Tag Archives: laurel beaton

Marrying Constructivism & Instructional Design


Carr-Chellman (2010) describes both constructivism and behaviourism as “beliefs about how people learn” rather than as learning theories (p.2).  Due to the conflicting nature of these beliefs or learning theories, Carr-Chellman offers in this chapter, a means by which to integrate constructivist principles into the ID4T model.  Carr-Chellman offers solutions to the potential conflicts between the goal and results orientated behaviorist approach of ID4T and the learner-centred views of constructivism.


The shift in education due to digitally connected classrooms has led to a call for the integration of constructivist principles into instructional design models.  This shift towards creating participatory, digital learning is the difficult but essential work of teachers. The Alberta Education (2013) Learning and Technology Policy Framework (LTPF) requires of all teachers to “use technology and research to design personalized, authentic and student-centred learning opportunities to meet the diverse needs and interests of all students” (Alberta. Ministry of Education, p. 30).  This connected approach and philosophy to learning and teaching requires personalization, a shift with far reaching implications for instructional design. In a constructivist approach, the teacher moves from the content knowledge expert who supplies information to students to the “role of a learning expert” (Starkey, 2010, p.241).  In order to make these shifts to constructivism within the ID4T model, a teacher is required to be responsive using Branch’s (2009) ADDIE approach to constantly analyze the learner and the context  in order to be able to create the plan for learning materials, activities, technology and authentic assessment required to meet the learning goal.  As Branch describes, this approach to instructional design is both behaviorists and constructivist in nature where “intentional learning should be student centered, innovative, authentic, and inspirational” (Branch, 2009, p.2).   Jacobsen (2015) makes the distinction that although the theoretical framework of constructivism is learner-centered, the role of the teacher as designer in essential.  “The most powerful thing teachers do to engage students is to design engaging, meaningful, and authentic work and technology-enhanced learning experiences. In other words, teaching matters.”

The role of instructional design is necessary in order to create, implement and assess learning outcomes. But, this is not done through better instruction alone, instead through combining instructional design methods with constructivist principles, “teachers who design for peer collaboration and individual reflection on learning cultivate stronger learning outcomes” (Jacobsen, 2015).  Alignment to curriculum objects is key when using the constructivist notion of authentic assessment in order to ensure that learner outcomes and objectives are being demonstrated. In a learner-centered constructivist approach, learning goals would be set “in collaboration with your learners” but the teacher is ultimately responsible for ensuring that designing learning that aligns with (CBC) curricular objectives (Carr-Chellman, 2010, p. 4).  In a constructivist approach to ID4T, students would start their learning at individual entry point based on their prior learning assessment. Before any instructional model or learning experience could be designed, the teacher would first analyze where each student is entering the learning, assessing their context, experience and understanding (p. 5).

An area of potential conflict between ID4T and constructivism as identified by Carr-Chellman is in the selection of learning resources (texts, media).  In most instructional design models, the teacher is as the designer of learning chooses the appropriate learning resources and experiences to reach the behavioral objectives and performance outcomes prior to beginning the instructional unit.  In a constructivist classroom, texts “can be more broadly defined” and used to support authentic tasks and problem-solving (p.5). In this way, an exhaustive list of resources and experiences would be very difficult to define prior to engaging in the authentic task and would need to be designed in collaboration with the learners. One bridge for implementation that Carr-Chellman offers between behaviorism and constructivism is through the use of scaffolding. Carr-Chellman believes that “scaffolding can allow a bit more of a traditional tinge to the classroom experience” (p.4).  Jacobsen takes the notion of scaffolding one step further where nothing in the instructional design is left to chance. “Strong discipline-based inquiry work exhibits a number of very discernible characteristics, including academic rigour, authenticity, assessment that is deliberately woven into the work, digital technology that is used in purposeful and authentic ways, connections with experts beyond the school, constructivist approaches to learning, and relevance beyond the classroom.”  Due to the iterative nature of a constructivist classroom explicit examples for implementation are difficult to produce.  Carr-Chellman stresses that constructivist learning design is very interpretive in nature as it depends on the learner and the context and therefore is difficult to use a specific example as a guide to implementation (p.6).

Final Question:

What considerations are required of teachers in order to adopt a constructivist approach to the ID4T model in order to ensure that learning is as both Branch (2009) and Jacobsen (2015) describes: deliberate, rigorous, purposeful, authentic, innovative, relevant and inspirational?


Alberta. Ministry of Education. (2013). Learning and technology policy framework 2013. Retrieved from https://education.alberta.ca/media/7792655/learning-and-technology-policy-framework-web.pdf

Branch, R. M. (2009). Instructional Design: The ADDIE approach Springer Science and Business Media. (Vol. 722).

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge.

Jacobsen, M. (2015). Teaching in a Participatory Digital World. Education Canada. 55(3).  Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/education-canada/article/teaching-participatory-digital-world.

