Category Archives: Distance Education

(re)Creating a virtual educator.

What will an online class look like with Mr. Petlak?  What will an online Biology class look like with Mr. Petlak? Are labs done in person? Do students gather their own supplies? What balance of instructional strategies maximizes distance learning? Is content more important than relationships?

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How do we replicate the left to be delivered like the right? – Computer Screen via FreeGreatPicture

If you don’t know me, relationships make my classroom work (I think). It’s my foundation for learning, but how do I make that happen online, through a screen? Historically, I would argue I entertain to engage, but I think there is the potential to get caught up in engagement and miss out on more content, is content the priority online?

Researching Online Learning

In my digging, I found an article detailing best practices which provides great reminders when planning for distance learning:

  1. Visibility – students may get caught up in text and forget the teacher is a presence in the digital classroom. Be sure to maintain visibility.
  2. Organization and Analysis – plan out course well in advance of offering it, provide timely feedback and be open to constructive criticism of your course.
  3. Compassionate – understanding the requirements of a teacher may actual be more personal than in a traditional classroom because some voiceless students may now have one.
  4. Leader-by-example – model proper behaviour and foster connections with students.

The same article then provides a list of strategies that are critical to online teaching:

“ Student Led Discussions  Students Find and Discuss Web Resources  Students Help Each Other Learn (Peer Assistance)  Students Grade Their Own Homework Assignments  Case Study Analysis”
Bill Pelz, (My) Three Principles of Online Pedagogy , 2008

“ Group problem-solving and collaborative tasks;  Problem-based learning;  Discussion;  Case-based strategies;  Simulations or role play;  Student-generated content;  Coaching or mentoring;  Guided learning;  Exploratory or discovery;  Lecturing or teacher-directed activities;  Modeling of the solution process; and  Socratic questioning.”

– “Best Practices in Online Teaching Strategies“, Hanover Research Council, 2009

How similar do the above sound to an Alec Couros and Katia Hildebrandt course?

My course

Upon reading plans of Adam and co., perhaps my plan here is a bit too detailed at this point, I normally share Aimee’s approach of crushing it all at once later on (I definitely overdid this post, so if you’ve stuck it out this long, congratulations). With this information in mind, what are my initial thoughts and rationale for an online course?

  • I am going to use Zoom to record videos and screen-share in the recorded videos for any sort of drawing I will draw on the touchscreen (I have a Samsung Galaxy Tab) and deliver the content asynchronously. Additional modules would place an emphasis on discussion.
  • I intend to use my website for students to follow along with content, post notes and presentations as well as class plan.
    My rationale behind this is to open up learning opportunities for any students interested. I have background in Office 365 and Google classroom but intend to make the work as available as possible for students, educators, and parents – Office 365 and Google classroom would require a student login. 
  • The audience will be grade twelve (ages sixteen to eighteen), and the students should have access to all content assuming they have a WiFi connection and a device to utilize it with.
  • Assessment will be completed using Socrativeformatively and summatively. Due to the asynchronous session, the Socrative will be made available for the week and close at the week’s conclusion so that outside learners may still observe content, but weekly work, attendance and accountability for in-class learners will therefore be mandatory.
  • Communication will be completed via email. Or via synchronous sessions when available.
  • Course content/learning objectives will be from the AP Biology© curriculum so that I can use it in my class!
  • Activities will include: brief video lecture for content (~3-5mins), hands-on activity to enhance understanding (~2-4 mins), and subsequent sharing of videos using an open Flipgrid discussion thread or typed discussion through commenting on the YouTube post, teacher access with mobile device should allow for consistent and quick response times.
    Potential concern: sharing video responses online and making this public, students may be susceptible to online risks/harassment. As such, they will be informed beforehand, however, use of Flipgrid seeks to eliminate ease of harassment through simply YouTube commenting. 
  • Students will require device-access (that has a camera) and a strong enough bandwidth for videos to be watched and shared (YouTube).
  • Subtitles will be provided in informative videos, allowing EAL students to observe spelling of terms. The asynchronous nature of the course will also allow students of different ability (technological or learning-wise), will be able to pause on important points. (Important points in the video will also be provided in the information location of the post so that students can go to specific learning points in the video.
  • The content will attempt to include different cultural perspectives in the context of the work. Ie. different explanations for natural phenomena beyond western science.

