At this beginning of the month, I had the privilege to attend and present at OTRK12 (Enhancing Digital Learning). The two day conference seemed to be the equivalent of the Oscars for the eLearning community. With a number of boards and personnel from across Ontario present, the goal of the conference was to bring together the eLearning community to build, share and extend best and promising practice. In this regard, the event was highly successful. From keynote speakers to the everyday teacher in the trench doing amazing things with their students, the opportunity to make connections and share ideas was significant and meaningful. With that said, although great connections where made and many great resources shared, it did seem that technology, at times, overshadowed purpose. As such, the conference, although topical, reminded me as an educator of the importance of integrating technology with real purpose – students first.
This purpose, in many ways is the student experience. The integration of technology cannot be placed into action merely because of availability and access. This very much means that digital tools such as a LMS (Learning Management System) should not be implemented without real tangible goals that speaks to pedagogical practice, learning process and importantly the empowering of students to be active learners who are able to negotiate, collaborative, navigate, create, share, curate, construct and extend learning opportunities within technical realms and beyond. As such, student voice is important to not only discuss and theorize but to intentionally put into action.
With my presentation at OTRK12 titled “Student Voices: Extending and Enhancing the LMS” the attempt (which I hope was at least moderately successful) was to facilitate a large group discussion that looked at both face-to-face and online learning not through the lens of solely technology but that of the student. With technology put away, participants shared ideas and reflections on educational goals and the realities of the students they teach. It was with those two big ideas, that student voice (whether enriched by technology or not) becomes urgent and is the pinnacle of all we do as teachers. Who are our students? What are their realities? What are their expectations for their learning? How can they show what they know? With these questions and a multitude of others, embracing student voice can create face-to-face, blended or full credit online learning environments that are meaningful and real. Thus, the importance is having an authentic understanding of the student experience and serving it with the technology.
So, what does student voice look like? Well first, it acknowledges that we as teachers are to serve students in the fullest. As public servants, we are professionally obligated to adapt and create learning environments that do not meet our needs, but the needs of those we serve. Thus, a real partnership is to be built and sustained. This may mean adapting to the use of technology to enrich learning or change in class pedagogical practice that promotes students as active participants. Nonetheless, the conversation around student voice is multi-layered. This is not to say that I am an expert – I am not nor will I pretend to be. I am guilty of creating learning outcomes that are more mine than my students. However, I have come to realize that as a teacher and importantly parent, that education has to be intentionally designed to foster environments where students can be cherished, appreciated and served. Student voice is not merely students being creatively or critically expressive – but importantly drivers or their learning.
I suppose in the end, my hope is that either the online environment of face-to-face environment are ones where students comes first – before curriculum and teacher expectations. The big question is: As a community of educators, are we prepared to acknowledge that students are the owners of their learning – not us? Whether online or in person, reflection is a needed constant.