MET at UBC: Semester 1

In the middle of 2017 I decided that I wanted to return to the world of academia and continue with my Masters studies. Having fallen in love with the University of British Columbia when I visited Vancouver in 2016, I began scrolling through the programs that they had on offer and stumbled across one that truly resonated with where my current interests lay: A Masters in Educational Technologies. I decided that there was no harm in at least trying to apply but decided not to place too much hope or weight into the outcome of the application process, knowing that UBC was a world renowned and highly competitive institution. After hours of writing academic CVs, motivational and intentional essays and bugging old lecturers and employers to provide references on the online portal, the application was complete and had been send off and submitted. This occurred just as I was visiting Tibet and moving from China to Thailand so I sent it off into the ether and decided not to think about it too much again. A few weeks later, a miraculous email arrived in my inbox with a provisional offer and acceptance which I took a little too long to reply to and almost missed the deadline for January registration. A frantic visit to a couriering company just days before Christmas and a few emails going back and forth to the admissions department later, I was registered and ready to go with my first course via correspondence the day after it had officially begun. This was going to be a whole new approach to research for me, as the entire course was conducted online aside from a few summer courses that can be attended on campus if desired. I was Skyped in on the orientation day and was instantly impressed with the clarity and organization of the course and the associated education department. The lecturers and administrative staff were always contactable, the overview of the course, the deadlines and all the curriculum content was easy to find and engage with and so I got myself a notebook and a diary and settled down for this new adventure. 

I was enrolled in ETEC 510 The Design of Technology-Supported Learning Environments which examines “research and related exemplary participatory, networked media tools, as these inform the design of technology-mediated environments. We will explore constructivist and cultural theories of mind, education and digital authoring and communication and their significance for the design of dynamic pedagogical environments that support 21C modes of making, sharing, literacies and learning. Students will author and share digital artifacts and collaboratively design a technology-supported learning environment.” In more conversational terms, that means that this course dealt with literature and discussions around use of digital media, classrooms and curriculums and how we design learning spaces by creating and authoring weekly responses and digital artefacts. This began with making a short 2 minute introductory video in which we introduced ourselves and the work we had been doing within and outside of the MET program. Following this short biovid assignment, we were assigned out second project for this semester. This entailed making a stop motion video that we contributed to the MET Design Wiki. When scrolling through the topics available, my eyes settled on the Edutainment title and I grabbed it. Having worked in the film industry and being personally obsessed with Youtube educational content I couldn’t think of a more perfect space to contribute. With the helping and very patient hands of Desmond Bowles, I spent a great deal of hours setting up and then tediously photographing paper movement, frame by frame, to create the video you can see below. If you’d like, you can also check out and enjoy the MET Design Wiki platform and all the wealths of information it has to offer.

The ETEC 510 course has set a wonderful precedent to the rest of my degree in the MET program. The required work and assignment deadlines were fantastically organised on their online study platform and the curriculum content we would be required to engage was summarised and structured in a way that was so easy to understand. That made the transition into studies so much easier as it was clear and easy to know what was expected to me and how to do the work needing to be done. My concerns about not having enough motivation or discipline turned out to be completed unfounded and what was even better is that studying online also didn’t mean that there wasn’t a sense of community or conversation with other classmates. One of the course requirements for 510 was to do assigned readings and videos before submitting a key word response in the weekly forums. This built a really nice simulation of a lecture or classroom environment, in which all the participants would contribute their ideas, reflections and questions to which other classmates could comment and respond within a constructive and communicative online platform. The required videos we had to watch were also really relevant and engaging to the point that I ended up regularly sending them to my friends and family to watch and have discussions with as well. All in all, the content of this course was inspiring and so relevant to the conversations and design systems that are really needed in education and society today.

After working through the first 8 weeks of the course, doing my individual assignments and the weekly forum posts, our final design project was beginning to creep closer and closer. It was something I was a little unsure of as it was a group project. For anyone who has ever done group work, you know the challenges, and when you spread your group members across the globe and different time zones I imagined utter chaos and being left to do all the work whilst being sleep deprived and utterly miserable at 2am the day before the final submission deadline. Before it got anywhere close to this however, we needed to pitch some design ideas and put together our groups. I went onto the forum and pitched an idea of an online English second Language curriculum that could be used as a trial in a classroom and would encourage students to learn the language implicitly whilst working through projects and other study materials provided on the website. Much to my surprise, people began to comment on my design idea asking if they could work on the project with me. A week later, we had a team of 5 working together on my ESL curriculum idea. This began with co-writing a Design Proposal to submit. After endless Google chats, honing ideas and writing all over Google docs in different colours we had designed our project proposal and split up to write our designated sections of the proposal. Co-writing an academic piece of writing is quite the experience but everyone stuck to their deadlines and went above and beyond what we had decided to work on individually. Everyone sent me their individual pieces which I compiled into a single document for submission more than a day before the deadline. My hesitation around the idea of a group project began to slowly ease as I became more and more familiar with the other group members who were all exceptionally good at communication and planning and who all seemed dedicated and rearing to go on this project. About a week after our proposal submission our lecturer had looked over the proposal, offered some feedback and then gave us the green light to continue onto the production, as part of a collaborative group, of a technology-supported environment for learning English as a Second Language.

