Learning to Teach Online : An Open Educational Resource for Pre-Service Teachers

Child typing on a laptop

Teacher candidates at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education will be doing all of their course work online this fall. Their experiences will give them new opportunities to consider not just what it means to learn in online environments, but also how to teach online. To support their thinking and learning over time this year (and beyond), my colleague Dr. Hugh Kellam and I developed an open educational resource that includes six modules focused on what we think are the most important ideas to consider when designing online learning activities and environments for students. The course is freely available at https://onlineteaching.ca/ and although we continue to edit and integrate video content, we felt it was important to announce the course this week because, with back-to-school just a few weeks away, we know that school leaders and teachers are beginning to plan for online instruction this fall. Even though our intended audience is pre-service teaching colleagues, we hope that in-service teaching colleagues will also find something of value in the work. 

The course architecture is linear and easy to navigate. Modules follow a consistent, predictable organizational structure. We begin each module with an overview of learning outcomes, and offer estimated times to complete the reading, reflection and practice activities. In every module, we provide lists of the references used to inform our work. These references lists can be used by anyone looking to learn more about the research on online teaching and learning, or about methods of instruction that support student learning in any context — face-to-face or online. 

Here are the titles of the modules in the course: 

  • Teaching Online: Relationships are Everything
  • Equity and Accessibility: The Foundations for Good Online Course Design
  • Planning, Pedagogies and Learning Management Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Online Teaching
  • Assessment and Evaluation in Online Courses
  • Establishing and Modelling Norms in Online Courses
  • Meeting Standards of Practice in an Online Practicum

We are grateful to many colleagues with specialized expertise in online teaching and learning in Canada and the US who provided very valuable recommendations for improvement. Thanks to Gladys Chin, Dr. Leigh Graves Wolf,  Dr. Ian O’Byrne, Dr. Diane Watt, Dr. John Richardson, Heather Swail, Paul McGuire and Tracy Crowe for their generous insights. The course is better because of your feedback. Errors, omissions and oversights, though, are entirely the responsibility of the authors. Hugh and I continue to work on this, but hope that at a time of incredible uncertainty in education, this work can offer teachers a reliable information source to inform their pedagogical decision making. 


Although the course is self-paced, we invite conversation about the course to take place on Twitter using the hashtag #OTL4K12 (online teaching & learning for Kindergarten-Grade12).

In a click: Podcast with Jamilee Baroud

I had the chance to meet up with Jamilee Baroud this week to record an episode for her new Podcast called In a Click. Jamilee is an up-and-coming superstar in the ed-tech/critical digital literacies research community and it has been such a privilege to work with her during her PhD program at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Education. Here’s our conversation — 40-ish minutes of us talking about technologies, research, teaching and learning, deep fakes, embodied cognition, VR, makerspaces…and my first ever research project that helped me to reflect deeply on the complexities of digital technologies, teaching and learning. It as a lot of fun to do this — and I feel really lucky to have been invited onto Jamilee’s show.

I hope you will join me in following Jamilee’s work at In a Click as she shines light online.

Thinking Tech with new Teacher Candidates at the University of Ottawa

Ed Tech at the University of Ottawa  Faculty of Education

Back-to-school means I get to meet another group of new teacher colleagues this week. It also means I get to talk with them about our Digital Hub Strategy in the Faculty of Education and about Making as a promising pedagogical approach.  I’ve put together two short presentations on these topics and am sharing them here for anyone interested in the ways that we’re working to support innovative practices and development of advanced professional digital literacies skills at the Faculty of Education at the University of Ottawa.

Digital Hub Strategy Presentation

Key insights from the discussion include:

