Distance Education with a Twist
The first distance education course in the Master Teacher Program of Performa was launched shortly before Christmas with 23 teachers from eight Cegeps including teachers from Gaspé, Sept-îles and Heritage. However, this is distance education with a twist.
When the MTP team started thinking about how we could meet the needs of the Anglophone teachers outside of Montreal, we agonized about the impact of the traditional distance learning model on such issues as:
- Assuring student retention,
- Providing high level interactivity,
- Guaranteeing continuous teacher presence,
- Fostering camaraderie among the members of the class,
- Modeling best practices in online teaching and learning,
- Modeling principles of best pedagogical practice for teachers who are not teaching online but in the classroom,
- Acquiring the technology skills necessary to deliver as well as take the course,
- Securing the funding and resources necessary and
- Rewarding the human effort needed to create and sustain this format.
After much negotiation and discussion, a compromise was reached; MTP distance education courses would be high touch. A pilot is now being delivered by Dianne Bateman: College Teaching: Issues and Challenges.
In order to ensure teachers' presence, Dianne decided to send periodic video clips to all participants. The first one was sent in December to introduce herself. The second one arrived in the first week of January to remind the participants of the first five assignments that had to be completed by January 16. A third videoclip was emailed on January 25 to comment on the assignments that the participants submitted in the last week and to prepare them for the first VIA class session. Wordpress, a mini-videocam and email were tools used.
At least two VIA classes will be held. The first one will feature an interactive activity on kinds of learning, a profile of a successful student and a study of a course objective for the analysis of kinds of knowledge and cognitive complexity. Participants will also work in pairs using Skype.
The Moodle e-learning system will be used in a variety of ways, a few of which include a course WIKI for participants to articulate clear learning outcomes, a Camtasia presentation on transformational learning and becoming a reflective practitioner, and a concept map on effective teaching created by participants.
While the course is mainly online, two nine-hour F2F sessions are included in the design. The first face-to-face session was hosted by Vanier College on January 16 and 17, 2009 and ran very smoothly thanks to the coordination of Wanda Kalina, the RL at Vanier.
Meanwhile, participants have completed training in the basic technology skills needed to successfully participate in the course: VIA, Skype, Moodle, computer configurations, installation of equipment and software as well as firewall issues. This training, coaching and problem-solving has been delivered by Performa RLs, Performa resource persons and TIC representatives in the colleges: Marleigh Greaney, Lee Anne Johnston, Geneviève Langlois, Rafael Scapin, Lex Milton, Monica Lopez, Diane Wilson and Denise Bourgeois.
Dianne Bateman said in a recent thank you letter to the whole MTP team after the F2F weekend:
The supportive spirit of last weekend nurtured me all week, and I am quite certain it had the same impact on our teachers. This means that it positively affected about 2200 Cegep students (and that is a low estimate). So, I think we have given new meaning to "it takes a village."
It is also interesting to note that in order to take this format into subsequent courses, three potential resource persons are participating as shadowers and one new Performa RL is participating to learn about Performa and the MTP.
We are now going into the second month of the course and comments have been positive. Sharon Coyle of Sept-îles recently sent a letter that included this statement:
I am truly content with my decision to become part of the Master Teachers Program; I am already noticing positive repercussions for myself, colleagues in my department and the students I teach here at Cegep de Sept-Iles. Dianne, I really appreciate all the work you and the others at Performa are doing to make this happen!
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