Over the past few months I’ve had the great honour of visiting five different schools in the local K-12 school system, in districts 61, 68, and 69 across Vancouver Island. Two of these visits were in preparation for my interview for a teaching position in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. For this, I visited Oak Bay High School and the Pacific School of Innovation and Inquiry, both located in Victoria, and toured the school meeting with faculty and chatting with students.
More recently, I had the opportunity to visit Ballenas Secondary School in Parksville, Kwalikum Secondary School in Qualicum Beach, and Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo. For these visits, I had the great opportunity to observe classes in session. This was made possible through Vancouver Island University’s Grade 8-12 Classroom Visit Initiative organized by the Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning. Teachers from district 68 and 69 were invited to participate by opening up their classrooms for VIU faculty to come observe their class in session. The goal of this initiative is to build greater communications between the K-12 and post-secondary education sectors, share teaching and learning experiences among educators, engage VIU faculty in observing grade 8-12 teachers, and develop collaborations and shared understandings of the K-20 learning journey. Several teachers took this call and dozens of opportunities were made available to VIU faculty and staff to signup to.
During my visits, I was most interested in the ways in which technology was being used within the classroom and how teachers engaged students with both technologies available in their school and the students own personal devices. A range of approaches were observed, with each school having a very different toolset of technologies from which to draw. While some had laptops available in the classroom, others did not. While some allowed personal device usage in the classroom others had strict zero mobile device policies. Seemingly, every school has a different set of hardware and software tools available to them. I observed GSuite, Moodle, and Schoolantis used as digital hubs for engaging students throughout my visits. When devices were employed, they were used as a starting point to launch into collaborative activities, for collaborative real-time writing projects, or for accessing resources and links to the web for engaging in activities. The wide range of technology tools available across schools presents a challenging context for teachers to work, presents difficulties in supporting district-wide ongoing professional development, and represents a challenge for those who teach in teacher education programs. How can one prepare teachers to use technologies for teaching in an impactful way, when little can be know about the tools that will be available to them in advance? Based on the landscape, it would seem that teachers would benefit most from learning about the principles of technology enabled learning, rather than about specific tools.
I chatted with the teachers about these challenges and asked them what they remembered and found most useful from their own educational technology coursework, what they wish they could have learned more about, and what advice they had for me as a new faculty member supporting educational technology curriculum. Some general themes from these conversations included a desire to learn how to best facilitate using online learning environments, a better understanding of the privacy landscape, an understanding of how to find and use open educational resources as inspiration and resources for teaching, and an enhanced understanding how to capture student learning and develop creative projects through multimedia creation tools, portfolios, and reflective journals. This feedback was incredibly useful as I begin my new career as a teacher educator.
While at VIU, I’ve had the opportunity to conduct several peer-observations of university classes. I feel so fortunate now having had the opportunity to visit with K-12 classrooms as well. It is always such a valuable experience to be able to observe a class in session and I want to express my most sincere thanks to all of the teachers who volunteered to open their classrooms to visitors. These experiences have a great impact on my own professional development and will inform my own professional practice.