  • B.Ed. students are clearly thinking about the multiple stakeholders who may want to know more about them. They are using their Hubs to communicate with parents, students, colleagues, future employers, the community at large.
  • Being on the web in this way raises important questions about the tensions in this practice of open networked sharing. For example, one student asked me — does this mean that as teachers, we are now expected to have a website so that we can be “vetted” by the community openly and in a digital space? In response, I said no — this is not a broadly established or mandated expectation. Neither the Ministry nor the OCT says (in any documents that I know of) that we must have a digital professional presence where examples of our work can be curated for scrutiny by others. I would add that doing this to be scrutinized by others is not the purpose of this work either. That said, teachers have always been held to very high standards by the public. The Hub is one way for us to own our identities in digital networks, and to transparently construct the narrative for others. Do we have to do this, no. However, since many of us already exist online in many ways, this project is meant to offer an opportunity for all candidates to learn new digital literacies skills and mindsets that are fundamental to their practice today, while also asserting some control over the ways that the public can come to know us as professionals. I appreciated this question very much and invite B.Ed. candidates to share their insights with me, and with their professors during the year, as they grapple with how to present their work.
  • Reclaim Hosting may be a good option for candidates interested in purchasing a domain name and having their Hub hosted by a third party.
  • Google Sites is free to uOttawa students. *Creating a blog with the new Google sites, however, is challenging. You have to create a Blogger account and link it.
  • CV: Include one — yes. Please be sure to NOT include your home address and telephone number or email address on your web-based CV, however. You will need two versions of your CV — one for the web and one that you submit for employment (that does include all of that personal info).
  • Photos: You will not have media permission to post photos of children on your website. Take photos of yourself teaching, take photos of work (and be sure to talk with your AT about how you plan to use those photos on your website), take photos of backs of heads, learn how to blur out faces using Photoshop,  learn how add happy face stickers over children’s faces to protect identities.
  • Naming your school on your web-based CV: Since children can be identified through you, please be sure to ask your AT or the principal at your practicum school(s) whether it is okay to name the school explicitly on your web-based CV. It may be enough online to simply state you worked in a grade 7 class in the OCDSB rather than name the school specifically.
  • It’s okay to “be human” on your site. Many B.Ed. candidates show things about their interests outside of work as a way to humanize their site and show multiple stakeholders who they are. This also seems to be a way for B.Ed. students to make meaning from the work of curating a digital hub.

Making in Classrooms Presentation

Key Insights from the workshop:

  • B.Ed. students drew some kind of visualization related in some way to their area of disciplinary expertise. Some students drew models of processes, others drew abstract images connected in some way to a theme or a concept, others drew procedures. Every image was different. Then, they integrated a simple circuit using a battery, copper tape and an LED light in a way that had meaning.
  • After students completed the activity, they walked around to see what others had done.
  • As we discussed, students felt this kind of activity supported collaboration, learning through discussion and observation, invited a sense of agency, and felt motivating because it was their own project. They also realized that everyone was engaged at the same time, and that nobody had to do the exact same thing to learn common ideas.
  • They also saw that in the images I shared from maker-based learning activities, participants of all ages seemed engaged, proud and happy to be doing the work.
  • After the workshop (see slides with research-based findings and links to Maker-based resources in the Ottawa area) I had a great conversation with a student about the potential of maker-based activities for supporting learning that aligns with social justice intiatives. In research that I am doing with colleagues, we are definitely working to see how young children might come to design maker-based solutions to important issues in their school community.

Design Ideas for Integrating 3D Printing in K-12 Classrooms

I teach a course at the University of Ottawa called Integrating Technology in Classrooms to second-year teacher candidates. At this point in the program, our candidates have completed months of evaluated practicum teaching experiences in schools, and have seen a lot of digital technologies used in classrooms for diverse purposes. So far, however, it has been quite rare for students to have seen 3D printers in use in their practicum classrooms — which is why I make sure they have a chance to think deeply about the pedagogical possibilities of this technology before they graduate. The 2017 Horizon Report suggests that 3D printers and Makerspaces are becoming mainstream in K-12 schools.

We’ve been lucky, in this class to be able to learn to design 3D objects and print them at the Richard Labbé Makerspace in the Faculty of Engineering. The workshop is always taught by a student engineer and many Education students appreciate the chance to work in a space that is very different from the spaces where they usually work (i.e, classrooms, libraries, coffee shops). As the students design their objects, the conversation turns to pedagogical integrations, applications, aspirations. Here is a list of some of the great ideas we have discussed in our class for projects that integrate 3D design and printing with curriculum expectations.

Project Ideas

  • Identify a real-life problem in the school, that could be solved with the design of some component, and then make it (e.g., do you need hooks to hang up jackets? do you need storage bins for supplies? could you fix something that broke? do you need doorstops?)
  • Design projects that require students to each create a component that, when put together, will have a larger purpose and deep connections to a disciplinary concept. Some ideas that students have come up with: Design a game and every person in the group makes a game piece; design a town – the town in which the children live, the town from a book they’re reading, a town that includes all of the things that families need to be healthy and happy — and every student designs a building; design parts of a complex system that can be 3D printed and put together as a group — e.g., a cell, an ecosystem, a clock.
  • Design replicas of material artefacts that are connected, in some way, to human activity, or to an historical period. These projects can enable students to empathize with the humans who might have designed these objects in the past, and help students to develop an embodied understanding of human motivations, activities, interests, needs and the design constraints of particular materials, contexts and tools. Further, teachers can invite students to think like archaeologists and historians by having them observe sets of artefacts and abstract key ideas or construct inferences about the ways the artefacts could be used, and therefore about their cultural significance.
  • In math, design shapes. Manipulate dimensions — width, length, height. Write about what happens when dimensions change.
  • In music, design and create instruments. Manipulate dimensions and consider how this changes the sounds the instruments make.
  • Design an object that represents a character, the setting, the plot, or a theme in a novel. Students can share their objects with peers, engage in discussions where other students guess the importance of their object, and then write about their design process as a way to make their thinking and understandings explicit.
  • Create a sense of community by inviting each child to design and print a nameplate for their desk, locker, for a wall of names in your classroom.

