Looking Back to Move Forward?

From the outset of this book, I have tried to take my time and imagine myself as an experienced teacher working in 1995. How would I have tried to experience the innovative technology of the time and incorporate it in my classes in a meaningful way? Would I have clung to the idea that I was a sage on a stage, or would I have relinquished some of the control gracefully for a more student-centered approach to my lessons? 

“Use the things you know and use them well.” stated Clare Thomson in Between the Chapters episode 3. To paraphrase, if you try to use technology that you are not confident with, the students will notice that, and it will not turn out as successfully as you had hoped. These ideas resonated with me during this time of crisis learning. Moving from face-to-face lessons to online learning and then finally to hybrid learning, I have realized that I need to take it slow. Slowly introduce new websites or tools a little at a time and take away the ones that do not work so well. Although this seems like stating the obvious and common sense, I appreciated what Weller said about feeling pressure to use all the new shiny technology.  

Looking back on the things that were successful and not successful before the pandemic and after, has helped me understand collaborative learning better and also that teaching is not about content delivery. Weller’s retrospection took me back even further to realize that we can move forward more successfully when we understand the past. Many of the questions we asked back then are still being asked today. Perhaps they may never be answered and that might be ok.  

In chapter 4 and in Between the Chapters, critical theory and constructivism are discussed. Jessie Stommel talks about “a strand that runs through the whole book” and a failure to acknowledge the exceedingly long history of Educational Technology and its complicated history and that we never look back enough. Strommel proclaims that we do not have to have “original ideas and give them names and be white dudes and put a capital C [constructivism] in front of them to make them real.” He goes on to say that there is not such a thing as an original thought and that all the thoughts he has had have been borrowed and influenced by others. This gave me inspiration and confidence to soak up all I can and share it with as many as I can. He adds, “Our practices need to line up with our ethos” (Jessie Strommel).  

Will we one day not differentiate between distance learning and traditional learning? Will technology become so embedded in everyday life that we will not look at it as online learning? Will everything be hybrid? Will synchronous or asynchronous be an irrelevant distinction?  



25 Years of Ed Tech: The Serialized Audio Version. (2021). https://25years.opened.ca/

10 thoughts on “Looking Back to Move Forward?

  1. Hiya Sam!

    Thanks for your post! Your last comment, on our differentiation between distance learning and traditional learning surprisingly sparks a thought in me.

    The kids this year (mine, being 17 and 10, 9) have just had to shift from fully traditional learning, to fully online learning. Looking back, I saw all of them struggle. my younger kids with staring at a screen the entire time, and my eldest with having no set schedule, and having to govern her own schedule for the first time in her life.

    I wonder, would it be better if we had our children study in a hybrid model? Surely the transitions would be less traumatic, and, they would start to develop other skills that could be of use later in life. My one daughter with special learning needs likely would have been more successful if we could have governed her time, rather than have her stare at an instructor led session daily for hours at a time.


    1. Hey Paula!

      Thank you for your comment.

      Hybrid learning has been a revelation for sure. I have found that hybrid learning does make it noticeably clear who has an intrinsic motivation for learning. In my morning hybrid class, I have a group of very motivated and curious women who are determined to get the most out of their education and it is quite inspiring. Never in my 20 years of teaching have I thought that a class could be so connected and productive. There are a few students who are unable to join in person due to distance, living in Brazil or Taiwan. Also, there are some students who are always in person so splitting my focus can be a challenge but one you can get used to. One thing I try to amplify is their intrinsic motivation and point it out explicitly to them. I try to give plenty of positive and authentic feedback verbally as well as through email/homework and when I do give critical feedback it is much appreciated. There always are, however, students who are like “ghosts” (no camera on and no mic on and I have never seen them) but I never give up on them and continue to call on them. I will occasionally give speeches too sometimes about how important it is to make connections and that you cannot learn alone.

      I think that for children learning in a hybrid model would be particularly challenging but better than fully online. I think it would take an incredibly special teacher to find that intrinsic motivation and bring it out. I know Paula that you have some awesome children and that you are a great mom so I think that your kids would do great in a hybrid model. I recently visited my niece and nephew in Calgary who have gone through the same school year and wondered if that would work with them. Somethings about them seemed so mature, but somethings seemed so immature. I know my brother is a widower and is working full time so he has struggled to motivative them in the fully online model, so could parents be the key?

      Do you believe that most children have that intrinsic motivation, or do they need teachers and parents to help them find it? I have not had my morning coffee yet, so this is a little rambling. 🙂

  2. Hi Sam,

    I completely agree, let’s slow down! It is easy to get caught up in the sense of urgency that is perpetuated in the field of technology. Looking back at educational technologies that didn’t last can perhaps serve as a reminder that rushing towards the shiny new tech tool of the day doesn’t always pay off.

    You mention looking back before and after pandemic teaching at things that worked and some that did not work. Just curious if you have any lessons learned to share?


