Quick Reflections on VSS 2009

Though the title says quick reflections, I’ve been reflecting on the Virtual School Society Annual Spring Conference since the first round of sessions kicked off.  The VSS and the pre-conference are an opportunity for people involved in distributed learning (DL) and educators who use digital technology in education to get together and share what they’ve been up to.  Briefly, here are some of my take aways:

Mast reflections by DonGato CC Attribution, Noncommercial, No Derivative works.

  • Tying in with Michael Horn’s keynote, DisruptingClass: How Disruptive Innovation is Changing the Way the World Learns, web 2.0 tools and the young field of DL are part of the current disruptive innovation.  Horn says that to be successful, disruptive innovations must be allowed to be separate from the status quo and not judged by the current/old norms.  My take–Don’t force your DL program to be like the regular school program; let your DL teachers and admin experiment and innovate–they have the potential to help many of those kids whose needs are not currently being met in schools.
  • DL schools don’t necessarily fit with the rest of the school system
  • there is as shift to teaching mastery: a DL environment is the perfect place for this
  • More educators are finding that tools like Elluminate Live! can be very powerful, especially with math instruction and tutoring.  (**A Province-wide license means that Elluminate Live! is free to use for all BC educators–go here to find out more)
  • A surprising small number of DL educators are on Twitter, but perhaps more will be after Ellen Wagner’s keynote 🙂
  • A surprising number of delegates have not yet dipped their toes in the web 2.0 waters
  • There is a shift away from the tools to the pedagogy of teaching and learning in a DL environment
  • No two DL schools are alike–some offer only synchronous programs, some offer asynchronous and continuous enrollment, some are 12 month operations, some are big, some are small, some offer special ed, some don’t…
  • More people are willing to share their stuff; not just their ideas, but the things they have created.

My last point is BIG.  Two years ago when I went to the predecessor of the VSS conference, the BC Ed Online, the mood was one of competition.  We were all competing for the same pool of DL students.  Talk was of how to protect what we’ve created, not how to share.   I’m glad for the change in perspective.

My brain will be mulling over the VSS sessions and discussions for quite a while to come and this post was a chance for me to finally put down my thoughts.  The conference will inform the direction my school takes over the next little while, and that is pretty exciting.

The Last Words
My questions for you are, (1) have you noticed a shift towards sharing?  I mean, it’s so gosh darned easy now to share what you have created in the digital world, shouldn’t we all be sharing?  Doesn’t that give more value to what you’ve spent time creating?  (2) Are you starting to notice a shift away from the tools and towards best practices in this increasingly digital world?

As always, thanks for reading!

9 thoughts on “Quick Reflections on VSS 2009

  1. I definitely agree. We only learn by sharing and discussing. Many believe we should not be giving it away, but how else can these conversations occur, our work held up to scrutiny and discussion, and we grow as learners? I know for me it is not about the tools as it is about the learning. Without sharing and discussions, I am not sure others can really see it or the direction we need to go. I am liking what I see with DL and may one day find my place somewhere there.

  2. Louise, sometimes I think that people think “it took me so long to create this or come up with this I don’t want to just give it away”. But this is one of the very reasons to give it away. Why should a bunch of other people invest a ton of time coming up with something similar? If enough people start sharing you’ll end up getting as much as you give, if not more.

  3. I like your reflection photo!

    When I first started teaching, someone told me that “teachers are the best thieves”. I didn’t like that, but I understood it. Thankfully, I have noticed a shift towards sharing. I think that the rise of the internet has a lot to do with that, but I think that the mindset has shifted too. Maybe it’s because there is SO much out there now that people are realizing it’s better to cooperate and work together than to compete in isolation.

  4. @Errin, “people are realizing it’s better to cooperate and work together than to compete in isolation”. Perhaps this is an influence of the collaborative nature of the web?

    I should clarify too that the lack of sharing I was seeing was more evident among the distributed learning set; probably due to the way that DL in the higher grades (10+) was originally set up in British Columbia. When I started my career (in a regular bricks-and-mortar high school) there were lots of great teachers who were very generous in sharing with me what they had created for their courses. Now a days, if most of what you are creating is saved digitally the sharing is so much easier and with the web you can share with so many more people.

    I found the Mast Reflections photo in a Flickr creative commons search. The photographer said that he didn’t modify the image–the masts in the water just looked really zig zagged. Glad you liked it!

  5. Great summary of the VSS 2009 conference. I too was shocked as the non-twitter users in the crowd. Aren’t they all people who spend their days on computers?

    As educators we need to share and connect.


  6. @James, hopefully the situation will be different next year. One person I spoke to there seemed to think that a couple of years ago the web 2.0 tools weren’t all that hot, but figured they were worth investigating now. I don’t know if that is a common sentiment, but hopefully more teachers in this field (and across teaching in general) will explore and use tools like twitter. The sharing and connection you talk about are key.

  7. Claire, you’ve added several great points in this post which will be highly useful for teachers interested in either exclusive DL or blended learning environments.

    It’s great that elluminate is available to public school teachers for free. There is so much potential in tools such as these to bring educators together to learn through synchronous discussion.

    I agree that the movement towards more willingness to share materials is growing, especially now that teachers are becoming more comfortable with web 2.0 tools. I often think back to a time prior to web 2.0 and wonder how we could have possibly accessed even half of the resources we currently can get our hands on by internet. With tools such as twitter and Facebook, one can so readily share information with other individuals and feel like they are perpetually engaged in PD.


  8. @Bernadette, yes, it is hard to remember how we found resources before web 2.0 tools were around! It’s not just the tools though, it folks like you who through Facebook, Wikis, Blogs, Twitter etc are super sharers! Finding great resources and passing them along to those who might use them 🙂