Remote Synchronous Learning

18 juni, 2018

Adventures in the Digital Realm: Remote Synchronous Learning at Odenplan

As the need for licensed teachers in Swedish schools continues to grow the concept of remote synchronous learning (​fjärrundervising​) has become increasingly popular. Over the last two years the Viktor Rydberg Schools Foundation has been considering ways this idea can be implemented in our schools. Odenplan teacher and IT pedagogue Stephen Kelty has been experimenting with remote synchronous learning using powerful yet affordable digital technologies. The following is Stephen’s summary of his experiments with RSL during the past year.

 

Stephen: “​Experimenting with remote synchronous learning (RSL) is a natural extension of the blended and flipped classroom that is the core structure of my pedagogy. My goal this year has been to understand how a synchronous classroom experience can be created with students at two or more physically distinct locations. During these experiments I focused on technological, pedagogical and social perspectives in order to identify opportunities and challenges presented by RSL.

The ​Adobe Connect ​webinar application and the ​Canvas​ learning management system were obvious choices as the fundamental applications used in the experiments. Adobe Connect allowed me to flawlessly connect with all my students to create a virtual classroom online. Adobe Connect also allowed students to collaborate entirely online with live audio and video in virtual group rooms called pods. Alongside Adobe Connect I used Canvas to allow students to access all course materials in a structured format without the need to email, print, or manually share files and folders. Students could also share their completed work with me and their peers via the assignment feature in Canvas. In short I was able to recreate group activities, mini lectures, class discussions and even one-on-one meetings in real time with students who were not physically at the same location. A truly virtual classroom experience!

  

While Adobe Connect and Canvas were used in authentic learning situations involving students in my history courses some experiments were fabricated scenarios between myself and Tyler Richberg. Tyler is a longtime colleague and English and geography teacher at Odenplan. Using a document camera we were able to simulate situations in which a live video feed of physical objects could be shared with others online. This meant that we could share real-time video of books and worksheets and even whiteboard illustrations. The important point is that the video feeds were live and allowed for audio and video communication with the people on the receiving end.

A laptop, document camera and mini whiteboard combined with a webinar app and learning management system allow a teacher to replicate the most common types of classroom interactions online. These include group and class discussions, lectures and even one-on-one meetings with students.

Technology that is easily available and relatively affordable makes RSL a realistic possibility in education offering opportunities for students and teachers alike. From a pedagogical perspective RSL allows students to work with licensed teachers in communities where teachers are in short supply. As more teachers embrace flipped learning strategies (i.e., lessons focused on activities rather than lectures) RSL allows students to work on activities in various places at the same time during a scheduled lesson. This can be useful in projects that require students to research and experiment in locations outside the traditional classroom while still having real-time access to the teacher and others in their class. What I am most interested in developing further is the possibility for students with special needs to remotely attend some of their lessons. There are students who for a number of different reasons may not be able to physically attend every lesson but through RSL they can still interact with their classmates and teacher. This is a promising possibility for promoting an equitable learning experience for all students.

I want to stress that the purpose of the experiments was not to see how we could replace the traditional classroom and teach entirely online. On the contrary it very quickly became clear that one major challenge with RSL is that social interactions online are two dimensional (quite literally) compared to those in the physical classroom. There is something about the experiences and social interactions with others in the classroom that for the moment cannot be replicated online. These include the everyday and mundane sounds of a squeaky chair or the heat and reflection of the sun on a desktop. Most importantly the physical classroom includes the subtle audible cues that we make and the visual signals that we send via body language. These help us communicate with one another on an intuitive level. Perhaps the development of virtual reality will someday allow us to replicate this online but that is for another experiment in the not too distant future.”

Stephen Kelty is an IT pedagogue, Google Certified Educator and licensed history and philosophy teacher with nearly 20 years experience in the classroom. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenKelty71​ or email him at ​stephen.kelty@vrg.se​.

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