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Local teacher, union rep behind online conference for educators

Conference created to help teachers with the transition to remote learning and instruction; Goal is to help teachers motivate students to 'engage and succeed'

There will be an online conference for and by educators hosted from the Ontario Institution for Studies in Education (OISE) on July 21 and 22. You can register here.

Two local citizens will play a prominent role in the two-day event.

This conference has some unique features that the organizing team is excited about. First, there will be an online asynchronous space, over the weekend of July 17 through 19, for educators to reflect on questions around online thinking and learning in a virtual space.

The online discussion or forum will be moderated by educators and we are looking forward to what will come out of our discussions together. Next, there will be a more socially-oriented space, in other words a time online together to think together about how we all fared during emergency teaching, what we learned and what we hope to learn as we move forward (July 20, from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.).

Orillia's Tshweu Moleme, an OISE PHD student and union representative at Casino Rama, will welcome the group with some insights about online learning as it relates to some bigger social justice issues.

Preeti Ramen, team lead for OISE’s Online Learning team, will bring together some of the thinking around pedagogy and practicality we have all been grappling with in these other than normal times.

On the main conference day, Tuesday, July 21, from 9:30 a.m. until 12:40 p.m., the OISE Online Learning Team will facilitate some more practical themes around learning in what they call the ‘small spaces’.

Small spaces of learning are sometimes those moments where, in spite of or because of our efforts as educators a class or a student says, 'Aha! I understand', or 'I want to learn more.'

These 'aha' moments come in different ways online, but they always help us as educators to recalibrate. There will be practical break out sessions about micro video feedback, creating videos, using infographics, coding and elementary students and more.

Also, there will be an interactive session with the Online Learning Team geared to point towards some of the key points around creating communities in online learning. The keynote will be presented by Dr. Clare Brett, Chair of the department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE, university of Toronto.

Dr. Brett and her research leads, Teresa Avery, Preeti Raman, and Matt Stodolak, all doctoral students, and other experts from the #OISEonline team, which is housed in the department of Curriculum, Teaching, and Learning, have since connected with Moleme and Orillia's Janet-Lynne Durnford and some representatives of school boards, via regular Zoom meetings, trying to take apart all issues presented to them by many of the teachers they’ve heard from, finding solutions.

Moleme, co-lead of the conference project, talks about the reality of when COVID-19 hit and forced many schools and workplaces to shut down:

"...In just a matter of days, many families realized what kind of workload teachers carry – realities of the classroom had finally hit home, in full. As a result, many parents, and rightly so, reached out to teachers, for help with some of the work that was now to be done at home with the parent(s) as the teacher," said Moleme.

"[But] who was going to be there for teachers facing all kinds of pressure, from all directions? There’s been a lot of changes in the world of teaching. Suddenly, teachers were expected to speed up in their online teaching, as if remote learning/instruction is child’s play. It wasn’t far from it."

Moleme, along with friends and colleagues, had a Facebook exchange on challenges teachers were encountering at this time. A friend of his, Janet-Lynne Durnford, a Simcoe Muskoka Catholic School Board teacher, asked Moleme if there was any way the OISE could help teachers, especially around remote teaching/learning.

Moleme wasted no time, immediately reaching out to OISE’s Dean, Dr. Glen A. Jones, who replied within minutes, with a key contact referral, Dr. Clare Brett who leads OISE’s team of online learning specialists. Moleme reached out to her directly, and she also wasted no time, replying with an offer of the entire team under her tutelage, to help find ways to ease the weight on the shoulders of many teachers.

"COVID-19 has reminded us of the importance of community," said Moleme. "When I heard the call to act, I did, because our teachers deserve our help. If I can help refine tools they need for remote learning and instruction, why not?

"We are a community of educators and I remain encouraged and hopeful that we will find and develop COVID-19 and other pandemic-proof tools for teaching and learning. We need teachers; without them, society is directionless. Let’s help them help us; let’s lift some of the weight off of their shoulders."

Durnford agrees.

"As a lifelong learner, I enjoyed the challenge, but it felt like I was a first-year teacher again," she said. "Everything was new, and everything took hours longer than I thought it would. It was easy to go chasing after the most tantalizing apps and activities, and to forget basic pedagogical methods honed through almost 30 years of classroom instruction.

"I found myself leveraging the power of social media and global communication to collaborate and learn from educators across the globe, as well as drawing on resources provided by my board. As I became more comfortable and confident with teaching online, I realized that there was a need for sound, research-based PD for Ontario K-12 teachers.

"The most pressing question: how can we foster a sense community in our online learning classes, so that our students are motivated to engage and succeed?"

For more information on the event, please click here.