Starkey, L. (2010). Teachers’ pedagogical reasoning and action in the digital age. Teachers & Teaching, 16(2), 233-244. doi:10.1080/13540600903478433

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Lipstick on a pig? Learning Theory and Instructional Design

Tonight I have learning theory on my mind.  In particular this involves learning theory as it is applied to instructional design.  I have just read  from Carr-Chellman (2010) that instructional design, “does work on the whole within a behavioral framework, meaning that the underlying notions of learning are those of information transmission rather than learner construction” (p.8).

This quote sits uneasily with me as I wrestle with unpacking its implications. I personally believe in the need to design learning experiences and opportunities for students that allow for co-construction of knowledge through constructivist and connectivist principles.  In this approach knowledge is co-created by students and teachers through a community of inquiry (Garrison, Anderson and Archer, 2000).  The implication is that teachers are not only content experts but, more importantly, they must help students to understand that the “capacity to know more is more critical than what is already known” (Siemens, 2005, p.4).  Knowledge is created by making connections through personal learning networks. This social constructivist or connectivist approach is somewhat counter to behaviorist learning theory that works on knowledge as directional transmission from teacher to student.


My question is, how do we or even yet should we marry these approaches to learning?  Carr-Chellman stresses that instructional design can be used to, “alter the model and work a constructivist solution within the behavioral model” (p. 9).  In my current work I find teachers who are tied to behavioral learning theory find it difficult to move into constructivist and even further into social constructivist or connectivist approaches to teaching and learning.  Is this altering of behaviourism, as suggested by Carr-Chellman, the best approach or do we need to approach instructional design from a more emergent and contingent model that leaves behaviourism in the past?  I worry that this altering approach may be as Bates (2015) describes, “old wine in new bottles” (p. 145).  This is just one of many questions that I lose sleep over and have yet to find the answer to.  I cannot wait to hear your thoughts!


Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Carr-Chellman, A. (2010). Instructional design for teachers: Improving classroom practice. Florence, KY: Routledge. eISBN: 9780203847275

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Siemens, G. (2004). Connectivism: a learning theory for the digital age. Elearnspace. Retrieved from http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm.


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Old wine in new bottles: MOOCs, SPOCs, OCs

The rapid rise and fall of the popularity of the MOOC movement in education is unprecedented.  As evidence of the mainstream exposure of this educational trend, MOOCs even had their five minutes of fame on the Colbert Report when edX president Anant Agarwal was interviewed by Stephen Colbert.  The fact that the Colbert believed that his audience knew well enough what a MOOC was and that they found the interview hilarious, illustrated the rapid exposure, acceptance and ultimate decline in popularity that we see the MOOC movement experiencing now.

The overwhelming problem with MOOCs in the way in which they have been taken up by large corporation and private post-secondary institutions is that they tend to ignore sound instructional principles (Baggaley, 2013, p. 126).  Many researchers in the area of distance education (DE) such as Bates have asked why institutions are ignoring the evidence of two decades of experience and research into the best design and pedagogical principles for online learning? The problem is clear to Baggaley, when you reduce the importance of the role of teacher or teaching presence and increase the number of students by a massive amount, the instructors will not be able to provide a quality learning experience (p. 126). The anonymous reviewers of Baggaley’s paper agree that MOOCs have “over-promised and under delivered” because a “focus on technology without a focus on pedagogy” always fails the learner (p. 130).

The question remains, why would post-secondary intuitions choose to ignore 20 years of research and literature on eLearning?  The answer might be found in Kanaka and Brooks (2010) where they argue that “[D]istance education can achieve any two of the following: flexible access, quality learning experience and cost-effectiveness – but not all three at once” (p. 69).  If the balance of all three things is impossible, corporations and private post-secondary institutions set on making a profit will access any learning innovations that favor cost-effectiveness and access to students (who pay) over quality of learning experience.  The massive uptake of MOOCs and now their derivative SPOCs is in one part a way for post-secondary’s to finally accept online learning as a legitimate learning pathway that they historically fought against. MOOCs might be as Bates describes, “old wine in a new bottles” motivated more by profit than by a belief in the learning design.

The fall of the MOOC popularity due to learner negative experience and the new post-MOOC world of SPOC (small private online courses) are simply a return to “the kind of online courses that distance education (DE) institutions have been providing since the mid-90’s” (p. 127).  Although Baggaley cautions that SPOCs may not be better than their MOOC counterparts if the designers continue to ignore the research on DE and online learning that has been gathered over the past two decades (p. 129).  The true test will be to see if the designers of SPOCs and MOOCs can attend to “learner engagement, assessment and feedback” (Baggaley, p.126).  According to Baggaley, the new uptake of Connectivist ideas may have more to do with a backlash against asynchronous delivery and learning and a “timely reminder of the need for more synchronous online interaction” (p. 129). If we are to get to the heart of learner engagement the true test for the future of MOOCs, and their derivatives will be is the designers and instructors can scale to massive and open, quality design that focuses on learning first, technology second.


Baggaley, J. (2014). MOOC postscript. Distance Education, 35(1), 126- 132. doi:10.1080/01587919.2013.876142. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.lib.ucalgary.ca/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/l ogin.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=95609836&site=ehost-live

Bates, A.W. (2015). Chapter 5: Chapter 4.2: Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning, in Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for Teaching and Learning (pp. 145-182), Contact North.

