Amy Forbes, associate director of the Centennial Center for Leadership, and Associate Professor of Education Jim MaKinster have been awarded a New York Six Blending Learning Project grant to offer an educational leadership course simultaneously at Hobart and William Smith and St. Lawrence University using video conferencing technology and online collaboration tools. The course, which will be taught on both campuses for the first time in the spring of 2015, is currently being taught at HWS for the first time this semester. A grant from the HWS Center for Teaching and Learning has enabled MaKinster and Forbes to augment the nature of their course this spring in ways that then led them to apply for funding from the New York Six Liberal Arts Consortium.
This semester, 24 HWS students are participating in EDUC: 225, Contemporary Concepts in Educational Leadership, which is videotaped each class period. Four regional K-12 school teachers are taking the course as non-matriculated students; they are able to view the password-protected video of each class and interact with the HWS students using recorded video of themselves, video conferencing and, occasionally, in person visits to campus throughout the semester.
“Jim and I have a shared interest in developing leaders within educational environments so we were excited to co-teach a course that would allow college students to interact with teacher professionals,” explains Forbes. “The class environment has provided great real-world opportunities to discuss leadership, policy, ethics and the like. There is reciprocal learning going on for the students, teachers and us as instructors when we examine various leadership challenges in education together.”
The regional teachers are benefitting professionally by participating in the class, but are at the same time providing the HWS students with perspectives on course content that is grounded in the everyday opportunities and challenges they face. For example, for a class session in which the focus was ethical dilemmas, each teacher created a two-minute video explaining an ethical dilemma she faced – without revealing how it was resolved. The students viewed the videos and wrestled with the dilemma during in-class small group and whole class discussions.
“It turned to a great real-time policy discussion among the students, then teachers were able to watch the discussion when they logged in and watched the video later,” says MaKinster.
MaKinster and Forbes are happy with the experience they have had so far with this diverse blend of class participants, which comprises first-years to seniors, master’s students and the regional teachers. “The quality of the posts and thoughts in the online discussions have been very high and reflect real engagement on the part of the students, primarily in response to teachers sharing real-world issues and examples. Overall we feel that the incorporation of regional teachers into this class has provided our students with a much more authentic learning experience,” says MaKinster.
Roberta Palmiotto, a teacher at Union Springs Central School who is taking the course, believes the teachers have benefitted from taking the course with the HWS students as well. “I have had the opportunity to attend the class in person a few times because of school vacation days. Each time I visited I found the students to be very welcoming and extremely articulate. It is nice to see so many students excited about what the future holds and determined to be good educators.”
In presenting the course for the first time on a single campus, MaKinster and Forbes were looking to test what they refer to as its asynchronous model – offering the course live to the students in the room while the regional teachers experienced it at a later time. This semester has given them insight into how to effectively engage students at a distance – which will be valuable when they expand to St. Lawrence University next year.
“The challenge is that it’s a highly interactive class, with a lot of active learning and critical thinking,” explains Forbes. The challenge for MaKinster and Forbes will be to figure out how to employ active learning and critical thinking teaching strategies when working with students at a distance.
When the blended learning course is introduced next year, it will also use video conferencing technology and online collaboration tools – this time to connect HWS students in real-time with students sitting in a classroom at St. Lawrence University during the spring 2015 semester and at least one additional campus during the spring 2016 semester. The video-based version of the course will still be used for regional teachers and MaKinster notes they anticipate growing that pool of teachers, which currently includes individuals from Pulaski Senior High School, Hannibal High School and Beaver River High School, in addition to Union Springs Central School.
“This course is inviting me to reflect deeply on my chosen profession, while sharing enthusiasm (that I hope is contagious) with those who will educate others in diverse careers of their own making,” says Michelle Watkins, a teacher at Beaver River High School who is also taking the course. “It’s a joy and a privilege to journey with HWS students who are also taking this leadership course. Their insights, enthusiasm and dedication to making a difference give me great hope for our future.”