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Intersecting Pedagogical and Relational Use of Technology with Diverse Learners: Developing a Book Project

I taught English language arts, reading, and English as a Second language classes in a junior high for almost 10 years. In that time, I became really interested in how teachers decide not just what to teach, but what to teach with. Originally, the “what to teach with” was text. I was that teacher with 23 versions of Beowulf whose class was flooded with books to give to students. I read 10-12 books per month, looking for text that I could recommend to students and that I could use to plan lessons. My master’s degree was in teacher education with an emphasis in literacy and I loved classes where we talked about text — how to teach it, what texts to teach, teaching to the next texts, and the coups de gras: subtext!

While I earned my master’s degree, I continued to teach public school and also taught classes in the school of education. As part of this university work, I was invited to take on a section of multicultural education and teach it in a blended format. At first, I pretended to know what this was — nodding and shaking my head as the professor in charge of the course explained. We used a learning management system and “flipped” the class. As I worked through that first experience, I realized I was interested in more than just the materials, more than just the texts. In fact, I was interested in the entire range of programs, devices, and other technological affordances that I could use in this class. Further, I became interested in how my role changed — or did not. Traditionally, I was a university teacher in whom students confided about their personal lives and one who would help prospective teachers navigate programmatic bureaucracy. When I stopped seeing my students three times per week, I felt I was at risk of losing that connection to them and I searched for ways to use the technology to be both pedagogical and relational.

My final epiphany came as I worked with a prospective kindergarten teacher who had some computer coding skills and wanted to leverage them to design programs to help students learn certain aspects of reading. But he did not just want to design a computer program; he wanted to come up with a comprehensive way to fully and seamlessly integrate technologized learning into classrooms. I was amazed. Small children, even kindergarteners, should be able to learn and grow with an array of technological offerings supported by the Internet.

Soon after, I was off to graduate school at the University of Kansas. I became aware of the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities and met with then principal investigator Donald Deshler. I told him of my interests and aspirations, and he put me to work. As I finished my coursework and continued to work at the center, I grew in my understanding that attending to diverse students online called for substantial development of pedagogical practices. In addition, it elicited a deep appreciation for the work of educators at both the university and school levels as they grapple with making and keeping online teaching personal, not just personalized. It was with these understandings that I undertook the project Exploring Pedagogies for Diverse Learners Online.

K-12 online learning is a rapidly growing area of research. As is the case in all areas of education, attending to diversity is of particular importance. However, in online learning, the call to provide an equitable educational experience is even more pressing since the promise of the Internet in general was to provide a socially-just way of delivering information in a rapidly expanding global economy. The book evolved as a collection of reports on original research projects and interrogations of online learning and diversity discourse. The primary purpose of the volume was to bring together emerging scholarship—both national and international — that spoke specifically to K-12 online learning for diverse students, rather than extrapolating from higher education as is often done due to the newness of K-12 online learning; the secondary purpose was to engage in discussion about K-12 online learning research as it relates specifically to pedagogy — the contextualized, nuanced, interactions between teachers and students as they participate together in the work of online education.

My own work with students with a variety of learning preferences and strengths guided me as I selected and considered the work of others as chapters for this book. I wanted an author to theorize technological use in learning settings; I wanted a scholar to give a fine-grained account of learners as they worked on a specific project, and I wanted someone to write about the teacher collaboration necessary to serve students with special needs. These projects formed section one of the book. I also wanted to find scholars who were investigating learner support, and I was able to find several looking at parent engagement and credit recovery. These formed the basis of the second section of the book. Finally, I wanted to start conversations about teacher thinking involved in online practice. I heard an interesting presentation about online learning as eco-stewardship and asked the author to write a chapter. I had a former student who was interested in learning theories and how they applied to online learning, and I requested a chapter. Finally, I wanted to talk about my work with teachers of students with disabilities — their sacred stories of these young people they felt incredible stewardship for as they made accommodations — but whom they would never meet. In short, I sought a compilation of theoretical and empirical work that spanned a variety of frameworks and looked at online learning’s promise for rejuvenation and re-imagination, while also acknowledging that teaching and learning online for diverse populations is difficult work.

As a result of publishing this book, I developed a deep appreciation for the scholars who are conducting research in online learning in K-12 settings. Each context is different — even more different than each traditional classroom setting. The data sources are many, but assembling that data into information can be daunting. Finally, there is a general lack of awareness that K-12 online learning has undergone such a rapid and complex transformation in the last 10 years. Nevertheless, as the scholars in this book and others persist in delving into the complexities of this work, children completing coursework in these settings will be better served and teachers who care about and support these children will be better supported.

About the Author

Mary F. Rice is a research associate at the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities at the University of Kansas. As a secondary teacher, she taught grades 7-9 primarily for 10 years, specializing in English language arts, English as a second language, and developmental reading. Her scholarship focuses on teacher identities and shared curriculum-making with technologies between teachers and students. Mary is the author Exploring Pedagogies for Diverse Learners Online (Vol. 25 in Advances in Research on Teaching), published by Emerald Press.

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