Kanuka, H. & Brooks, C. (2010). Distance education in a post-fordist time: Negotiating difference. In M. F. Cleveland-Innes & D. K. Garrison (Eds.), An introduction to distance education: Understanding teaching and learning in a new era. New York & London: Routledget of conventional conversation rapidly and massively.

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The Future of Blended Learning is…

The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.

The future of blended learning will not confine students to one platform, LMS or digital tool.  According the George Siemens in Learning Management Systems: The wrong place to start learning, “Essentially, most LMS platforms are attempting to shape the future of learning to fit into the structure of their systems, even though most learning today is informal and connectivist in nature” (2004).  As on online teacher and online graduate student, I have been able to experience firsthand the way in which various learning management platforms shape dialogue and discussion.  It is true that the future of blended learning will be defined by “our ability to capitalize on technological developments will most assuredly be founded on our understanding of a worthwhile educational experience” (Garrision, 2008, p. 1). Ultimately learning that is placed in a real context, that encourages critical discourse and that allows for continuous reflection facilitates deep and rich learning.  Therefore it is the role of educators to access a variety digital tools in order to design learning tasks and experiences that allow for deep and rich learning to take place (Garrison & Cleveland-Innes).

Recently, at the ULead Conference, I had the opportunity to hear Abdul Chohan speak about his school Essa Academy in the UK, a school that could be considered on the forefront of the future of blended learning.  According to Bonk, Kim, & Zeng (2006) the future of all learning will be strongly influenced by mobile devices, ubiquitous access to connection, and a demand for learning at any time, any place and any pace.  At Essa Academy we are given a glimpse of this future as students access digital tools that are simple and reliable to both access content, explore ideas and to demonstrate their understanding.  The key to this approach is that the school offers students access to or allows students to bring their own devices that are mobile, not just portable.  The differentiation between mobile and portable devices is an important one.  At Essa, all students are given an iPad to be used both at school and at home.  The school uses both a flipped classroom and a blended learning approach, offering students access to their course material online at any time through iTunesU and allowing them to take their mobile devices home with them so that learning can continue beyond the school hours.  According to the department of education who audited Essa, “teachers use well students’ access to hand-held technology to promote investigative skills and to ensure that students reflect on their learning” (Ofsted).   Essa Academy offers us a glimpse into the future of learning.  When asked if he considers his school to be a blended learning school, Chohan replies that Essa is “just a school where learning happens, blended or flipped.” Garrison and Vaughan agree with Chohan that in the future “there will come a time when the blended learning distinction will dissolve as a useful label.  The reason is that all learning will be blended to some degree” (Garrision, 2008, p. 15).  I think schools like Essa Academy and many others show us that the time has come.  The future of blended learning is that it is just learning.


Bonk, C. J., Kim, K., & Zeng, T. (2006). Future directions of blended learning in higher education and workplace learning settings. In C. J. Bonk, & C. R. Graham (Eds.), The handbook of blended learning: Global perspectives, local design (pp. 550-567). San Francisco : Pfeiffer. Available online from http://www.publicationshare.com/c083_bonk_future.pdf

Drysdale, J.S., Graham, C.R., Spring, K.J., & Halverson, L.R. (2013). An analysis of research trends in dissertations and theses studying blended learning. Internet and Higher Education. 17 (April), 90-100. PDF Format

Garrison, D.R., Cleveland-Innes, M. (2005). Facilitating Cognitive Presence in Online Learning: Interaction is Not Enough. The American Journal of Distance Education, 19(3), 133-148.

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Chapter Eight: Future. Blended Learning in Higher Education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Siemens, G., (2004) The wrong place to start learning.  Available from: <http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm [Accessed 17 July 2014]

Essa Academy:



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Uplifting Leadership


Over the next few days I will have the privileged of attending the Ulead conference in beautiful Banff, Alberta and one of the keynote speakers today was Andy Hargreaves. In his writing, Hargreaves has classified educational as having moved through four distinct periods, each with its own emphasis or approach to school leadership. His discussion will be useful when considering transformative leadership for blended learning. Hargreaves makes a distinction between each period of leadership by the roles that government, leaders, teachers and students play in learning. In the first period of leadership teachers were autonomous leaders in their own, often very small or one room schools. In the second period, school leaders became managers, concerned with accountability, standardization of both curriculum and assessment. This period took the autonomy away from teachers in an attempt to regulate learning and test scores. In the most recent, third period, leaders have shifted their focus to 21st century skills, performance, human capital, self-efficacy, targets, and technology. Strong and distributed leadership has been embraced by many learning organizations as a means to build human capital and increase performance.

