MALAT Virtual Symposium: Implications for K-12 Education in Canada

Dave Cormier used the metaphor of rhizomes – plants that spread like raspberries – to explain open learning.  Once the plant takes root, ideas spread like shoots and that plant, once a tiny organism with an uncertain future, expands to create and fill its habitat (Cormier, 2017).  This metaphor of open education was represented in the MALAT Virtual Symposium; a time in which the curiosity of students was piqued, ideas took root and roots crossed paths.  During the week, a common theme emerged: that there are many contradictions in the current models of in-person and online K-12 education.  Implementation of open education practices and resources is an opportunity to improve access, inclusivity, and engagement in Canada’s K-12 schools.  

Throughout the week, I thought continuously about best practices to engage students and create curious, life-long learners.  Dr. Randy Labonte, proponent of the constructivist approach to learning, addressed the notion of students falling behind and developing gaps in their understanding as a result of the shift to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic (Labonte, 2020).  I was struck by his response.  He wondered what it was that these students were falling behind, and argued that education is not a race or a track to get through.  He also pointed out the concern that K-12 education is increasingly focused on content, not creativity.  In my work as a middle school teacher in Alberta, this is concerning.  Is this focus in the best interests of students?  Do learning experiences centred on content disengage and disempower our students?  

According to Amanda Coolidge, open education is sharing and collaborating, and breaking down barriers for students to easily access knowledge.  Using OER to increase access and inclusivity for all students, and especially those who are marginalized and diverse (Coolidge, 2021) is an incredible opportunity.  That being said, how can access and connection be improved while also guarding the privacy of the students in our care?  Dr. Muirhead and Dr. Robinson discussed the privacy paradox: the idea that systems and institutions are constantly trying to find a balance between convenience and capability without discarding privacy altogether (Muirhead & Robinson, 2021).  Dr. Hodson also addresses the issue of privacy.  It is possible that teachers are inadvertently putting students’ privacy at risk when using educational technology, especially when professional development and time to develop expertise are not provided (Hodson, 2018).  

These issues need to be addressed in order to support the progression of Canadian K-12 education systems.  The path forward must be intentionally and thoughtfully planned.  Leigh McCarthy, a K-12 educator in Ontario, had a number of recommendations resulting from her research around supporting student engagement through the use of educational technology.  I was most intrigued by her conclusion that teachers cannot wait for professional development to come to them; it is essential that consistent opportunities are provided for teachers to develop expertise in digital literacy and pedagogy, and to make connections through professional learning networks (McCarthy, 2021).  I saw a connection between McCarthy’s recommendations and the Eight Design Principles developed through the CANeLearn BC study (Crichton & Kinsel, 2021).  These principles, if adopted across the country, have the potential to drive significant change. 

Bringing Canadian public school systems into the 21st century will require a dramatic shift.  Teachers should be provided with professional learning centred around developing meaningful learning experiences in digital environments.  For this to happen, ministries of education and school districts would benefit from examining the values and principles that drive decision-making, which in turn impacts what happens in classrooms.  


Cormier, D. (2017, April 18).  Intentional messiness of online communities [Webinar]. Royal Roads University MALAT Virtual Symposium.

Crichton, S. & Kinsel, E. (2021, March 23). Design Principles for Online Learning: British Columbia Study. Canadian E-Learning Network. 

Hodson, J. (2018, April 16). “Mindful” social media engagement in an age of Cambridge Analytica [Webinar].  Royal Roads University MALAT Virtual Symposium. 

Labonte, R. (2020, April 14). Remote Teaching or Online Learning? K-12 Schooling in a Pandemic World [Webinar]. Royal Roads University MALAT Virtual Symposium.

McCarthy, L. (2021, April 16). K-12 Teachers in Ontario: Supporting Student Engagement Through the Use of Educational Technology [Webinar]. Royal Roads University MALAT Virtual Symposium. 

Muirhead, B. & Robinson, L. (2021, April 14). Living and Learning Online: Why Digital Privacy is Everyone’s Responsibility [Webinar]. Royal Roads University MALAT Virtual Symposium.

One thought to “MALAT Virtual Symposium: Implications for K-12 Education in Canada”

  1. Very well written and thoughfully constructed post, Amber. I couldn’t agree more with your last comment. But, I wonder… What would a meaningful learning environment look like when technology is integrated?

    In my opinion, whatever the aim, it is essential for teachers, educators, parents and administrators to ensure that the technology and activities they create achieve those aims instead of using it as an after-thought. In other words, we need to create meaningful learning environments that without technology would be inconceivable.

    For example, if I’m a K-12 student, and I walk into a classroom and watch a SMARTBOARD for an entire lesson, I am having content directed at me instead of interacting with it. This would NOT be an example of meaningful learning using technology.
    What do you think?

    Check out “Common Sense” for ideas on how to integrate technology into your school thoughtfully and with purpose.

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