Experience Fieldnotes: FADIO’s Distance Education Week

Written by enkerli, Thu 18 Mar 2021

During the last week of February, FADIO hosted its annual #SemaineFAD event, a single-track series of online sessions about Distance Education covering every part of Quebec’s educational system, from Early Childhood to Higher Ed. Despite its focus on Quebec, the French-speaking event attracted participants from different parts of the Francophone world and some comments from organizers made it clear that overseas participants were welcomed.

Having participated in eight of the event's fourteen live sessions, I find it useful to share part of that experience. All recordings are available in a YouTube playlist (in French).

Event Structure

Any event bringing learning professionals together is likely to generate reflection by its structure and form itself. In optimal cases, participants adopt a learning role for the duration of the event. As with any learning experience, the degree to which a method was efficient and efficacious relates to complex factors, including personal ones.

A highlight of this Distance Education week, for me, was in the opportunity to interact through some forms of backchannel, especially chat and Q&A. Though every session was held through Zoom’s Webinar format, the team behind the event was able to experiment with some elements of this formula. For instance, during some Q&A periods, they allowed participants to raise their hands and interact orally with panelists. Some questions posted in Zoom's Q&A module became a way to share resources.

Allowed by this approach to backchannel were connections between sessions. Even when speakers only spend time in their own sessions, attendees can make explicit links which carry the reflection forward.

Missing from this online event were spaces for more informal interactions as would typically happen between sessions at face-to-face conferences (occasionally leading to some kind of “unconference” format). In the Fall, a related event used a specific Zoom room for its virtual hallways. Though few people availed themselves of the opportunity to ask further questions, such a strategy might enhance this Professional Development form of Distance Education.

Session Participation

Here are descriptions for sessions in which I was able to participate, loosely translated from their French title.

In addition to delivering a session on augmented languages and participating in the backchannel, CADRE21 issued Open Badges for event participants. Some of the writeups serving as evidence for those badges reveal a strong connection to participants’ professional practice.

Practice to Theory and Back

Most of the week’s sessions were directed at practitioners and a sense of professional affinity was palpable in several of those. The pandemic probably served as a backdrop for the notion that “we are all in the same boat”. While presenters’ expertise was never questioned, some of the interactions between them and participants felt more collegial than didactic. Relatedly, much of the content of those sessions had to do with approaches to learning outside of the “sage on the stage” model.

From practical examples presented, participants (including speakers) were able to reflect towards more generalizable observations, eventually leading to theory. Conversely, explicit mentions of theoretical models throughout the event did inform participant’s practice. An example would be the PICRAT model, bearing some similarities to the SAMR and TPACK frameworks frequently cited during theory-focused events. Speakers from the session on evaluative tasks (slides) made that model explicit by applying it to the tasks they described.

Common Themes

Apart from contributing to a sense of shared experience, the pandemic had a significant impact in shifting the boundaries of Distance Education: everyone who has taught during confinement has entered the realm of “eLearning”, as some people like to say. While many people’s entry into the field has felt forced and contrived, #SemaineFAD likely contributed to participants’ confidence about their ability to enable learning despite physical distance.

Perhaps related to this general shift towards online teaching, diverse perspectives on teachers’ roles served as subtext to numerous interactions throughout the week. Though pedagogical models based on information transmission remained present, several speakers made it abundantly clear that teaching involves a whole lot more than covering material with learners. For instance, extracurricular activities facilitated by ÉER involve formal and more informal partnerships which go beyond a teacher’s typical role, especially when learners start answering each other’s questions with help from subject matter experts. Interactions over the choice of social networking and social media tools revealed a commitment from certain speakers towards shared decision-making, giving learners a deeper sense of agency. A similar commitment to learner agency appeared in the case of dashboards for predictive analytics co-designed with learners. In this context, nuanced reflection over the differences between success and achievement (« succès et réussite » in French) emerged from the backchannel into the group exchanges. Ex post facto, this exchange finds parallels in a recent Vté post (in French) on data-driven decision-making which, in turn, refers to work done through CTREQ’s Projet Savoir (also in French). Vté’s longstanding commitment to deep reflection and extensive action in Learning Analytics provides a backdrop for such considerations.

In presenting its report on educating to digital (emphasis in the original presentation), CSÉ explicitly brought up the notion of co-constructing knowledge. They also brought a level of empathy to issues facing teachers in their shifting roles. Indeed, the organization’s president paid more than lipservice to the longterm commitment required in supporting lifelong learning. Relatedly, the session on Learning Analytics contained some comments about humanizing data collection, involving learners in the process. Furthermore, the CSÉ’s candid statements about profs’ attitudes towards Quebec’s Digital Action Plan for Education and Higher Education was quite refreshing. Instead of taking for granted a widespread “buy-in” for the plan, the CSÉ listened carefully to comments about parts of the plan deemed too foreign by teachers.

Shared values around inclusion were manifest in subtle ways throughout the event, though participants may not fully agree on which obstacles to inclusion had the deepest impact. Also in the session about CSÉ’s report, the organisation’s president was rather vocal about the fact that inequalities based on gender and geography remain important across the province despite some participants’ perception.

Approaches underlining authentic learning were explicitly mentioned during the sessions on evaluative tasks and on student engagement, citing AQPC references in both cases (Leroux 2015 and Duval & Pagé 2013, respectively). According to one of the presenters, Bellier 2019 (PDF) also affords citation in this context. Those approaches also help break instruction models based on the transmission of content, making learning (and evaluation) processes more relevant to learners themselves.

Further Experiences

As is the case with some of the most effective experiences during Professional Development events, this instance of FADIO’s Distance Education week is likely to have a longer-term impact on learning professionals in our scene. Direct involvement in such experiences leads to the development of Professional Learning Networks, Communities of Experience, and Communities of Practice.

Those interested in building such links should feel free to contact us directly in Collecto’s technopedagogical team.

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