Hargreaves believes that there is great potential in distributed leadership but warns that is must be taken as more that simply an opportunity for teachers to participate in decision making. Unfortunately, distributed leadership at its worst can be a way for leaders to offload responsibilities to teachers without giving teachers any ownership for decision-making. Distributed leadership at its best could and should create a culture and a climate where teachers feel they can bring innovation into their practice without waiting for an invitation or permission. This distributed approach to leadership has the potential to “raise institutional awareness, build support, and cultivate collaborative leadership” (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008, p. 21). In a distributed leadership environment, teachers feel able to connect and collaborate to improve the learning outcomes of their students without waiting for instruction or directive from their leaders. As Garrison and Vaughan state, “Transformation must be driven by the need and demand for higher quality learning experiences” (p.4, 2008). Distributed leadership offer the hope for transformation where leaders see themselves as lead learners responsible for setting a direction, inspiring and supporting their teachers to design learning tasks that are of high quality.

In his presentation, a fourth way to leadership was offered by Hargreaves, in which the role of a leader moves beyond distributed to uplifting leadership. This fourth way of leadership relies on collective efficacy, participation and collaboration. Hargreaves describes uplifting leadership as having the following set of qualities. Uplifting leaders will set the direction for their organization by dreaming with determination. They will set the course based on clear, sound and defensible research and practice. Uplifting leaders are creative in their approach to system level change and work with the forces that may be perceived as resistant or working against them, turning perceived weakness into strengths. These leaders understand that there is great benefit in collaboration and they both push and pull their teachers to create communities of practice. Uplifting leaders do not use data to hold teachers accountable but instead measure with meaning to assure their various publics. Uplifting leaders understand that innovation must be undertaken in a way that is disciplined in order to manage and sustain growth as well as to reflect on practice and the impact that innovation has on learning. Uplifting leaders find opportunities that others have missed including embracing change even when things are succeeding. But most importantly, uplifting leaders know that their role is “to serve those who follow as well as, if not better than, they serve. Finally, and perhaps above all, remember that in all its forms, leadership without ongoing personal transformation is little more than management” (Workman & Clevelland-Innes, 2012, p. 323). Hargreaves agrees that in order to have transformational leadership, “we uplift the people we serve by uplifting the people who serve them.”

Hargreaves, A. (2015). Uplifting Leadership – Keynote ULead2015

Garrison, D. R., & Vaughan, N. (2008). Leadership, policy, and organizational change (unpublished). Blended Learning in Higher Education.San Francisco : Jossey-Bass. PDF Format

Workman, T., & Cleveland-Innes, M. (2012). Leadership, personal transformation, and management. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 13(4), 313-323. Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1383/2329

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Developing Multiple Literacies through a Curriculum of Action

Week 1 Reflection:  Developing Multiple Literacies through a Curriculum of Action

There is an interesting parallel between this week’s readings and the work we are doing prototyping curriculum development (http://inspiredcurriculum.ca/)  for Alberta Education’s Curriculum Redesign (http://education.alberta.ca/department/ipr/curriculum/curriculum-development-prototyping.aspx).  As I read Jewett’s (2011) discussion of exploring ICT literacy through real world experiences such as geocaching in the article Multiple Literacies Gone Wild, I am reminded of the importance of developing curriculum that allows students to pursue multiple literacies by engaging in work that is worth-while (Jardine 2002).  As a member of the curriculum synthesis team, we engaged teachers, students, parents and community members across Alberta in conversations about how curriculum could and should be developed.  We heard time and time again that curriculum must allow for authentic, worthwhile work as the means for students to develop competencies and literacies.  Jewett reminds us through the story of the boys in the article, that through the authentic and engaging task and experience while geocaching, the boys are able to develop multiple literacies that are clearly real world in application such as mapping, global positioning systems (GPS), and communication (2011).

As we prototype curriculum, we find ourselves asking the question, “what are the ways of being” for each discipline?  How do we honour the disciplinary skills and knowledge that lead to the habits of mind of a scientist, a social scientist or an artist?  Jewett observed through the boys experience geocaching that literacies come out of disciplinary contexts, social interaction and the ways of being related to the task at hand (Gee 2005, Street, 1995).  The boys developed their literacies not through the practice of independent skills but rather through the context of the authentic, engaging task.  They learned through trial and error and likely made some mistakes along the way: a map read incorrectly, a missing coordinate in the GPS, a misunderstanding of the cache owners instructions all would contribute to their experiences.  Regardless, there was no requirement to first be competent in GPS coordinates before heading outside.  The literacy was developed and strengthened in the act of engaging in the task.  Quite possibly some of these small errors and corrections along the way, lead to a deeper understanding of the literacy employed.  The literacies were developed through experience and measured through the boys ability to engage in the work of geocaching.

In Lau and Yuen’s (2014) study of ICT literacy in junior secondary students, the authors stress the importance of measuring this literacy in both students and teachers.  The authors explore the multiple existing ICT literacy measures and the need to develop a conclusive measure of ICT literacy in both students and teachers.  This measure contrasts with the idea of measuring literacy through engagement in authentic tasks.  The authors conclude that “ICT alone was not a catalyst for school wide improvements” (Venezky and Davis 2002).

