Social learning theories online

I spent some time, during the summer, learning how to contribute to an iNaturalist project based in a small corner of our local UNESCO Biosphere Region. In case you haven’t tried iNaturalist before, it’s an amazing “what’s this” service that allows you to identify flora and fauna you encounter on your nature walks, just by uploading images from your smartphone in the field. With the aid of some built in artificial intelligence, you might get an immediate match. If you stump the system at first, there are over a million scientists and naturalists who look in periodically to suggest answers to your questions.

I’ve used iNaturalist’s app on ocean and forest explorations for several years, but this year was the first time I began to participate as a member of the community, contributing images (and maybe sound recordings) for a particular conservation initiative. Thus, I’ve become what they call a “citizen scientist” or what I, from my perspective as an educator, think of as a member of an online learning community.

During my years in university, I learned about Lev Vygotsky’s theories about the power of learning in social settings through regular interactions with peers, teachers and other aspects (check out his writings on the zone of proximal development).

Image by Sketchplanations.com

Another, more recent theorist, Albert Bandura, focused on the social aspects of learning in any context, through modeling, observing and imitating. Aspects of these theories have been reflected and expanded with the changes in our society and the development of online learning environments and mobile devices.

Online learning environments no longer need to involve direct dialogue or one-to-one interaction with peers or experts. Despite earlier theoretical models like Garrison, Anderson and Archer’s Community of Inquiry, recent online learning communities appear to provide similar learning benefits without the intervention of teachers or experts who try to provide direct instruction. And these social, always accessible (if you have a smartphone and cellular access) communities offer free access, visually appealing interfaces and content, and the ability to participate whenever, however, and in whatever way you choose. There are some basic requirements (that is, membership information) and acceptance of terms of use (that involves giving away some rights to your photographs or sound recordings), but the value to each participant seems to outweigh the “costs.”

The aspects of my learning that I plan to track are whether I begin to learn more effectively than I have when I’ve completed online courses in nature-related subjects. Based on what I know of research on how people learn, participating in such a broad spectrum, active environment with the ability to zoom in on things that interest me or have local relevance for me should mean that I learn more effectively and retain my knowledge longer?

Honouring Indigenous Writers

What have you been reading lately? Are you part of a book club? Have any of the books you’ve been reading been written by indigenous writers? I’m guessing (perhaps unfairly) that you might have to say “No”?

Well, here’s your chance to change that. Get to know an indigenous writer – make the effort to read and hear the voice from another culture – and it’s much easier to do over the next week. What’s special about the first week of March? It’s Open Education week and, UBC is hosting an event to raise the profile of indigenous writers AND benefit Wikipedia!

Although I missed the first event – a Reading with Smokii Sumac and Daniel Heath Justice, (they’ve posted a recording), I’m signing up for the rest AND exploring the possibilities of the Weekly Activities shared by the folks at UBC – if you’re nervous about contributing to Wikipedia (a lot of rules!), this is a great array of options for you to check out. I’ll be doing it cuz I have to admit I’ve skated around contributing to Wikipedia because of all the rules and policies in the way! This is a chance to engage with Indigenous writers AND learn how to add value to one of the most commonly used and cited online sites – Wikipedia.

Talk about two birds with one stone! What can you lose – check it out and get involved.

Honouring Indigenous Writers – Weekly Activities

Perspectives on Pro-D

I’ve been thinking a lot about what we mean when we talk about professional development, especially when we talk about it in the context of higher education (or post-secondary education). As a long-time edu-consultant, I’ve been in a kind of ongoing flow of PD throughout my career; sometimes that PD was formal and credentialled but often it was open, self-directed and visible through my practice or open sharing. I’ve been involved in helping faculty, staff and students learn more effectively with and through technologies. I’ve often wondered at the lack of consistent approaches to PD and varying reasons given by faculty, administrators and technology staff as to why everyone is not more ‘digitally literate.’

A recent research report (Summer 2020) by Professor George Veletsianos and colleagues offers some insights derived from a careful analysis of narrative comments in data collected by annual surveys (2017-2019) conducted by the Canadian Digital Learning Research Association (CDLRA). (Note: a brief summary of findings is available on Veletsiano’s blog Institutional Perspectives on Faculty Development for Digital Education in Canada.) 1

Although the report’s findings and suggested actions are often derived from a relatively small number of responses to the pan-Canadian surveys, they are supported by some significant prior research papers or publications. As I finished reading the paper I was not surprised to learn that the digital education PD training was handled differently across the country, that it wasn’t always available to non-faculty, and that faculty was often perceived to be uninterested in teaching online.

The recommendations for action included finding ways to change the institutional culture to support and reward or recognize ongoing PD and to collaborate with other institutions to offer some types of digital education, accessible to all (the paper specifically mentioned the efforts of BCcampus and eCampusOntario in this regard). While it is useful to have such a thorough analysis of Canadian educational institutions (thanks to the work of the relatively new CDLRA) and the recommendations are useful, I think that they didn’t go far enough in encouraging collaborative PD options through a focus on Openness.

I have been an enthusiastic participant, consumer, producer and practitioner in many open educational opportunities over the years (despite being on the outside of formal options through higher education). And, luckily for me, we live in a province where the government supports an organization like BCcampus and they, in turn, provide so many Open options and offer me ways to share my enthusiasm for Open with others.

During this final week of January we (I’m co-facilitating with my colleague Gina Bennett) are offering a FLO MicroCourse – Open Options to Enrich your Career. Gina has been exploring and participating in Openness for longer than I have and in different directions so we’ve had a lot of fun pooling our resources and experiences in open learning and practices. I’ll be blogging and tweeting any highlights or issues that catch my eye and interest and, better still, after we’re done, BCcampus will convert the resources and basic learning structure into a freely available OER on SCoPE.