Open Houses and Parent Teacher Conferences: Tips for Teacher Candidates

One of the most memorable and useful professional learning workshops I did as a classroom teacher focused on building constructive parent-teacher relationships. The independent school at which I then worked hired Dr. Michael Thompson, a psychologist, to help us (the teachers) think deeply about who independent school parents are, who their children are, and how, as teachers, we could create systems that would allow for meaningful engagement around the real issues we all cared about — student learning.

At the time, I didn’t have children of my own. The things Dr. Thompson told me to do made sense. I followed his recommendations and they seemed to work. I saw his ideas as a helpful framework. Back then, I was mostly concerned with my own growth as a teacher and whether students were learning. I valued any helpful recommendations that would help me to become more effective and confident as a young teacher.

Now, fifteen years later, I am a parent with two school-aged children. They attend a publicly funded school. I’m also a teacher educator and, as I reflect on Dr. Thompson’s recommendations, I recognize them as absolutely brilliant. So far as I can tell, he was right. Absolutely right. And, I think they are relevant for any teacher, not just those working in independent schools because, at their core, they are about building human relationships.

Here are three things that I learned from Dr. Michael Thompson that I wish every teacher and principal understood about building meaningful relationships with parents.

  • When parents* meet teachers, they want to know that the teacher understands who their child is. Parents come to conferences and to school open houses for that reason alone. For some perspective, teachers should recognize that each of the children in their classroom is the most precious and cherished thing in the lives of every one of the parents they meet at an open house or during parent-teacher conferences. Every one of those children represents pain, sacrifice, joy, love, hope, promise, and legacy for each of the families a teacher serves. Families entrust this most cherished child to teachers’ care every day and they want to know that these adults “get” their kid. They want to know that in the weeks since the start of the new term or semester, the teacher has figured out something about who their child is.To show parents this, Dr. Thompson recommended that teachers always share one anecdote, story, observation or insight that allows families to know that they (the teacher) knows their child. He called it “naming the child” in a way that a parent would recognize. Naming could include a description of the child’s way of thinking and being in the world, teachers’ personal observations of the child, little stories, something funny or interesting that the teacher observed the child do. The key is, it has to be authentic and it has to reflect who the child really is.  As teachers, we are often so concerned with the curriculum and the gathering evidence of students’ learning that we often forget that fundamentally, families want to know if we like their child and see his/her/their humanity. If a teacher cannot show this, it is much harder to establish an authentic relationship with a parent. And, if at some time in the future, you (as teacher) have to have a difficult conversation with a parent, it is much easier to do it if, from the beginning, the parent understands that you understand who their child is.


  • Everyone is busy. Families have a lot of activities to schedule, and often for multiple children. So, when you meet with parents at a parent-teacher conference, for example, be sure to set clear time limits and respect the time limits you set. Usually, working parents are juggling life’s demands on less sleep than they need. They’re moderately stressed out pretty much all of the time for an infinite set of reasons that teachers cannot truly know. So, when we have an opportunity to exchange with a parent, it’s important to honour their presence by starting and ending the meeting on time. If parents feel they have come to a meeting or to an open house and they haven’t accomplished item #1 or feel their time was wasted or disrespected, they will generally not feel happy. In future, when you have to have a tough conversation…well, the conversation starts from a more difficult place.


  • Invite parents to talk about their child’s learning. Ask them if they have any questions that are most important to address during your meeting. Follow up with parents by email, if necessary, with any points you weren’t able to make. Again, families want to ensure that you (the teacher) know their child — so they appreciate it when teachers ask them for insights, and when the conversations are driven by their questions about their child.

