Thursday, June 18, 2009

Virtual learning

I've been pretty active in my virtual world of blogs and the interweb of late. I find more and more that I use the search engines of the net and the material of wikipedia and links to classroom subject matter more and more. I hope my students are also engaging in this world of virtual learning.

What does this virtual learning stuff mean (I was going to add - for us in Stratford - but then I realised it's actually for us all, no matter where we are and who we are)?

So what does it mean? It is learning 'in essence or effect although not delivered formally or actually' (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary - an essential purchase made in my first year at Auckland University 1977) . This definition would mean excluding video conferencing from the umbrella term 'virtual' as it is still a formal situation - teacher with students.

Virtual learning, then, is about the internet and web 2.0 tools. Students can pick and choose from the galaxy of help on the net. Want to know about biology? Google (as I just have) - 'biology podcast' and you'll get 4,560,000 places to visit. Obviously the first ones are the most relevant as they marry the two words to give the best bet sites. The first on the list was and the second was - this is Andrew Douch's site. But, get this again - there are 4,559,998 other sites out there. On biology and/or podcasts!!! If you've just flicked into them for a nosey you will get a sense of the possibilities of 'virtual learning'.

So when I go into the blogs I follow, like Andrew Douch's, I learn informally and not actually. I can't actually see or talk to Andrew but I can listen to him (via his podcasts), read his thoughts (on his blog), learn about things biological and, if I want to, I can write back or ask questions. He's not actually there in the room with me. He (and I) may be in any part of the world when I read his blog. It's virtual learning. Now - I'm an English teacher who left sciences behind in the fifth form but I have actually downloaded his podcasts and listened to him discussing biological topics and learnt things (when - otherwise - I wouldn't even think to open a biology textbook).

Will virtual learning take off? Well according to Andrew it will. In fact he thinks it's inevitable that we will learn via our virtual 'teachers'.
And consider this: the most popular teachers in this scenario, may not
necessarily even be practicing teachers! They may be university students or
retired teachers. How relevant is it going to be for students to come to class
at all in this future? If the classroom teacher still sees himself as the ‘font
of knowledge’ for those students, then, it may not be very relevant at all.
There has never been a more important time for teachers to ask themselves “what value am I adding to my students?”, and even “what is my role as a teacher?” Nor
has there been a better time for schools to question the current models of
attendance and timetabling.
(Andrew Douch 2009).
Andrew would love the New Zealand Curriculum document with its accent on Key Competencies that take the focus completely away from the teacher as 'font of knowledge'. I must say I've never been that, or aspired to be that. When I trained as a teacher in Kevin Pound's tutor group at Auckland Teachers' College in 1982, he made sure to impress upon us the need to join in with our students and take risks and say we don't know something if we didn't know something. I digress.

Next time you have a hankering to learn something - try searching on the virtual learning network that is within that huge ether world of the internet. It'll knock your socks off.

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