eCampus Ontario TESS 2022 Highlights + Thoughts

(Photo taken by Jahanzeb Ahmad November 16th 2022)

By Jahanzeb Ahmad

Rotman Digital had the pleasure of attending the eCampus Ontario’s Technology Education Showcase and Seminar (TESS) conference on November 15th and 16th, 2022. The two-day event was full of informative and insightful sessions featuring the achievements made via Virtual Learning Strategy funding over the past year. We had a fantastic opportunity to connect with other Ed-Tech professionals from across the province in person after so long. There were many great topics and sessions so it is difficult to cover everything, but here are a few highlights from the conference.

Keynote Address By Maria Crabtree

(Photo from eCampusOntario Twitter 2022)

In her keynote address, Maria Crabtree, Director of Strategic Foresight Projects at KnowledgeWorks discussed the future for liberating learners with technology. The one point that really stuck out to me from the keynote address was that we should all consider whose future we are discussing, and how decisions we make today about the education system can impact future generations of learners.

During the keynote Maria mentioned 5 key take-aways to consider:

1. The future starts with us. As educators, we have a responsibility to understand that we are at a crucial point in the design of teaching and learning and have the opportunity to make bold steps to shape the future.

2. We need to make decisions with the future in mind. Are the decisions we’re making now contributing the the future we want to see?

3. Consider the long-term and short-term possibilities: It is important to consider the short and long term consequences of a decision, some decisions may seem fine in the short term (like eating large amounts of ice cream) but may not be the best in the long term.

4. Keep an eye on the technological trends happening outside of education. Technological trends from outside of our institutions often make their way into the classroom – A.I.-generated writing is a good example.

5. While attending TESS sessions ask yourself, whose future are they presenting to me? Who benefits from this proposed future? As I previously mentioned, this is was one of the most profound points made in the keynote, whose future are we talking about? Are those on the margins included?

Overall, the keynote address was very insightful and had everyone thinking about the bigger picture when it comes to the future, and the people whose future we’re designing. This address set the tone for the rest of the conference.

Panel: Normal it wasn’t. What could it look like to have equitable access to education? Voices from the field.

(Photo from eCampusOntario Twitter 2022)

This panel was moderated by Jess Mitchell, Senor Manager of R&D from OCAD University. The panelists, Mark Campbell, Mindy Lee, Matthew R. Morris, Lorraine Randell, and Lyn Trudeau joined from various institutions across Ontario as experts in the field.

During the discussion the panelists notes that in the midst of the pandemic people were able to access education wherever they were. In many ways education became more accessible than ever before. In other ways, many learners were disadvantaged because they did not have adequate home learning environments or a quiet place to work.

One of the panelists, Professor Mark Campbell from UTSC, mentioned how he felt that it is important to humanize himself as an instructor. To help break down the barrier of authority that instructors hold he would open class by telling anecdotes or describing something personal. He finds that this puts students at ease and encourages participation in class.

The panel also discussed the uncertainty of the future of education. They suggested that the teaching and learning sector is in a period of transition and that we are still grappling with issues of accessibility and equity. They likened the sector to a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly.

Including Indigenous Learners in a Hybrid Future

(Photo from eCampusOntario Twitter 2022)

This panel was moderated by Audrey Rochette, Indigenous Relations Consultant and included panelists Jonathan Boyer-Nolan, Joshua Broad, and Danika Pearce. The panelists consisted entirely of Indigenous learners.

The panelists discussed various systemic issues that put indigenous learners at a disadvantage and suggested ways of addressing these issues. They emphasized the unique nature of indigenous learning and the challenges this brings in a Euro-centric context of teaching and learning. One thing the panelists all agreed on was that it’s not just about them being better included in education but also how institutions can avoid perpetuating systemic issues towards indigenous people in education.

There were a number of issues that the panelists discussed, for instance: living in remote areas with limited access to technology, having to care for family members, fighting against systemic issues within institutions, and being unaware of where to reach out for help. Panelist Jonathan Boyer-Nolan focused on systemic inequalities within large institutions. He mentioned restrictive administrative policies and the fact that campus-based offices that support indigenous students often have to seek out special permissions to circumvent these policies, rather than altering or eliminating them altogether.

Another panelists, Joshua Broad also made a point that instructors may find it effective to default to empathy for learners’ personal circumstances rather than reprimanding them for missing class, submitting assignments late, etc. Instead they should take some time and reach out to the student to see if there is any way they can help them. Another panelist, Danika Pearce also brought up a fantastic point, that often times students don’t actually care about learning in these environments – their primary focus is on grades. For instance, the regular process of cramming for a test, regurgitating the information, and then forgetting everything that’s been memorized is a byproduct of poor assessment design and does not evaluate authentic learning.

Overall, TESS 2022 was an eye-opening experience. I met many insightful educators who are interested in ways technology can improve teaching and learning. I have confidence that the future of educational technology is bright, and that the ideas we discussed at the conference will be developed and expanded upon in the coming years.