So, tonight I attended a fall open house at my children’s school. My younger daughter has two teachers. My older daughter has four teachers. The idea of the open house is wonderful. I am happy that the school invites families in. This is essential and very much appreciated. And yet, I came away feeling really, really disappointed because the structure of the evening didn’t allow me to speak with most of my children’s teachers. There were just too many families. There were crowds of parents, actually — and with only one hour of time to see as many teachers as I could, I ended up speaking with only a couple of teachers directly and I didn’t even get to make a personal connection with either of my children’s homeroom teachers. There was no schedule. I understand wanting to keep the evening informal and yet, this resulted in many parents standing in a line to talk to their child’s teacher, which didn’t feel informal at all. Just like me, every parent wanted to make a personal connection with their child’s teacher. From the teacher’s perspective, I bet it was stressful. Teachers generally want to speak with everyone who takes the time to come to see them — but with so many families and no set schedule, some families get 15 minutes of time to talk with the teacher and others get no time. This is the way of these things. Sometimes, it’s great if you get lucky and have a chance to really chat with the teacher, but inevitably with so many families attending, the conversations are rushed at best and lack authenticity. And some will come and go, feeling that their time was wasted because they couldn’t wait it out (see the point about busy above).

So, teacher candidates, my question is, how will you build powerful, authentic connections with the families of the students you teach?

Here are some ideas for how you could turn an informal open house evening into an event that allows you to build real, authentic relationships with parents. You have to be there anyway — so why not use the opportunity to welcome families, help them get to know you, and most importantly, for you to show them that you really are getting to know their children?

    • Idea #1: Send a message home (in backpacks, via email or via the content manage system) to families that explains that during the open house evening, you will prepare a short presentation that will provide all families with an overview of your program of study, your approach to teaching math, language arts, music etc. (whatever your responsibilities are) and that there will be a question & answer session for 15 minutes afterward. Let parents know when that will take place well in advance of the evening so that that every family can try to attend. A presentation ensures that every family can (a) see you, (b) get an overview of what to expect from you for the school year, and (c) have the chance to ask questions that will benefit everyone. For families who cannot attend, the slides are published to the web on the classroom website or school website.


    • Idea #2: Every teacher prepares a short anecdote or conversation starters about every child in their class. These could be things such as: I really love Zoë’s art, and she has such a terrific sense of humour!  Ask her about the time she forgot her math book at home and how she is developing systems that help her stay organized. OR I notice that Ellyn processes the world by verbalizing her ideas. She can be so funny! I loved the story she told about her dog. At school we are trying to help her self-regulate. She is learning when she can talk out loud and when she needs to talk to herself. OR I notice that Chris loves to read. Does he have a favourite author or type of book that he prefers to read at home? In this way, every family leaves with evidence that you are getting to know who their child is.These anecdotes can be emailed to families who don’t attend or sent home in backpacks the next day.


    • Idea #3: For families who would like to chat with you personally, reserve a few 5-minute slots. Sign ups can happen in advance. Let parents know that these slots will be reserved on a first-come first served basis, but that you are always willing to meet with families by appointment.


    • Idea #4: Create a question box for families. Anyone who comes by the open house but is not able to speak with you directly can leave a question for you in the question box with their name and contact info. You can follow up with these families afterward. Be sure families know when to expect a response — realistically, it might take you a week to answer all of the questions. If families know this in advance, they won’t be upset if it does take you a few days to get back to them.


    • Idea #5: Create visuals that let parents know you are happy they have come. Maybe it’s a welcome sign, or a little message that every child puts on their desk to welcome families into the classroom.


Parents who feel authentically welcomed and who know that you know their children will support you. Really. It may seem like a lot of work to do these extra things when your colleagues are happy to just have parents line up in an informal open-house meet-and-greet. However, by doing these small things you can develop enduring and mutually supportive school-to-home connections with more parents.

*I use the word parent to refer to any loving, caring adult who has assumed the responsibility for the daily needs and care of a child. This includes grand-parents, aunts, uncles, foster parents, legal guardians and any other person who provides for the physical, emotional, spiritual and cognitive needs of a child.


“What’s the deal with teachers’ obsession with Twitter?”

It’s a question I often get from student teachers. Twitter? What’s the deal with teachers and their obsession with this platform? Why not Instagram or Snapchat or something else? Given all of the fundamentally problematic issues with this platform including the fact that it can feel like an avalanche of information, that it is full of trolls hiding behind anonymous account names, that it has long been a controversial crossroads of celebrity gossip, inane messaging about nothing important, extreme and often vitriolic political positions…and lately that it has become the platform of choice for bizarre statements by the POTUS at 3AM — why would ANYONE want to be there?

