In May 2020 a group of adult special education (ASE) instructors who were meeting regularly online as a community of practice brought together by the British Columbia Council on Admissions and Transfer mused over the idea of bringing all their students together, just like they were meeting together in that moment. This idea took shape in October 2020 with an email from Christina Cederlof, an associate teaching professor in the Education and Skills Training Program in the Faculty of Education and Social Work at Thompson Rivers University (TRU) to the BCcampus Learning and Teaching team. Christina Cederlof described the online pivot in March 2020 as a “bumpy ride with our share of technology-related deficiencies (some students did not have access to a computer). Nonetheless, our strong sense of community pulled us through.”
In B.C.’s public post-secondary institutions, ASE programs respond to the needs of a diverse group of learners. Individuals with disabilities, or with a combination of barriers to education, employment, or independence, are eligible to enroll in these programs and courses in accordance with institutional guidelines. ASE programs also respond to industry and community needs and relate to local labour market trends. TRU is one of 15 B.C. post-secondary institutions that offer ASE courses under its Education and Skills Training Program. Like most post-secondary classes, ASE courses were heavily impacted by COVID-19. For many students with learning challenges, online learning was a new experience — as was not going to a physical school and being with peers. This most likely caused a big shift at home with some challenges for students’ families as well as instructors who had never taught online before.
Christina, along with Helena Prins, an advisor on the BCcampus Learning and Teaching team, and Dr. Matthew Stranach, coordinator of Educational Technologies at TRU, pulled their experience, expertise, and passions together to create a province-wide event with the goal to provide a sense of community for ASE participants and instructors while offering an inclusive and meaningful learning experience on digital citizenship.
An invitation to participate went out to all members of the ASE community of practice, and the event was delivered in two 90-minute Zoom sessions on March 9 and 23, 2021. Eight institutions joined these sessions: TRU, Selkirk College, Vancouver Island University, Coast Mountain College, Camosun College, North Island College, Vancouver Community College, and Kwantlen Polytech University. Ahead of the sessions and in feedback surveys, many students expressed their excitement about meeting peers from around the province.
During the first session, Rick Walker, IT security analyst at TRU, covered the topic “Being Safe Online: The 3 Ps — Personal Information, Phishing, and Passwords.” A few specific strategies were built in to prepare and engage students during the session:
- The Zoom room opened 10 minutes early to give participants an opportunity to get comfortable with Zoom features — “annotate while you wait.”
- Alison Roy, program coordinator and instructor at Selkirk College, led a fun Glee-inspired warmup activity. Kicking off the event with Katy Perry’s “Roar” while learning signed English was epic!
- Rick delivered his 3Ps presentation in dialogue style. Rick presented the information, and Christina scaffolded content by clarifying and paraphrasing complicated terminology and concepts.
- Each breakout room had a facilitator who guided students in the group conversation.
- A participant feedback survey was shared before the end of the session, and the opportunity to give immediate feedback secured a good response rate. Matthew designed the survey to be clear and concise with only three questions and some visuals.
Building on the feedback and success of the first session, the second session provided even more opportunities and time for students to connect with peers. The second session also started and ended with a Glee-inspired warmup, and the content theme was “Netiquette: The Dos and Don’ts of Socializing Online.” Participants had the opportunity to practice their netiquette in a breakout room with an assigned facilitator. The main learning event was an opportunity to review the session’s content through a virtual escape-room experience.
Matthew created the escape room and shared some comments on his design process and experience: “The escape room was one of the most enjoyable WordPress tasks I’ve undertaken in a while. Collaboratively, we determined that gamified review of key concepts and information would be the best approach. I mapped it out on paper — the number of H5P interactions that would be needed and possible kinds of those interactions. I then drafted the room in WordPress before the event, obtained feedback from Christina and Helena, and have been updating and improving it since the event based on observation and feedback from the session. I am hopeful that this now is a helpful, fun resource that could be useful to other educators and students in other settings and contexts.”
From the feedback it was clear the Glee experience was a highlight for both instructors and students. When asked about the origin of the activity, Alison shared that they had started a Signing Glee Club four years earlier at Selkirk College. “Students had been involved in a signing choir years ago and it had stopped. A couple of those students are current students with us. One of the students uses signed English to communicate with others, so we began the Signing Glee Club to find a creative way to infuse music, movement and communication into our learning week, with hopes that students would learn more signs and could increase their communication skills with the other student as well.” Visit the Selkirk website to read more about the Selkirk Signing Glee Club.
The design team hopes to move forward with what they learned not only around digital citizenship but also the other benefits that come from learning online. There is still so much that could be done to promote and ensure inclusive learning experiences for all learners.
Christina would like to see the continued development of open education resources (OER) in ways that embrace Universal Design for Learning. Specifically, she believes in taking available OER resources that incorporate the use of plain language and a variety of ways to present information to make learning accessible to all. Christina recently received grant funding to create OERs in the form of H5Ps.
The BCcampus Learning and Teaching team will continue to promote and offer skill development opportunities for instructors that will equip them to create both face-to-face and online learning environments where all students thrive. One of the next steps for instructors who want to deepen their understanding and commitment to inclusive classroom environments is our brand-new two-week FLO UDL course, which starts May 3. We also hope to build on the success and learnings of our collaboration with TRU and Selkirk College and offer another ASE symposium in the coming year.
Matthew created a WordPress site that holds all the resources used for this event. The design team hopes these resources will be valuable to other students and educators in B.C. and elsewhere. All WordPress content is available for reuse under Creative Commons license Attribution 4.0 International.
Seeing the May 2020 idea come to fruition in the form of this online digital citizenship symposium — and creating a meaningful, fun, inclusive learning experience for more than 100 participants across the province— was rewarding and invigorating for the team. The high degree of interest and participation in this event, even without advertising it, indicates the strength of the ASE community of practice as well as the newly gained digital skills of ASE students and their instructors. It is unlikely that this online event would have resonated as well a year ago; Christina attributes this to “groundbreaking skill development” in the past year.
Our world has changed. We have become used to learning, working, and socializing online in ways we have never done before. A project like this shows that with some intentional planning and design, everyone can have a great time learning online.