1 The paper is open access: VanLeeuwen, C.A., Veletsianos, G., Belikov, O. Johnson, N. (2020).  Institutional perspectives on faculty development for digital education in Canada. The Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 46(2), 1-20. https://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/27944

More perspectives on professional development in higher education – https://www.veletsianos.com/2020/04/07/a-canadian-national-effort-in-online-education-pd-not-content/

A wealth of online teaching resources – ON

coins indicating wealth

I’ve been watching the generous outpouring of tips, webinars, workshops, resources from the US and Canada, aimed at helping teachers pivoting to online teaching.

Check out the page of curated resources offered by ecampus Ontario (official name Ontario Online Learning Consortium): Supporting Remote Teaching and Learning During COVID-19. You will find webinar recordings, all kinds of open-licensed resources, and thoughtful dialogues about assessment. Nice to see David Porter (formerly of BCcampus, now representing Humber College) and Giulia Forsythe, Brock University sharing as both educators have an amazing depth and breadth of knowledge related to engaging learners and teaching online.

Like BCcampus open resources, all the materials on this website (unless otherwise noted) are shared under a wide open Creative Commons Attribution Sharealike International 4.0. Kudos to them as sharing with this license encourages others to do the same AND may result in repurposed or improved offerings as we move through the next year or so.

Several of the resources highlighted in the pivot page offer instructors a chance to develop their digital fluencies by digging into the open, self-paced modules that are part of the popular OntarioExtend self-paced, customizable, bilingual, professional learning online series. This series has been on my bucket list for a while as I have watched some of the social media posts that are spawned by enthusiastic participants. If you are lucky you can time your participation to coincide with a facilitated event; one seems to be coming up from Conestoga soon.

Beehive of badges: Ontario Extend

I took a quick dive into Brock University’s Centre for Pedagogical Innovation. Lots of great ideas, resources, teaching and evaluation techniques; I did have to dig a bit for OER but found OER at Brock in the library research guides. As I anticipated, Giulia Forsythe (Special Projects Faciliator and amazing doodler and proponent of open) has been busy helping Brock faculty to produce OER.

You can also check out the Centre’s useful Guide to Teaching and Learning with Technology.

Ontario’s other online teaching resources are neatly organized by Institution and Department thanks to teachonline.ca. If you check out Ontario Faculty & Instructor Training Resources, you’re sure to find something that develops and expands your online teaching skills and confidence.

Thanks to the recent BCcampus newsletter, I’ve discovered a new OER that contains lots of useful examples of how to produce learning content with the amazing tool – H5P! Check out the Catalogue of H5P Content from ecampusOntario.

Lots of help available online and probably within your institution as well. Let me know if I missed something your college or university is offering to help instructors during this challenging time (contact me sylvia r at educomm dot ca)

A wealth of online teaching resources – BC

A recent tweet from Dr. Tony Bates provided the nudge I needed to update my collection of Canadian teaching online resources shared during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve been watching the generous outpouring of tips, webinars, workshops, resources from the US and Canada, aimed at helping teachers pivoting to online teaching. I’ve poked at a couple of summaries of resources (from a collection focused on helping learners moving to online by Clint Lalonde to recordings of drop-in COVID-related webinars hosted by BCcampus) but I thought there were probably some others I’d missed!

BC’s higher education institutions are onboard with open practices so I expected to find a lot of open licensed materials; I was a little overly optimistic 😉 But, a rich vein to mine first is BCcampus (as their purpose is to support all post-secondary institutions in improving teaching and learning practice.) Allow some time to browse their open, online options to help you “pivot” to online teaching; review previous resources for Open Education, and subscribe to their free newsletter to stay connected. And if you want browse a wider collection, check out the Information Directory – COVID-19 Educational Resources.

University of BC is also a leader in open practices (imho) so I took a look at Effective Online Teaching Practices. If you’re looking for a course, rather than an assembly of resources and links, check out CTLT’s Introduction to Online Teaching. These open-licensed resources for this course are also available on the UBC Wiki (and were the subject of Tony Bates Jun 25th blog post.) Plus there’s the amazing open-licensed, practical resources at OpenBC.

Simon Fraser University’s Centre for Educational Excellence seems to protect most of their COVID-19 webinars (you need a campus login) but you can browse their OERs from previous years at https://www.sfu.ca/oer.html

Burnaby’s BCIT hosted a number of sessions on teaching online that are available on their Faculty Help for Online Teaching page but they appear to be very focused on BCIT instructors need for D2L, etc. I didn’t find too much on their Open Education Resources site that might help instructors trying to adapt quickly to online teaching (useful for other purposes though).

Kwantlen Polytechnic University offers some thoughtfully produced resources for their instructors “who need to plan and facilitate teaching and learning activities remotely in the event of an unexpected campus closure.” The nice thing is they have created resources that are useful to anyone faced with this situation (and they’re currently leaving them open to access). Their Keep Teaching page offers interactive resources to: Getting started with Remote Delivery; options for instructors wanting to Use Moodle or Not; things to think about when Designing Online Courses; and Learning Opportunities (external & internal). And as one of the leaders in the open education field, KPU has a rich trove of resources in their Open Education site – really worth taking time to browse different sections like the Open Pedagogy Notebook (a personal favourite!).

Royal Roads University in Victoria has a broad range of resources for their staff and faculty but, as an outsider, you’ll need to find your way to their Open Educational Resources pages for help with teaching online.

The University of Northern BC doesn’t appear to have any OERs yet but the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology offers an interesting (and varied) collection of helpful videos on their Youtube channel

That’s all for BC – next week I’ll look further east – Enjoy exploring….Sylvia