New blended eLearning course brings student teachers together

Teacher standing in a classroom

Why do kids have to go to school?

Future teachers coming into the September 2013 class in the consecutive Bachelor of Education Program at York University will explore that central question as part of an inventive new technology-enhanced course designed to deliver fundamental material.

The project, “Adapting Technology in the Service of Enhanced Educational Engagements in Teacher Education”, which is supported by the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) at York University, is being led by Faculty of Education Professor Jen Gilbert and Lyndon Martin, associate dean of undergraduate education – together with a larger faculty team. They are championing a project that will see the creation of a blended eLearning course from two core required courses.

Jen Gilbert_bestJen Gilbert, professor in the Faculty of Education

The original courses, which offered students in the program an opportunity to explore the social, cultural, psychological and historical contexts of education and link schooling to broader societal issues, are part of the consecutive program. “Students are required to take these courses,” says Gilbert, “they are presently offered in a large number of small sections in discrete sites, including off campus locations.”

The new course will see students exploring the social, cultural, psychological and historical contexts of education and link schooling to broader social issues. “We are working with a group of 300 students from the different sites to offer the course in a blended way,” says Gilbert.

As part of the new course, students will come to campus prior to the start of their studies for a “Big Ideas in Education” week that will take place before the semester starts next September.“The students will attend lectures together, and then work in small groups to get familiar with the material, “says Gilbert.

These smaller affinity groups, which will be led by teaching assistants in the Faculty of Education, will be centred on important educational themes such as environmental education and special education. Students will have an opportunity to join a group that best matches their particular educational focus.

“Then over the rest of the course, students will work through different online modules of course material and explore the concepts presented through the lens of their affinity group,” says Gilbert. “At the end of the program, students go on a practicum placement. They then return to campus for a two-day capstone event”

“As part of the capstone event, they will answer the question ‘Why do kids have to go to school?’ through the lens of their affinity group,” explains Gilbert.

Lyndon_MartinBest2Lyndon Martin, associate dean of undergraduate education

The course offers an exciting blend of in-class and online learning and students can focus on their areas of interest as they develop their teaching practice. The initial Big Ideas in Education Week provides an opportunity for students in the program to meet and build connections with each other. This is important because some of the students in the program are based in satellite campuses that are geographically separate from the Keele campus.

Gilbert is now working on the development of the curriculum for the course. “I’ve had the benefit of a broad range of faculty who are interested in providing input,” she says.

Working with teams from University Information Technology and the Teaching Commons, Gilbert says she is receiving a lot of support. Moodle and WordPress are being used to build the online component of the course.

The approach offers many advantages. “As opposed to ‘taking’ the course, or putting it all ‘online’, students will be working together. They will have a stake in the curriculum and can bring what they are learning to the debate and concerns around education,” she says.

Gilbert says the AIF has been instrumental in creating an environment that has allowed her to explore new pedagogical approaches. It has also provided additional support through teaching assistants who are assisting with the evaluation.

“If it is successful,” she says, “we are looking to expand the course to all of the consecutive students, around 600 in total.”

The entire process has been exhilarating, says Gilbert, and she hopes the end result will be a model for the University’s teaching community on how to create a blended course that is pedagogically sound.