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Opportunities to Learn

February 7, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-02-07 at 1.20.15 PMI’ve had the enormous privilege of being both a teacher and learner in online educational environments; in essence, I’ve experienced learning on both sides of the screen, so to speak. According to Brad Rathgeber, Executive Director of the Online School for Girls, that means I’m more likely to believe in online learning at a rate of 70%. Amen to that.

My experiences as an online learner have been exciting, invigorating, and personally transforming. My experiences as an online teacher for CTYOnline, which offers courses to students worldwide, have allowed me to learn from topnotch educators who have created engaging curricula for students as young as fourth grade. In fact, the CTYOnline course I taught paved the way for my transition into teaching fifth and sixth-grade Language Arts.

Even more, I think of myself as someone who learns continuously in a multi-faceted blended format.  I get my best ideas from my personal learning network on Twitter, and I have the opportunity to engage with teachers from around the globe through my blogs for Getting Smart. At the same time, I also learn from watching the lower school teacher-leaders in my school, as Brad Rathgeber recommends. But I also take this experience into my own classroom by Skyping with other classes for International Dot Day, employing the discussion forums on our school’s web portal, and using digital sticky note tools, and blogging with my students. Blended teaching and learning feel as natural to me as getting up in the morning.

But I admit I’m also pretty fearless with technology. So I found myself nodding my head vigorously when Brad Rathgeber, in his presentation this morning (“Don’t Be Afraid – Engage: What the Rise of Online Learning Means for Teachers”), introduced the elephants in the room when it comes to moving teachers into the realm of blended and online classes: fear and misperceptions about what online learning really means.

Rathgeber goes beyond the fear factor to exhort teachers to see blended learning as an opportunity to extend the time and space of the classroom. He introduced the model of the Online School for Girls – that is, adopting the principle of taking the best of independent education into the cloud.

Never mind that 70% of students will take an online course in college. Never mind that we need to build in students the capacities they need to take those courses – things like creativity, independent thinking, and perseverance. Never mind that we need to be modeling the grit and innovation we want to inspire in our students.

Rathgeber tells us: You can do collaborative work online. You can help students know each other. You can offer an independent school seminar-style class online. You can discover new opportunities for learning by transcending time and space. You can experiment with new ways of reaching students and at the same time model risk-taking (and sometimes failing) for your students. Rathgeber says, “Because we don’t know the best ways to teach doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be experimenting – instead, we have an imperative to find out.”

Important shifts in how we teach and learn today are making demands on all of us. Rathgeber nicely sums them up as control, center, and time. Teachers now are thinking not just of contact minutes, but total time of instruction. We need to see these shifts as opportunities to improve our profession and our relationships with students.

How will you go back to your school with a new mindset towards the opportunities you can discover for learning online?

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