Add in position statements by the OCT that highlight the potentially devastating impact of social media participation, and mainstream media outlets that report on the truly horrible things that have happened through this platform and because of this platform…and I know why this question is one of the ones I hear most often. There must be a better way, right?
And maybe there is. But this is what I think.
Social media platforms will change. They will always, always change.
So, whether teachers use Twitter or Instagram or Facebook or WeChat or WhatsApp or any other social networking application it’s important to recognize that the platform is merely a tool that allows people to solve a problem, to do something that they couldn’t otherwise do. Tools have affordances and they have constraints. And, given that the design of tools are driven (at a minimum) by market forces and big data, the companies making these tools will always be changing the platforms as people change, as interests change, as behaviours change, as communities changes, as cultures change. So, we shouldn’t fixate too much on WHAT tool we use. Rather, I think a more important question, and I think this is the real question that a student was getting at during a great conversation yesterday — why do teachers STAY on Twitter given its problems?
The answer, I think, relates to Twitter’s affordances. What does it do? Yes — it does the things that most reasonable people despise. But, it also brings people together. As Evan Williams, Twitter’s co-founder explains in this TED Talk, (I love how he says Twittering in his talk — quaint – but such a great example of how words evolve) Twitter has allowed people to do incredibly altruistic things — to raise money for communities and individuals in times of crisis, to share critical information during natural disasters, to use #hashtags to spread the word on where to find gas at the best price.
And for teachers, Twitter has somehow become the defacto place for resource and information sharing. It’s where teachers tend to share out great links to resources, where they share out images of the amazing work their students are doing, where they come together for #edchats on topics of common interest. In fact, the teacher Twitter-sphere is pretty profound. Are there corporate interests trying to promote particular ideas by hiring teacher influencers on Twitter — absolutely. But if you’re savvy and if you pay attention, you can spot this happening and move on to the authentic work of real people doing really good work and just using this platform because it’s a space for them to give, and also to learn from the people who can really teach them — their peers.
I stay on Twitter because every time I go there, I learn something from amazing educators who inspire me. Plus, over the years, I have developed a global network of colleagues in this space — my mentors, research collaborators, current and former students, former colleagues, current colleagues — all of these people are part of my professional network on Twitter and I value them. A lot. Because of this platform, I continue to learn from them and I hope, from time to time, that I also offer THEM ideas and connections to resources that are of value in their work.
I stay on Twitter because it has become a powerful space for professional learning and engagement — and I have made it that way for ME through long-term consideration of who to follow, what I will and will not read, and how I will manage my own profile in the space. I only ever Tweet or retweet ideas, links and images that align with my core principles and purposes as an educator. I never compromise on that. Ever. I am very aware of how the algorithms behind Twitter are serving up information deemed relevant to my interests or to those with profiles like mine — and so I also watch Twitter as an example of how technology is shaping perceptions of the world. I find that really fascinating because it creates such a rich point of departure for profound discussions of technology integration and its role in shaping what we thing, and what we do with students in my classes.
So I use this platform to enrich my work. It is one part of how I live and work online — but it’s not everything.
If you’re a teacher using Twitter, why do you stay? How do you use it? What rules govern your practice and participation in this space and why? Teacher candidates at the University of Ottawa would LOVE to know.

Also, there is some great scholarship on teachers’ use of Twitter.

Rosenberg, J., Greenhalgh, S., Koehler, M.J., Hamilton, E. & Akcaoglu, M. (2016). An investigation of state education Twitter hashtags as affinity spaces. E-learning & Digital Media, 13(1-2), 24-44. doi: 10.1177/2042753016672351

How to embed a Twitter Timeline on a Google Site

I had a tweet from a student last night asking for “quick tips” on how to embed a Twitter feed on a Google site. As a teacher candidate in a school using Google apps for education, I am sure her choice to use Google sites to “integrate more tech” was, at least in part, driven by the tools available to her in her teaching context. This is fundamental to the work that classroom teachers do with tech — we must always come to understand what we can do to support student learning with what we’ve got. I was thrilled to receive the question (evidence of emergent TPACK!) and wanted to help. But of course, I had no idea how to do this.

My go-to strategy is always to just Google a solution. And, as luck would have it, I found a terrific tutorial at Monkey Raptor. Using the code and the tips provided there (thank you, Monkey Raptor!) I was able to successfully embed a Twitter timeline widget on the Google Site that I recently built to support our edtech initiatives in the Teacher Education program at the University of Ottawa. And, I created a screencast to show how I did it. Lots of little steps along the way — but I hope that others can benefit from this little how-to video.

One thing to know, you can create a timeline widget like the one I created for aTwitter handle too – you just have to select “profile” and then “handle” when you create the Twitter widget rather than “search”. Since this is a community site, I chose to embed the timeline of our community hashtag #UOttawaEDU but if you’re integrating a timeline on a classroom or professional portfolio site, then it would make more sense to integrate tweets by you or by your class using your @handle 🙂