Sunday, January 06, 2013

When I look back over the many years I've been involved with education and technology, I like many, have seen the evolution and proliferation of tech tools available to educators. Again, like many, I think I learned about  a lot of these tools on a "as need basis". As I became more involved and comfortable I started to combine these tools using different ones to accomplish different things. Later as distance learning became more mainstream I started to experiment with different platforms and learning management systems. As I worked with other educators and students it became more and more challenging to introduce a variety of these tools in combination trying to connect, communicate and collaborate with people meeting the requirements of working and learning from a distance.

Now my thinking has changed. While I would have at one point by choice, supported finding different tools to  do different things required in a distance learning model I now am a convert of all inclusive tools in one place and system. When you look at what is required by way of online and virtual tools to support distance work and learning it really boils down to a set of tools. You need a calendar, the ability to upload, download and share files, the ability to hold conference calls and online meetings, the ability to message those you are working with, the ability to design and deliver polls and quizzes and lastly the creation of to-do-lists. If you have access to all of these tools inside one environment then by design they have been carefully thought through as to compatibility and ease of use in combination.

To support educators, students and parents I founded a community portal called Groups4Schools where this set of all inclusive tools exist in a private protected shared space. The first virtual portal I launched has since been taken over by a BioScience entity and I provide the back end user support for their members and contacts. As for Groups4Schools the portal I founded, I carry out the same responsibilities but also have control over the marketing and promotion of the site to other learners.

Now having said this the challenges I see today are "take-up". It not always obvious to the target audience I engage to see the benefits of working or learning virtually. On many fronts the concepts of efficiency, effectiveness, convenience, and financial savings benefits are not always obvious to learners who have never experienced these types of tools and environments. Are we making progress, yes, but the challenges of gaining learners support to change and try new ways of doing old things is difficult. You might be surprised but even when it is "free" people are reluctant. I think of a recent offering I made to a Home and School Organization who declined my offer of "free access" for all their members spread across several jurisdictions. They stated they didn't have a need for these types of tools, thank you. I must say this baffled me. When I look at what they do ie. represent and communicate with parent groups across many schools and communities by sharing information, forming committees and teams I have to ask myself "do they get it?" With the challenges of communicating across distances, travel costs, renting space and limitations until the next time we can get together to meet I must admit it baffles me.

We can only hope that over time as more and more people fully come to understand the benefits of distance learning will more and more people and groups begin to adopt the distance learning and work platforms out there. Until then our challenge is to work with those who "get it" and continue to invite those who "do not get it" to come join in and take a look. At Groups4Schools we continue to invite any and all in to take a look. Visit us at drop over to our portal and send me a note for access.

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