Stephanie Browne became a teacher because of the value she placed on her experience as a learner. She was also inspired by the impact her mother, a school principal, had on her own students. Stephanie knows that not all students have the same passion for learning and wants to be able to change that for the children who enter her classroom.
Stephanie now teaches in a grades 2 and 3 split class with the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). She teaches several subjects, including English, math, science, social studies and gym.
Stephanie takes a blended learning approach to her teaching practice. She empowers her students to use technology, like the virtual learning environment (VLE) powered by D2L Brightspace, to encourage independence and problem solving. Stephanie also uses these tools to increase engagement with both students and parents.
In this article, Stephanie shares her experiences with using the VLE in her blended grades 2/3 classroom.
Blended Learning and Professional Development
Blended learning became a part of my teaching strategy long before the pandemic because the TDSB made it mandatory. We were fortunate enough to have a technology-enabled learning and teaching contact named Shelley Lowry, who provided professional development (PD) and hands-on instruction for using the VLE.
I had a lot of support from my principal at the time and decided to register for the PD. I went to a number of sessions run by Shelley, and she taught us how to use technology in the classroom step-by-step. Once I saw it, I couldn’t unlearn it. Every year I continue to build on my VLE knowledge because I think it’s fabulous.
How Technology Impacts Young Students
In September, especially with the primaries, it’s a little difficult getting them used to the platform—even just logging in. It takes from about September to November to get them used to it, have the proper procedures set up and establish the expectations of what they’ll do on the computer.
Once students get used to the platform, they become self-sufficient, independent learners—the learning and the desire are there.
Knowing that we’re preparing students for the world outside of the classroom is really important to me. I love seeing the world open up for them—learning that YouTube is not the beginning, end and everything in between of technology. Being able to use the VLE or technology for literacy, math, science and social studies allows students to see not only that digital learning is important but that devices are so much more than just for entertainment.
When you incorporate blended learning into your class, even the most boring lesson can become engaging. I have a lot of students who I thought might need step-by-step instructions, but some of them are easily able to multitask. Sometimes we combine different software—like the VLE, PebbleGo and Google Slides—and they do not see them as separate entities but as things that work together.
Being able to see the children go from not being able to log in at the start of the school year to a relatively tech-savvy 8-year-old in June is really neat.
Technology can also have a negative impact when we don’t have access to it. I’m in a model school, which means we’re on the Learning Opportunities Index. We’re currently relatively high, which means for socioeconomic and other reasons our communities are at an unfair disadvantage. We’re trying to level the playing field, but when students don’t have access to technology, that can make it difficult.
Engaging Parents Through Technology
I really like using the Brightspace Parent and Guardian tool, especially the Portfolio tool, because I can connect the parents to the platform and they can see their children’s progress. It’s made it easier and more seamless for me, too, because it’s very hands-off once they’re connected.
For parents engaged with their children’s education, it’s been fabulous. It’s great because it doesn’t require extra of me and gives parents so much more insight, especially into the daily classroom. Depending on what the assignment or activity is, my students upload it to their Portfolio. It’s an ongoing look into our classroom without a parent having to take a day off from work to come in and see.
Another perk for parents is that I teach my students to use the technology intentionally and authentically so they don’t need their parent or guardian to help them get to the VLE when they’re at home. While there might be a shortcut they use at school, I teach them the long way from the beginning so that they can use the tech in or outside school seamlessly.
VLE Features for Teachers
I love the embedding feature. Various multimedia elements—a video, a Google Slide, a document—can all be embedded so the students can see them. Everything is connected, so it updates automatically. I also love that I can connect curriculum expectations to an assignment or a unit. When I’m looking for my assessment, I already remember what I have or haven’t done.
Besides the VLE being supported and funded by the Ministry of Education, its features allow me to be a more put-together, organized educator because I can check things beforehand. I can see things from a student’s point of view. I can also leave things in preview, so I’m prepped maybe two or three weeks or months ahead.
Knowing that there are people at D2L to support my learning, my lack of knowledge or to just help, knowing that’s all there, is priceless.
VLE Features for Young Learners
My students like the Portfolio tool and often use the Funster mode. They think it is so comical when the monster (Funster) comes on and tells them exactly what to do. I have a student with autism spectrum disorder, and Funster has been great because it tells them exactly what to do. My students also think it’s really neat that I can make things magically disappear or reappear when I’m really just putting in start and end dates.
They also love when I impersonate them—it’s a great feature. I become them, so anything that I do saves as them. I have a jar full of popsicle sticks with their names on them, and the name I pull is who I impersonate. They love that feature and are always fighting for me to impersonate them.
Advice for Teachers Testing Out Tech
For new VLE users, my advice would be to just start, because the backend—your course shell and students—are already loaded for you. The only thing stopping you from being an amazing teacher with blended learning is your fear. But there’s nothing to be afraid of because D2L provides short tutorials that are thorough, concise and show you what you’re looking for from the beginning—for the most basic to advanced users.
Make the VLE your hub and get your students used to going through everything from it. This way, as they grow throughout their educational career, they’re already used to the platform. If you want students to complete a task, put the link in the VLE so that they’re familiar with your blended learning classroom, and then you can take them from there to wherever you want them to go.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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