As teachers, we might ask ourselves, how do  essential ICT skills and literacies impact our students’ learning?  Do these literacies need to be taught and evaluated explicitly using ICT scales prior to students engaging in authentic tasks?  It is possible that many of the competencies and literacies that we deem as valuable can be developed through the authentic work of the discipline, work that is worth whiling over (Jardine 2002).  These readings will once again focus my work on prototyping a curriculum of action that allows for students to develop and measure their multitude of literacies through engagement in work that is contextualized and placed in real-world experiences.

Gee, J.P.  (2005). An Introduction to Discourse analysis:  Theory and method (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Jardine, D. W. (2002). On the While of Things.  In P. Clifford, S. Friesen, D. W. Jardine, Back to the Basics of Teaching and Learning: Thinking the World Together. New York: Routledge.

Jewett, P. (2011). Multiple Literacies Gone Wild. Reading Teacher, 64(5), 341-344

Lau, W. & Yuen, A. (2014). Developing and validating of a perceived ICT literacy scale for junior secondary school students: Pedagogical and educational contributions. Computers & Education. 76, 1-9.

Venesky, R.L. & Davis, C. (2002). Quo vademus?  The transformation of schooling in a networked world.  

Zabala,J.S.(2005). Ready,SETT,go! Getting started with the SETT framework. Closing the Gap,23(6),1-3.

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What Grows Here?

dont-judge-each-day-by-the-harvest-you-reap-but-by-the-seeds-that-you-plant-22 (1)Blame it on the two feet of snow on the ground and the fact that it is May the 5th, but I have gardening on my brain.  Seeds are strewn across my table, potting soil is piling up in my garage, and my hands itch to dig in the dirt.  I want to get messy, scatter seeds, and watch, impatiently waiting for something new to grow.  I really want to tend my garden.  Sometimes people ask, why would I bother with a garden?  My backyard is the size of a postage stamp and there is barely enough space to kick a soccer ball around, let alone grow potatoes.  Gardening takes time, and hard work, and aren’t we busy enough?  Do we actually grow enough food to make it worth our efforts?  Those of us who garden know the answer is more than yes.  The work is challenging and the results are often unpredictable.  As we plant our seeds it is hard to determine if this variety and that soil will yield the best crop.  We read up to date science and apply our current best practice of gardening.   We bring this combination of knowledge and skill to our garden and hope and pray for the best.   When things fail, we adjust and redo.  When they thrive we record the winning combination to use again on future gardens.  It is more than worth the effort, as through the process we learn and grow ourselves.  Gardening  is not defined by the sum of it’s parts, it is defined by the iterate process.  It is through this process that we the gardener grow…not just our seeds.

Question, Research, Plan, Apply, Analyze, Evaluate, Repeat.

This is the same hope and aspiration we have for our curriculum development prototyping work.   We are often asked questions like: Why bother to contribute to this process?  What if anything in schools will really change?  Will the effort you put in produce?   When asked over and over why we would take up such challenging, unpredictable work the answer is because we grow through the work.  That is the intention. It is the same hope we have our students in our schools.  We develop curriculum prototypes just as we would garden.  Through an iterate process that is as important if not more than the finished product.  We plant seeds of thought, seeds of hope, seeds of inspiration and pray that our future students will reap the rewards.  When we notice students are no longer thriving, we will analyze, evaluate and once again begin the iterate planning process with an essential question:

“What grows here?”

Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp envisioned for Alberta Education a Curriculum Development Process that would allow for iteration to be applied to curriculum that is flexible, responsive, relevant, inclusive and engaging for all students.  It is a process that at its heart is about learning and growing.  Not just for students but for all of us in our community (garden) of learners (growers).

Curriculum Development Process

“So what grows here? In the end, I guess we do. And isn’t that why we garden in the first place?” -Lois E. Hole

When envision what a curriculum prototype could look like, my colleague Alison Van Rosendaal posed the question, “If the metaphor for our old curriculum was the industrial model or more specifically the conveyor belt, what is our new metaphor for curriculum?”  In our conversation, she shared the following video.  We found this to hold a lot of potential for creating a new metaphor.

Keep planting, keep sowing and never ever stop growing.








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Special Education at a Distance


– Excerpts from ADLC AISI Cycle 5 Project

When teachers traditionally think about supporting our most at risk learners, those with various learning needs such as learning disabilities (LD), English language learners (ELL) and First Nation, Metis and Inuit (FNMI) students, it is unlikely that we think about teaching them at a distance.  It is true that some of the best interventions and supports that schools have for students with special learning needs involve proximity to a caring adult.  Schools often focus on providing specific, one-to-one interventions designed to close the achievement gap and promote academic growth. The traditional correspondence method of distance education may have lacked support for some of our most at risk students.  Fortunately, times have changed for the better in distance delivery and in the best interests of all unique learners.

