Learning by doing is still the best way to go

Spencer 699369 unsplashPhoto by Spencer on Unsplash

Last year at eCampusOntario we launched our program for professional learning. We called it Ontario Extend. Ontario Extend (Extend) has six core modules. The modules are grounded in constructivist learning theory, and also have some unique “learning by doing” elements that make it a different experience for many educators.

Extend is informed by an analysis of exemplary resources that were already available in the province and an exploration of professional learning models from other jurisdictions. In addition to the content modules, which can be used as a baseline for self-directed study or group instruction, we included daily social media connections over a six-week period, and action projects using Twitter #hashtags. We also developed a growing Activity Bank to which participants can contribute.

Finally, in its first iteration Extend provided access to a Domain of One’s Own opportunity for educators who would like to fully control their presence on the web, a step further towards empowerment in a digital sense.

The Extend idea arose directly from seminal and emergent literature on self-directed learning. Alan Tough’s The Adult’s Learning Projects (1971) was heralded as a fresh approach to theory and practice in adult education. It was all about learners taking control and planning their own learning episodes. We set out to harness Tough’s ideas along with those of other adult learning theorists (e.g., Knowles; Bandura; Lave & Wenger; Brown, Collins & Duguid) to provide an online framework built around six key themes for empowering educators in a digital age. Our goal was to give Ontario educators the opportunity to explore, engage and extend their knowledge of teaching practices in a digital age. And, the target was for educators to reach a level of empowerment where they would feel comfortable using the digital tools of their choosing to advance learning with their students.

Simon Bates (2016) has provided a model for the Anatomy of the 21st century educator that encompasses the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are identified as the foundational skills required to thrive (and not just survive) in a digital world (Allan & Grudziecki, 2006; Coldwell-Nelson, 2018). The model proposes that all educators must have:

  • An understanding and appreciation of what research has to say about how people learn.
  • The ability to curate, develop, use, and share appropriate educational resources.
  • Skill in discerning the possibilities—and limitations—of technology to support teaching and learning.
  • Developed professional learning networks through collaborations with other disciplines.
  • A scholarly approach to teaching.
  • A willingness to experiment: to try, reflect, and learn from new approaches, pedagogies, and technologies to support learning (Bates, 2016).

Extend Badge System
Our approach to program development has been guided by design-based research. We began the Extend program with the assumption that we probably wouldn’t get it right from the start and that we’d need to evaluate iteratively using participant feedback to make improvements to successive iterations.

Right now, we’re finishing up the evaluation of the first iteration, which was offered to three cohorts and a total of 102 participants from the college and university sectors in 2017-18. We’ll be presenting our findings at the Technology-Enabled Seminar and Showcase (TESS) 2018 in November.

After a tune-up of the resources, we’ll be ramping up a second iteration of Extend beginning in Winter 2019. There are opportunities for educators across Ontario to get involved.

Interested in participating in Ontario Extend? Discover how to get involved here: (Link).


Allan, M., & Grudziecki, J. (2006). DigEuLit: Concepts and tools for digital literacy development. Innovation in Teaching and Learning in Information and Computer Sciences, 5(4), 249-267, Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.11120/ital.2006.05040249

Bates, S. (2016). The 21st century educator. Keynote talk given at UOIT, Ontario: first Symposium for Effective Teaching. Sept 1, 2016. Retrieved from https://www.slideshare.net/EdPER_talks/the-21st-century-educator-65570909

Coldwell-Neilson, J. (2018). Decoding Digital Literacy. Retrieved from, http://www.decodingdigitalliteracy.org/digital-literacy.html

Tough, A. (1971). The adult’s learning projects: A fresh approach to theory and practice in adult learning. Toronto, ON: OISE Press. Retrieved from http://ieti.org/tough/books/alp.htm

Getting a running start for 2018-19

T Shaped Student

As I look ahead to the 2018-19 academic year, I see an exciting trajectory emerging for Ontario college and university students. On top of exemplary programs already on offer from our institutions, we are seeing growing interest from prospective students about flexible online pathways to skills and credentials that will provide them with a range of academic and career opportunities to pursue. And, our institutions are responding with vigour. In fact, we already have a running start.

We are seeing increasing activity across our member institutions as they continue to  implement programs and courses in online and hybrid learning formats to better meet the needs of their students. We’re seeing growth across the spectrum of activity with more courses and programs adding technology-enabled features and affordances, with four clear themes standing out.

Technology-enabled learning is growing. It is available in formats ranging from fully-online courses, to blended online programs where in-classroom activities are paired with online or tech-enabled components for supplementary self-study, to hybrid models that intentionally seek to teach major portions of courses online and require fewer in-class sessions. All of these options are offered by Ontario post-secondary institutions and most can be found using the eCampusOntario search portal. As we look at the analytics from the eCampusOntario program and course search portal, all key indicators are up in 2017-18 and we expect to see further growth during the 2018-19 academic year.


Course and program searchesUsers

Experiential learning continues be a focus across post-secondary institutions. Co-op programs, work-integrated learning (WIL) and student practicums are just three of the ways in which meaningful learning experiences in the world of work can be provided for students while they’re still in school. Our focus at eCampusOntario has been on how we enable the concept of the T-Shaped Student for all post-secondary learners, supplementing the already rich experiences and skills they obtain in their programs, with cross-domain skills of the type many feel they need to differentiate themselves in hiring situations beyond college or university.

One of the questions still needing an answer is how to scale experiential learning in programs or courses where there is no existing formal connection to co-op programs or WIL. We believe that a technological solution is needed to scale access to experiences, while continuing to preserve the critical bond between faculty and students engaged in employer-sponsored work-related projects that dovetail with curricular outcomes. The eCampusOntario Tech Sandbox has been used by institutions to test their ideas with tools that might support scalable approaches to experiences and recognition of learning beyond classrooms. Our work with Riipen.com and CanCred.ca to prototype and test approaches to experiential learning services and recognition will be evaluated through institution reports that are being prepared for August 31, 2018.

