I have never taken a completely online course before. So when I enrolled in “Universal Learning Environments in the 21st Century”, a Graduate certificate program, connecting Rocky View Division employees and the University of Calgary Werklund School of Education, I was open to the unexpected. My online cohort consists of a dynamic group of Rocky View employees with varying backgrounds that range from psychology, Learning Specialists, administration, teachers, and Learning Support teachers, to name a few. My current course is titled, “Designing Inclusive Learning Environments”. We have a total of three online meeting discussion times scheduled, where we all meet online to converse about different topics and share ideas. The rest of the time, we are given a weekly challenge and required research readings to discuss and debate with each other through postings. Almost a month in, I feel this online learning experience has shown me a new perspective on Education.
I was challenged to select and share a “tool” for assisting with differentiation within a classroom. I planned on writing about an Aurasma technology app I’ve used successfully in the past and then I thought about writing about collaboration as a resource. However, more and more the concept of “what is the purpose of school?” and the concept of the traditional “classroom” taught by a “teacher” have been pulling at my thoughts. I believe the physical concept of “school” as a place in which learning occurs should be a significant tool for differentiation that must be examined, questioned and challenged, if as Educators, we are to foster creativity in our students and hope to meet the diverse range of needs for all our students. My “tool” is providing a multitude of alternative pathways and experiences for learning beyond the classroom. Thus, differentiating our programming and how students can choose to learn within the framework of “school”.
I have taught Art and Humanities in a windowless classroom for the past six years. My students and I try to spice it up by painting the walls and cupboards. I’ve added a couch, stools and a fuzzy carpet to provide alternate spaces for focus and collaboration. Students take ownership by choosing the layout of the tables and decorating the room with their visible learning. We have had flexible seating arrangements that shift based on the challenge at hand and we move and filter into the school spaces such as hallways or the forum. However, what what I am realizing more each day, is that I can make a room as physically flexible as possible and provide a multitude of tools and accessibility to technology as possible…but it is not enough. What I believe truly needs to change is how our schools provide pathways to learning for our students. What I mean by pathways is options for students to decide how they learn best. No longer must school be a building where students must drive or walk to in order to “receive” their learning from a “teacher”. Instead, students can meet at a community hall, online, a library, a farmer’s field or perhaps an Art gallery and not just for field trips. Why not take a Fine Arts stream, if learning through the Arts is how he or she learns best? To differentiate better, we must look at our school design and differentiate beyond classroom instruction. Continue reading