Over 90 years ago, Alberta Education entered into a service agreement with The Alberta Distance Learning Centre to serve the distance education needs of the students and teachers of Alberta. Over the years, this service agreement has taken on many forms. However, the mandate remains the same: to provide high quality learning resources and services to the students and teachers of Alberta.  This includes students with exceptional learning needs and learning disabilities.  ADLC registers students from urban, rural, and remote community schools from across the province in facilitated or independent learning programs. ADLC students may also be homeschooled. ADLC’s students are as diverse as Alberta’s populations with various learning needs including FNMI, ELL, Children in Care, and Learning Disabilities.  When thinking about distance education as a means to meet the needs of learning disabled students, it is important to examine four core factors: the universality of online course offerings; the ability to differentiate instruction; flexibility in time, pace and place; and online supports for skills remediation including specialized online courses.

Universally Designed Online Courses


Over the past ten years, many students accessing distance learning resources have made a shift from traditional print correspondence to online learning. As a result, the opportunities for creating universally designed, online learning resources increased. This became the mission of ADLC; to design courses and learning opportunities that are universal (providing access to all learners) and that engage students in authentic learning experiences. Many students have difficulty understanding concepts that are presented primarily in text and may benefit by online course materials that consider different learners, using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles. Visual and auditory supports implemented in the ADLC online courses aim to provide students with opportunities to learn using lesson materials incorporating audio, video, imagines and text-to-speech software. As well, an additional UDL strategy of providing students with options to express their understanding from various alternative assessments in a benchmark of all new ADLC courses.  By implementing UDL, instructional materials and processes ADLC courses and resources are designed to allow students with diverse needs to engage, interact, and learn from them (Abell, Jung, and Taylor, 2009).  The UDL learning principles frame ADLC course design by providing choice of alternative assessments and assistive technologies, such as video and text-to-speech software, in online courses for all learners. “The UDL perspective looks to create flexible instruction, engagement, and assessment options that reduce barriers at the outset of the learning process” (Messinger-Willman and Marino, 2010, p. 9).

Differentiation of Instruction

Differentiated instruction essentially is the understanding of the learning needs of our students and differentiating content and process to support those needs. To differentiate, teachers must be able to pick and choose from a myriad of tools to support student learning.   Alberta Distance Learning Centre resources provide classroom teachers with supports to meet the needs of their diverse learners. Teachers have the ability to make strategic choices as to how content will be delivered, what process students will come to understand and make sense of this content, and how the students will be required to show what they know (Tomlinson, 2003, 2005, 2012; Turville, 2008, Strickland, 2009).  Teachers can differentiate ADLC content and assessments that are already created to curriculum standards and with UDL principles in mind.  ADLC course content also contains assistive technology such as; engaging videos that have both captioning and transcripts, font can be easily changed and enlarged, audio and text-to-speech tools. Most importantly, the content and assessment can be self-paced to go as fast as students can but as slow as they must. This is the essence of differentiation. Teachers and students working with ADLC resources do not have to proceed in a lock step, group fashion. There are multiple entry points for students to receive the appropriate pacing and interventions required to promote learning.  ADLC course materials support differentiated instruction and personalized learning.


Flexibility in Time, Pace and Place

Many of our most at risk learners seek to be at a distance: at a distance from peers who may not accept their differences, at a distance from teachers who are overwhelmed by the demands of our classrooms, and at a distance from those very supports that schools work so diligently to provide.  Many students in distance education programs self-identify as having a learning disability.  As students become aware that the ways in which they learn may be different or unique to their peers, many students realize that they need flexibility in time, pace and place in order to effectively learn.  In our busy, full classrooms, providing this flexibility is difficult.  Students come to the Alberta Distance Learning Centre in order to meet their learning needs.  Whether it is to upgrade or accelerate, to access courses that are not offered by their community schools, or to allow for flexibility in schedules, ADLC provides students with the access they need.  Students who choose to take ADLC courses benefit from student-centred programs and customized instruction to meet their individual needs, where learning can happen at any time, at any place, and at any pace.


Skills Remediation

As the composition of our classrooms change, to become more and more diverse with students not only with unique learning needs but also with English language gaps, ADLC provides options for skill remediation at a student’s own pace.  Many of these tools can be used either inside or out outside of a normal day of instruction.  Alberta Distance Learning Centre provides options for teachers, parents and students to remediate these skills at a distance.  Programs like Imagine Learning (for English Language Learners) and Successmaker (for skill development in numeracy and literacy) provide remediation in a way that supports both teachers and learners.

Alberta Distance Learning Centre offers Imagine Learning, an interactive ELL resource designed to teach English and develop language and literacy skills using an engaging and effective online software program.  With Imagine Learning, students complete activities focusing on phonological awareness, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. This adaptive program provides over 2500 engaging activities.  Ongoing assessments are provided throughout the program and can be printed for parents in the student’s first language.  Strategic first language support is also available to students within the program, with an option of fourteen languages.

SuccessMaker® is another interactive tutorial software used in over 20,000 schools throughout Canada, USA, Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The program presents new skills and concepts in small chunks that help build student confidence. Consisting of sophisticated multimedia mathematics and reading courses delivered through an online management system, SuccessMaker®: enhances math skills, develops elementary math concepts, and increases reading skills.  With Successmaker, each student receives an individualized program monitored by a supervising teacher as well as monthly reports that outline progress and changes made to accommodate the needs of each student.


