Nilmini Ratwatte-Henstridge, M.Ed., is based in Ontario, Canada, and has been teaching Grade 2 for over 20 years with the Peel District School Board. With the onset of COVID-19, Ratwatte-Henstridge’s school district pivoted from in-person to virtual learning. This felt like an intimidating prospect at first, but after using Brightspace, a learning management system (LMS) for K-12 teachers and students, Ratwatte-Henstridge felt excited about teaching from her home. Indeed, Ratwatte-Henstridge was surprised to find that the new LMS highlighted what she enjoys about teaching: connecting with young students and watching them flourish.
A D2L Champion, Ratwatte-Henstridge sat down with us to talk about how teaching online made her consider the ways in which we can prepare children for success in the real world and how using Brightspace prompted her to evaluate her own teaching style and the areas she wants to grow in.
“If I’m going to use a new learning management system, it has to fit in with my teaching style.”
When I started using Brightspace, I wanted to blend it with my way of teaching. One of my preferences as an educator is individually tailored learning. This means I value things like personal choice, and wherever possible, I give my students the freedom to work in a way that helps them succeed best as unique individuals.
So if I give an assignment in Brightspace, my students have all the submission options. They can record a video and send it in; they can write down their answers and send them in; they can even record an audio message for me. Any format is acceptable, as long as they’re meeting the requirements of the assessment, which I can easily share by putting the rubric or marking scheme in the group chat.
From learning to refinement
I had used Google Classroom before and was a little intimidated by the idea of using a comprehensive LMS like Brightspace, but it was not as difficult to learn as I thought it would be.
During my first year using Brightspace, I felt really comfortable, and I learned so much that I absolutely loved it during year two. I changed so many little things to make it workable and to make it user-friendly for me and for my students, which also meant I was able to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time with my students.
By the third year, Brightspace was super easy. And it was fun because we were all so accustomed to the different features and benefits of the system. We’d discuss as a class what kind of format we should do a lesson in and how to submit assignments. I really enjoyed that.
Nilmini Ratwatte-Henstridge’s favorite Brightspace features:
- The Awards tool—My students love getting badges. I really like how I can assign whichever badges I want during the semester in order to recognize their hard work, such as consistent attendance and submission of assignments or answering questions in the group chat.
- Integration with other software—We were already using Microsoft Teams to host group video calls, and being able to access Teams from Brightspace was really convenient.
- Resource sharing—It was so easy to share resources like a PDF or book. The children could just click a link and access it, even when they were abroad.
Making the world a smaller place
While I absolutely love in-person teaching, Brightspace made teaching online fun, engaging and empowering for me as a teacher. I felt like Brightspace helped make our world a smaller place, whether through the instant messaging it facilitated or the fact that my students could still log in while traveling abroad. We could always get together as a class and have discussions.
Over the years, my relationship with my students became more collaborative as I involved them in making decisions before setting work and eliciting feedback. I’d ask questions like, “What do you need from me in order to be successful in this task?,” and they got very good at anticipating their own needs, which is a wonderful skill for young children to cultivate.
The technology magnified what I love about education: forming connections and building an independent younger generation
I’m a sociable person, and I really like the fact that teaching enables me to connect with others. When the pandemic hit, I was worried that rapport would be lost, but Brightspace helped us stay in touch with video calls, instant messaging and group chats. When your students show up every day, feeling happy and successful at what they do, that’s a very fulfilling feeling.
I am always considering how to empower my students and help them become more independent, so when I kept being asked in the virtual setting if students could go to the bathroom, I told them they didn’t need to ask me—they just needed to shut off their camera and switch it on when they come back. This helped them become accustomed to the idea of accountability. We should all take breaks when we need them, but we also need to commit to our learning goals. My students really bought into the independent self-regulation aspect of things.
If we don’t use the technology our students have been surrounded by since birth, we are not setting them up for success in the real world.
Classrooms need to reflect reality
Regardless of which format you teach in—in-person, virtual, hybrid, or blended—there are plenty of ways an LMS can improve the school experience. While most of us think of an LMS as something you use for the virtual setting, Brightspace can enhance in-person learning too, and I look forward to using technology more and more in my classroom.
In fact, I think we have a duty to utilize technology in the classroom, not just see it as a crutch to lean on when in-person learning isn’t available. Our job is to serve children the best we can, and if we don’t use the technology our students have been surrounded by since birth, we are not setting them up for success in the real world—especially if you used technology during the pandemic. Children will get to school and wonder why they can’t use their computers or submit assignments online.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
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