    1. Hi Melissa,

      Thank you for reading my post! I know at the beginning of going online I was not confident about our school’s choice to use Microsoft Office Teams to replicate synchronous lectures. Our organization has two distinct schools, one for newcomers to Canada and the other for international or work/study visa students. These two schools have quite different funding streams. Respectively, the first is paid by the federal government and the latter by the students. International students who paid for their own classes and not by the government requested and gave feedback that they wanted classes that resembled the classes they had before the pandemic (face-to-face/synchronous). The students whose classes were funded by the federal government were happy to have classes that were partly asynchronous or hybrid. It seemed through surveys and feedback that when students paid for their classes they wanted in-person classes and felt that online learning “wasn’t real learning”. I think this may be the biggest hurdle for many who are trying hybrid or on-line learning for the first time.

      Looking back, I thought I had to use all the sites and platforms the younger teachers were using. I know that many of our older instructors retired early or quit but I loved my job and was not going to give up. I learned that I do not have to use all the new tech right away and that I was still a good teacher even if I kept it simple. Our organization was in crisis mode, so I was teaching in a bubble and did not really know what the other teachers were doing at first. As restrictions eased, I asked to observe what other teachers were doing and I realized it was not so different from what I was doing but I did borrow things from others for instance group writing synchronously on a google doc (only good for small classes ha!) Also being a student in RRU (I sound like an advert for RRU lol!) gave me confidence and helped me understand that I did not need to reinvent the wheel. I just need to be truly present and available for students and yes, that did mean much more time on my part but being a teacher is what the job is about, I guess.

      I know you already know all this, but this has been my experience, Melissa. How about you? How has this last year been for you?

  3. Hi Sam,

    Thanks for tipping me off about the “Between the covers” podcast episodes – I missed those and look forward to listening in to hear the perspectives shared in these!

    I am also still processing my experiences teaching via Zoom during the pandemic – what worked and what didn’t. I appreciate your thoughts here about needing to take things slow when adopting new technologies. When I first started learning about all the extra bells and whistles on our LMS and on Zoom I felt very overwhelmed but looking back I realize that keeping it simple (accidentally) ended up being the best course of action for myself and my students. Some of my students were juggling six and seven courses at a time and by avoiding bringing in multiple tools to learned helped keep stress levels low (both for them and myself).

    I go back to teaching face to face this week and have been spending recent weeks thinking on what to keep and what to ditch when I go back. The questions you pose at the end of your pose are ones I think many of us are asking ourselves! Thanks again for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Hello Alexandra!

      Hope you are well. Yes, the In Between the Chapters really helped me in the first 1/3 of the book. Although I was alive during the 90’s, I was not familiar with any of the tech and was not using it so for me I had a harder time understanding.

      I completely agree, Alexandra! I think that it must be so hard for students to have so many different tools. Maybe you have told me already, but may I ask what classes you were teaching? Were they completely online? Adult students? I am curious.

      When I had my first face-to-face class again, I started sweating and almost had a panic attack. No joke but I can laugh about it now. I still am not sure why I was so afraid, but it was the longest time in my life that I had not taught face-to-face in my life.

      Good luck with your first week back and be good to yourself. Turn off that self-judgement voice and say, ” I am a great teacher!”



  4. Hi, Sam! I completely agree with you! Using technology in the classroom is not a target on its own. Many teachers (myself included) get seduced by the apparent ease of technology, believing more technology is better, but it is not so simple in actual practice. Now more than ever, students expect to see some form of technology used in class, which can pressure teachers to adopt the latest gadgets they may or may not know how to use (as you mentioned). I think the decision to use technology depends on the nature of the content, students’ learning needs, and the teacher’s abilities and readiness to use technology in the classroom. Without considering such factors, teachers may find teaching using a good ol’ fashioned blackboard much more effective than using technology just to put on a show. To be honest, I am guilty of being attracted to shiny new things that promise to entertain or make my life easier, so I imagine I will always struggle a bit with this in the future. Still, while the bells and whistles of new tech may be tempting, I understand teachers fare better when they practice a little restraint. By carefully considering what technology would be the most effective in promoting student engagement and enhancing learning, teachers can make better choices because, in the end, using technology does not necessarily equate to good teaching/pedagogy. Tara Brabazon makes some great points about using technology in teaching in The University of Google (https://doi.org/10.1177/030981680909800114). If you have a chance, check her out!

    1. By the way, I’m curious to know… What tools have you found to be successful in your particular context, and which ones have you done away with?

      1. They might seem basic but for someone who just started teaching online I use google docs. for group writing in my small intermediate classes. I also found out about Padlet through RRU which I use for an icebreaker in my testing classes. There is also Quizlet which I love for the live feature. Students can play online or in person (or both at the same time) and learn lots of new vocabulary. I can also use it for easy test creation and more. I was using one site for brainstorming, but I forgot the name, but I will try to remember for when we talk next. It was good but I do have a smart board that I find quicker and more personal. These are the ones I use the most. We also use the Topnotch series through Pearson that is perfect for smartboards and very interactive. It is quite flashy, so students love it, but it is amazingly simple for teachers and students alike.

    2. Ashley! YES! There is that pressure! The students DO have that expectation and it is palpable. Fortunately, for my students and myself I teach mostly advanced classes so that allows for a lot more use of tech but it was still hard to implement at first. I think that it is great that you are attracted to the shiny new tech. I think it keeps you curious. I have to say I am a fan of your blog. You really do have some sleek and visually pleasing posts. I loved the one you did about nodes and connections. Inspired! Thank you so much for the article. I will savor it with my morning cup of coffee. 🙂

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