Implementing Universal Design for learning principles and strategies can make educational environments and materials naturally and seamlessly functional for learners with diverse needs by guiding the selection of flexible, usable, and accessible tools, materials, and surroundings, and the development of learner-centred collaborative and interactive curriculum (Curry, Cohen, and Lightbody, 2006). “By offering UDL-aligned instructional approaches and curriculum materials,… students might begin to show more interest and engage more fully with curriculum materials that are relevant and comprehensible given their own learning style, ability, and interests (Abell, Jung, and Taylor, 2009, p. 182). However, Edyburn (2010) asserts that to understand and meet the special instructional needs of all individuals, researchers and teachers must continue to “seek to understand the impact of various instructional designs on the success of diverse learners” (p. 36).  ADLC strives to determine and evaluate UDL instructional processes that increase student learning and performance through sustained engagement and development of expertise (Edyburn).


Abell, M., Jung, E., & Taylor, M. (2009). Students’ perceptions of classroom instructional

environments in the context of ‘Universal Design for Learning’. Learning Environments

Research, 14(2), 171-185. Retrieved March 23, 2012 from Eric Database.

Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities.(What Works? Research into

Practice: Research Monograph #16). The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario:

Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf .

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). Universal design for learning

guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from

http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/downloads .

Chen, M. (2009). Influence of grade level on perceptual learning style preferences and

language learning strategies of Taiwanese English as a foreign language learners.

Learning and Individual Difference, 19, 304-305. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from ERIC


Curry, C., Cohen, L., & Lightbody, N. (2006). Universal design for science learning. The

Science Teacher, 73(3), 32-37. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from ERIC database.


Abell, M., Jung, E., & Taylor, M. (2009). Students’ perceptions of classroom instructional

environments in the context of ‘Universal Design for Learning’. Learning Environments

Research, 14(2), 171-185. Retrieved March 23, 2012 from Eric Database.

Bennett, S. (2009). Including students with exceptionalities.(What Works? Research into

Practice: Research Monograph #16). The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario:

Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Bennett.pdf .

Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2011). Universal design for learning

guidelines version 2.0. Wakefield, MA: Author. Retrieved February 17, 2012 from

http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines/downloads .

Chen, M. (2009). Influence of grade level on perceptual learning style preferences and

language learning strategies of Taiwanese English as a foreign language learners.

Learning and Individual Difference, 19, 304-305. Retrieved March 8, 2012 from ERIC


Curry, C., Cohen, L., & Lightbody, N. (2006). Universal design for science learning. The

Science Teacher, 73(3), 32-37. Retrieved February 17, 2012, from ERIC database.

Toulouse, P. (2008). Integrating aboriginal teaching and values into the classroom.

(What Works? Research into Practice: Research Monograph #11). The Literacy and

Numeracy Secretariat, Ontario: Ministry of Education. Retrieved March 9, 2012 from

http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/Toulouse.pdf .

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It’s a small world


So this just happened.

In September, I wrote a blog post Ways of Knowing about a Ukrainian artist, Olena Kulchytska.  This artist, for reasons I cannot explain, moves me.  I feel like she grounds me, connects me to the exact place in the universe I need to be.  At the time I was deep into thinking and working on a potential prototype for the Curriculum Redesign for Alberta Education and had been spending time with the notion of Ways of Knowing as introduced to me by Jim Parsons and Larry Beauchamp.  I felt that the way in which I was was able to recognize and connect with the art of Olena Kulchytska was truly another way of knowing.  It was not memorization or recall, it was entirely instinctual.

Although I don’t find blogging easy, my connection to Olena Kulchytska was something I wanted to capture before the feeling was lost or muddled.  I’ll admit, I’m an emotional blogger.  I tend to only write when I have an emotional connection to a topic.  Olena Kulchytska is very emotional to me.  I believe there is a reason I found her work, a reason I am continually draw to her.  In that blog post, I discussed my cousin, Anna and her husband Andry Kuchabska who are both artists in the city of Lviv where I had spent my summer, and with whom I credit for my passion for art.

Months later, after the post had gone quiet and I had once again been stuck with writer’s block, I received a notification in my inbox that I had a new comment on my now stale blog post.  My first thought was, weird.  Who would have found this post now?  The answer was Marina Kushnir, an artist from New York.

Dear Laurel! My name is Marina, I was Anna’s and Andri’s college friend, and also Anna’s roommate in Lviv. I was looking for them for years (actually I found them briefly once, and then, unfortunately, lost again…) This time I tried to Google them and was soooo thrilled to find your story! Please give your aunt/sister my FB page link, and I hope never to lose her again!!! Thank you so much :)

After some digging, I confirmed that Marina was in fact my cousin Anna’s roommate and is living in New York as an artist.  Anna was thrilled and just as amazed as I that this old friend from another time and place could find her, via my blog.  It just goes to show that sometimes our instincts or our ways of knowing that something needs to be be written are for reasons we could never predict at the time.

