation AND she is free to work with another group of students on a different aspect of the same learning situation.

Such an approach really helps to amplify the teacher student relationship.

(You can see sample instruction cards in the PD Mosaic tile pictured above – http://bit.ly/videoscaffolding.)

So teachers are not going anywhere and video is not enough on its own to enhance learning. But we can increase learning through relationship and how we scaffold our students’ learning experiences with video.

Other resources
Watch that Hand: Why videos may not be the best medium for knowledge retention by Tina Nazarian on EdSurge, Oct 4, 2017

Hell-oooo! Watching videos does not necessarily lead to learning by Cathie Norris and Elliot Soloway in THE Journal: Transforming Education through Technology, May 6, 2015