Shared and collaborative services is another key focus for eCampusOntario and its member institutions. One of the tech  programs we’ve helped install across all Ontario public post-secondary institutions is Lynda.com, a video-based skills training environment for self-study to supplement courses that students take and skills they will need. We’re already detecting patterns of interest from students. Through a partnership with the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO), to conduct preliminary research to better understand patterns of use, we are collecting direct feedback from students to help inform implementation and curricular integration opportunities across Ontario colleges and universities.

Other shared services are being planned. Informed by focus groups and a survey of all public post-secondary institutions, we have identified the top five candidate technologies for expanded shared service support across our post-secondary institutions. The report will be published in September 2018, but a preview of the Top-5 candidate technologies is already evident from the early focus group and survey results. They include:

  • Captioning and transcription services
  • Learning analytics
  • Virtual labs
  • Academic integrity software
  • Virtual simulations (Virtual and Augmented Reality)

We’ll be exploring next steps with institutions in fall 2018. We’ll start by designing a lifecycle strategy for educational technology services that will include exploration (Sandbox), evaluation, operations planning, pricing structures, procurement, and service models . Our lifecycle approach will also be considering a sunsetting process for shared educational technologies that need replacement.

Open by design is hallmark of eCampusOntario’s  initiatives. We have been proactive in supporting an affordability strategy for students by making available a growing library of open textbooks and open educational resources (OER) created or adapted by faculty. Our new open textbook library, created in partnership with Ryerson University, is undergoing an upgrade and facelift in fall 2018 to integrate it more closely with our other web properties including the learnonline.ecampusontario.ca search portal, so that open textbooks can be featured alongside courses in which they are used.

The new open library will be coupled to the Pressbook.education site that is dedicated to Ontario faculty and instructors. We have the capability for a complete OER workflow, including book cloning functions, embedded scientific notation, and a set of interactive activities for students that can be embedded within open textbooks using the open source H5P software that we have worked with Pressbooks to implement for educators.

The Pressbooks authoring platform is available to all of our college and university members with the following benefits:

  • Easy to use authoring platform with embedded features like H5P
  • Consistent template formats and authoring standards across Ontario to ensure adaptability
  • Opportunities for capacity-building at the institution level through libraries and teaching and learning centres

All of these innovations point to a sustainable OER future in Ontario

We share
eCampusOntario is committed to bringing new programs and services to its member institutions. In addition, we will begin to share research reports, survey data and analytical data that together will contribute to an expanding knowledge base for Ontario educators and will provide additional opportunities for Ontario students to find and select flexible learning pathways that match their needs and their lives.

Embracing the nudge

I recently attended WCET’s annual summit that examined Ethical and Equitable Access in Digital Learning. It’s been a few years since I’ve attended a WCET event and I’ve missed the high-level discussions that occur at them, often on topics that are just about to emerge in mainstream higher education conversations. This year’s event was no exception, and the timing was perfect for the theme.

The summit was promoted as an opportunity for rich discussion on three topics:

* Equity as a demonstrated priority for the institutions’ students, faculty, and staff

* Accessibility as the lens through which the institution examines its resources, policies, services, and infrastructure

* Data and evidence-based decision making for student success and ethical questions underlying analytics engines and edtech products.

There were expansive conversations with panel members and participants throughout the event. Lindsey Downs of WCET has provided a comprehensive summary of the event on the WCETFrontiers blog.

In particular, the Panel Three topic: Ethical and Effective Uses of Student Data, resonated with me.

The question explored how best to ensure learner success by ethically and effectively using data to promote positive action. The conversation with panelists was wide ranging from data governance models to data dictionaries that would help ground consistent language and approaches to proactive interventions.

A compelling part of the discussion arose from a question that was asked by a panelist, “What is an institution’s ethical obligation of knowing?”

Hmmm. The question caused noticeable reflection in the whole room and on the Twitter back-channel. And, I’m still thinking about it. I’m sure it’s related to a duty of care when a learner enrolls for a program of study. But to what degree? Do you directly intervene with data through advisors to support students, or would a nudge theory approach be a more ethical and effective strategy, as panelist John Fritz suggested?

Thoroughly enjoyed the perspectives presented throughout the WCET Summit. Bonus for me: two excellent sit-down and reflect conversations with Phil Hill of e-Literate fame. And, I also had an opportunity to reconnect with colleagues Russ Poulin, Darcy Hardy and Mark Jenkins. Great thinkers, all of them.

Possible shapes for the future of digital learning in Quebec

Numerique 2018

On May 29 and 29, I had the privilege to connect with colleagues in Quebec at Numerique 2018, a conference organized by the University of Montreal’s EDULib team, led by Professor Bruno Poellhuber – a very cool guy. My keynote opened the conference on the evening of May 28.

The conference looked closely at advances in thinking about OER, MOOCs, and distance education practices in general. Examples and discussions of a variety of possible futures were provided by invited speakers from France (Catherine Mongenet – FUN-MOOC), British Columbia (Tony Bates – Tony Bates and Associates) and the USA (Anant Agarwal – MIT + edX).

Numerique 2018 was also an opportunity for Quebec post-secondary educators to consider how they might see an eCampus in their province operate in the service of students and faculty. Theme-based discussions throughout the 1.5 days allowed lots of time for conversations about potential paths forward.

All in, it was a stimulating set of presentations and discussions.

On the day following Numerique 2018, the Quebec government made a huge funding announcement in support of digital education, which further buoyed the chances for the rapid ramp-up of eCampusQuebec.