My response to Marina was this:


What an amazing surprise it was to receive your comment on my blog. It never ceases to amaze me what a small world we live in. One can never guess which connection will lead to the next. I have spoken to Anna and she is thrilled to hear that you found this blog post and her. I will send her you contact information. I am happy to be able to help you reunite.

Are you living in America? We worry very much for all of our family in Ukraine and pray for democracy, freedom and prosperity for their people. A beautiful country with so much pain.

If you are ever in Calgary, AB Canada. Please contact me. Friends of Anna and Andri our friends of our. :)

I once again revel in the notion that once we are connected and tap into all the ways of knowing, it is truly amazing what a small world  we live in.  And I keep telling myself that these three things  matter:

Keep creating, keep sharing, keep connecting.



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Ways of Knowing

follow your instincts

While traveling in Ukraine over five years ago, I spent a great deal of time looking at art.  My aunt, Anna Kuchabska and her husband Andri are both artists, Anna a professor at a college in Lviv and Andri an art teacher for young students. Seeing art through their eyes has been a gift I will treasure all my life.  On one particular day we at lunch at an artists’ cafe, Dzyga, in the city centre surrounded by the old walls that protected the city from invasions over the centuries.  We finished eating and decided to step foot into a small art shop.  More of a junk shop than a formal gallery, art and antiques  strewn throughout the space, we wandered and explored each finding our own way through the store.  And then my eyes hit it painting above and I stopped.  I didn’t move, I didn’t speak.  Instead, the piece of art spoke to me.  It spoke as if we had spoken before, as if we knew each other.  Andri found me standing alone and came to see what I was seeing.  I couldn’t explain it but I was moved by the emotion of the piece and I had a tear in my eye.  He took one look at the painting, then at me, and smiled.  Yes, he said, she is beautiful.  It is Olena Kulchytska, a much celebrated Ukrainian folk artist.  Motioning his around the room he asked, how on earth did you find her in all of this?  I couldn’t explain how.  I just knew.  I left the shop without buying the painting that day.  And over the years I had long forgotten the name of the artist, but I never forgot the image of the mother and her baby and they way it made me feel.  Not ever.


I have been fortunate enough to have returned to Lviv, Ukraine two other times for both work and pleasure.  Each time I searched out the small shop near the cafe to see if I could find the painting.  Each time the shop was closed. This summer, I returned once again to the city I love with my family.   We ate lunch as we always do at the small artists’ cafe where my art shop no longer lives.  I smiled quietly at the boarded up door.  Then as we got up to leave, I  noticed another small junk shop across the way.  Curious, I motioned for my family to go ahead without me and I stepped inside.  It was tiny and crowded and full soviet memorabilia.  I looked around seeing war medals and weapons, not my kind of thing.  Then I looked up and a tiny painting caught my eye.  It was of a woman sweeping and I asked the man to take it down for me.  He told me that it was expensive as it was made by a famous artist. Having traveled to Ukraine many times, I know that tourists are often told these things and they are not always true.  I told the store owner in my broken Ukrainian that if the artist was so famous, please write the name down for me and I will check with my aunt who is an art professor.  I expected him to gaff at this request but he did not.  He simply wrote one word in Cyrillic on a tiny scrap of paper.  I couldn’t read it so I thanked him and walked away.  That night, I showed the paper to Andri who once again smiled and laughed.  You know who this is, yes?  No. I replied.  It is her, Olena Kulchytska.  The artist you loved many years ago when you visited.  I couldn’t believe it.  In all the art in Lviv and trust me there is a lot, I had found another tiny work by the artist I had once so loved.  This time, I bought the painting, and it now hangs in my office where I can see it everyday I work.  It reminds me that sometimes you just know something and that way of knowing is just as valid as any other.

Women's Work

Intuitive ways of knowing are where you know you know something, but you just cannot explain how. You feel it, in your heart, in your mind, your body.  The knowledge comes from your lived experience.  There is no evidence or explanation for your knowledge.  This way of knowing, and feeling the knowledge in your whole body is what we call intuition.

Intuition in education is viewed as a key element to discovery, problem solving and gaining understanding.

In the initial stages of inquiry, intuition can be considered  as a basic source of evidence to support a theory.

Intuition is the capacity for attaining direct knowledge or understanding without the intrusion of rational thought or logic.

Intuitive knowledge comes to the surface seamlessly when a person is confronted with a complex problem.

When used intelligently, intuition has the potential to enhance executive judgement and decision making.

(Parsons and Beauchamp)

Intuition as a way of knowing by feeling or embodying knowledge can be counter-intuitive to everything that we have been taught in schools.  In schools where evidence rules supreme, trusting our intuition as evidence is rarely if ever encouraged or rewarded.  Yet, most people can agree or attest to having similar experiences to the one I described above.  If we sometimes know that we just know something, why do we not encourage this way of knowing in our students?  As we begin the process of rewriting the Alberta Curriculum for all students in our province, we have the opportunity to embrace and celebrate the many, varied ways of knowing.  It is imperative that our curriculum developers do so.

In order to know what is true, one must have a complete understanding of what is considered to be knowledge, knowing and truth.


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