The second series of Google hangout chats, colour coded Google docs, meetings that somehow worked across the time zones spanning between Canada, the UK, South Africa and Taiwan (the locations of all our team members) and lots of questions and clarifications our design project began to take form. We didn’t have the whole picture yet but we had enough ground to get going on: we had decided on a 4 week trial curriculum, each week focusing on a different country from our team members. Each week would have a video and an associated set of activities that invited the children to hear the English language and then got them to interact with and use the language themselves whilst also working on the online platform to develop technical skills and literacy that all 21st century individuals are going to need. Two birds, one stone, right? That was certainly the idea! Kate went ahead and set up a free Wix website platform for us to build the website on and she and Neil dove right into web design and structuring. We “met” on Google hangouts a few more time to solidify our activity designs and structures to make sure that our curriculum was cohesive overall. Soon we had our entire curriculum designed and people began to split off into individual tasks and responsibilities that we delegated among ourselves. I offered to take charge of video design and editing to make sure that we provided high quality media that acted as the foundation to the rest of the curriculum and student work. The team agreed and each took to recording their own voice overs from scripts we’d written and confirmed, sending them to me to work with and create visual content for whilst they worked from the written scripts to design and build relevant activities. Slowly but steadily our ESL World Adventure began to take form, with the activities and videos being added to the website as they were created. Our Google chat was never silent, as the team constantly checked in with one another to confirm tasks and offer feedback and support to one another whilst we all did our individual work. In moments between video editing I joined Kathryn and Neil in working on the Curriculum Guide and Karen and Kate took the lead on building the activities and putting the content up on the website. It was a balanced group effort in which every individual not only pulled their weight in the workload but also contributed to expanding and perfecting the concepts, structures and content of the final curriculum. Our project was complete about 3 days before the deadline, leaving us ample time to scroll through the website with a fine tooth comb to clean up any errors or bugs before final submission. I also spent this time putting together a PDF version of a curriculum guide we would end up submitting as part of the project for the course before it finally all came to an end and we had all finished the project and submitted our many hours of hard work! I’m pretty proud to say that our lecturer contacted us about a week after submission with an email to say “Congratulations to you, Kate, Neil, Kathryn and Karen on a fantastic design project. Really exceptional work, and just a terrific tool to have. I haven’t finished going through the curriculum guide yet but will do that in the next day or two and get detailed feedback to all of you. I was just so impressed I had to email.  Great work” and has since emailed us to ask permission to use this project as an example to use in the course from here on it, which we all readily said she was welcome to do. You are welcome to check out our ESL World Adventure website and try it out for yourself!

This course has been such a fantastic taste of what is to come in the rest of this Masters program. I’m feeling inspired and ready to put my head down, read, write and work hard to learning and contributing new ideas that may change the way we do education and learning in the world. I hope to develop a holistic perspective on issues that impact the successful planning, development and delivery of e-learning, and possibly shift and expand the ideas of what we think of as education in the 21st century. In one of the videos I watched this last term it was stated (and I’m paraphrasing) that if you took a doctor from 200 years ago and put them in a hospital today they’d have no idea what to do, but if you took a teacher from 200 years ago and put them in a classroom today their job would be exactly the same. It seems crazy that in a world that has undergone so much transformation over the last 100 years, that our teaching and learning systems have remained largely the same. In an age of technology and the internet, there is a whole new paradigm of skills and techniques that need to be foregrounded. With the prominence of the internet, memorising facts is near redundant and we could be enriching our students with skills in critical thinking and creative problem solving instead. Self-teaching methods and the ability to navigate collaborative and coworking environments are also cornerstones of our contemporary society and economy but are not being considered as things to focus on in the classroom.The way we test and assess whether an individual has knowledge or not, in both children and adults, is also a far outdated system that often neglects researching ability or lateral thinking skills and could be entirely restructured. Even more nuanced aspects of this analysis can look at how media and advertising essentially function as forms of public education and how we can use these semiotic systems to the benefit of their viewers and the world around them. The opportunities are truly endless and I look forward to digging through the smorgasbord of research topics and ideas, looking at how to solve some challenges in education and the world at large and embracing my other passions such as conservation tactics and media creation along the way. Who knows where this goes next but it’s been a brilliant start to say the very lease.

An ESL World Adventure
Video Series by Jamie Ashton, Kate Quinn, Karen Wang,
Neil West & Kathryn Williams
(associated ESL activities and curriculum guide can be found on the ESL World Adventure website)