The past few months were overwhelming for both students and instructors as they transitioned to fully online teaching and learning environments. This is especially true for OISE students who have the dual role of learners and educators. In this interview, PhD student and school-teacher Michelle McKay shares her experience with facilitating an online professional development (PD) session and talks about how the OISE Online Learning and Teaching team (OLT) team helped her in the process. She also discusses her experience with online learning in the past few months. While online learning helped her achieve a better work/life balance, McKay says  that she still prefers in-person classes.

Michelle McKay
PhD Student
Michelle McKay is a PhD student at the Curriculum & Pedagogy Program at OISE, with a special interest in equity and land-based learning in the early years, and a teacher with the Peel District School Board.

As a component for one of her courses, McKay wanted to facilitate a Professional Development (PD) session with a group of educators that were unfamiliar with one another. She reached out to the OISE Online Learning and Teaching team (OLT) to discuss ideas about effective practices of hosting an online PD session. “I want to bring an understanding of strategies for authentic learning/sharing as I would in an in-person PD session”, wrote McKay in her email to the OLT. She had a clear idea of what she wanted the session to look like; “I would like to shift away from ‘sit and get learning’ for an hour, and would like to have options for educators to share, personalize the learning and document their thinking/learning throughout the session”..

McKay talks about her experience working with the OLT on the assignment.

Q. Can you briefly describe the assignment? Why did you decide to have the online session?

During the intersession semester, I was taking a course (Introduction to Decolonization in Education) that required an online session as part of a final assignment. The assignment was to create a workshop for other educators that focused on a theme connected to decolonizing education. Due to COVID-19, I worked with a partner to facilitate the session in an online environment. The topic for the session was: “Using the Walking Curriculum to Develop a Connection to the Land in the Early Years”. It was an hour and a half webinar that we advertised and recruited through social media platforms and used Zoom to host the webinar.

Q. Why did you reach out to OLT?

I am very familiar with practices around facilitating professional development and learning with adults in a face-to-face environment. I was looking for some advice around transitioning to digital facilitation.  I wanted to ensure that I embedded practices that would create a sense of community within an online learning environment with individuals who specialize in online learning.

Q. How did the OLT team help think about your assignment/ activity?

The team helped me think about the learning progression and various strategies that could be used to facilitate collaboration and discussion in an online learning environment. They gave me advice and feedback on the structure of my session and suggested appropriate tools that could be used. They also supported me in terms of ensuring that learning objectives could be achieved by utilizing online learning strategies. For example, before asking people to collaborate using a tool, ensure that they are familiar with it, and to try to facilitate an activity that familiarizes people with one another before providing an opportunity to collaborate.

Q. Describe your plan for the activity? Did everything go as planned? Did anything particularly work/did not work well?

  • It was an hour and a half  Zoom session in which we used the chat and two randomly assigned breakout groups to facilitate collaboration and discussion.
  • Everything went as planned during the session. There were initially internet connection issues with facilitators, but we were able to use the call-in function of Zoom to continue to facilitate with one person online until we could get back online. 
  • We did not necessarily account for the delay in people joining at the beginning of the session (about 5 minutes), but we were able to adjust our pace throughout to adjust for the delay in start time.
  • The feedback we received from the session was very positive. There was a high level of participation throughout the session.
  • Having people communicate using the chat before going into breakout groups provided familiarity between educators. Based on a recommendation we received from the OLT, we had participants introduce themselves and where they were from in the large group at the beginning, which quickly established a sense of community among everyone.
  • We had planned to use various frameworks/prompts to facilitate conversation if there was a lack of participation. This was not needed as there was a high level of participation.

Q. In general, what was your experience with online learning in the Winter/Spring term? What did you like most? What did you not like?

In the winter term, I was taking one online course, so with the switch to online learning due to COVID-19, there were no changes for that semester. In the spring term, I was registered to take an in-person course, which was switched to online. We had Zoom meetings once a week and the remainder of the time the course was facilitated online asynchronously through Quercus. We had break-out groups every class, which provided an opportunity for discussion and participation in the course. I will also be taking a summer session course that will be facilitated online as well.

I do prefer in-person classes, as I find you develop different relationships with your peers and instructors. I find that the conversations/learning that occurs online can sometimes be different than what occurs in-person. The courses that have occurred synchronously have been intersession courses, and as a result of them being condensed, I find that the relationships and community for learning are developed just as the course begins to conclude.

As a flex-time student, the transition to online learning has benefitted me in terms of achieving more of a work/life balance. Due to my commute time being eliminated, I have more time to balance my obligations. This has been a positive aspect of courses being shifted online. I do appreciate the option of continuing my studies online during this time. As a student, I find that the content delivered to me is on par with what I received during in-person instruction and that course instructors are always very accessible and supportive. The transition to online learning was seamless and I feel that OISE has done a wonderful job in ensuring that program delivery remains uninterrupted and that students have access to exceptional learning opportunities.

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