Closing Thoughts

Plans and reality may deviate slightly, but hopefully this delivering of course content will not only allow for a larger audience to become informed on the content, but also interact with the instructor and others through commenting and sharing. Links can be made available on the YouTube video shared, but also link to my webpage. Ideally, once background content is established, students can take this personalized learning and make it more personal, allowing it to grow form there in a direction of their choosing through inquiry and questions evolving from content discussion.

The ongoing question I intend to ask in the delivery/creation of this content is “am I happy with the decisions I’ve made”, and “are there times I can avoid making a video of myself or simply use open resources”? A great example of the type of video I would hope to create for the content delivery is included.


Thoughts, comments, critiques? Let me know!

– Logan Petlak

Closing the distance between distance education and myself.

Greetings fellow ECI 834 students. I look forward to learning with you over the course of the term!

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“Who am I?” via Giphy

Who am I?

I am Logan Petlak.

  • High school science educator (biology, health science, environmental science).
  • Football coach (and track coach).
  • Recreational hockey player.


    Foster kitten: “Jesse” (now adopted: “Lou”)

  • Physical activity addict (weight training, assorted sports)
  • Frequent co-foster parent of stray cats and kittens (with my beautiful partner, Kristin).
  • NFL/NHL fan.
  • Moose Jaw product and resident.
  • Lifelong learner and critical thinker.
  • Proud Central Collegiate, Moose Jaw teacher.
  • Avid gamer and supporter of gamification of learning.
  • Open education supporter.
  • Student advocate.
  • #EdTech enthusiast and;
  • Fledgling distance educator.

This course revolves around the final point! It’s not necessarily a fresh topic for me, I’ve discussed it before. How exactly can I bring the Mr. Petlak experience worldwide? Not for personal gain, but to simply aid in the learning of others? Better question, how do I best deliver online education and learning to others? Therein lies my goals for this course:

  1. Gain resources and tools to create a distance learning classroom. Then utilize tools to best replicate what it’s like to be in a face-to-face classroom with students (and for students, with me).
  2. Connect with other professionals who can provide examples, suggestions and support as I develop distance learning opportunities.
  3. Critique and analyze the learning inherent within distance education and what learning may be lost outside of a face-to-face or in-school setting.
  4. BONUS: begin developing content for my Biology course as part of our module assignment!


In our school, some students are already taking distance education courses. Through informal polling, it has received generally positive reviews! Perhaps it was a shift in thinking but I don’t remember them being offered as much when I was in high school and, in my only distance experience in university, I had a hard time getting engaged without the face-to-face piece…

Fast forward.

When picking where to apply for my Master’s, distance education/universities came up, but I assumed they would hold less validity or reverence than other institutions so I decided against it. Whether it was engagement or validity of distance education, I guess I should’ve watched this video first!

Opportunities for distance education are available for most subjects, at many levels, worldwide. How will I fit into the distance education world and can I provide something that others don’t, and will I stick to my open education-centered morality?

If you were a distance educator, would you capitalize on the potential financial gain associated with private education?

How will your distance classroom work?

Am I foolish to hope that I can almost completely replicate the classroom experience, or is being consistently connected (via email) and using apps/tools like Zoom, Remindvirtual reality, google docs or GAFE to include all of the Google apps I guess (thanks Kyle), and socrative not enough to make it happen completely and becomes a blended learning environment (just shy of a completely online course)?

How will I account for students who don’t have as much access? We know they will be affected negatively, can we supply devices at a distance?


Regardless, I intend to close the distance between where I am now, and where I want to be with distance and blended education.


Thoughts and comments are welcome!
Logan Petlak

Separated by distance, connected through a screen – online education.

My experience with distance education has been fairly minimal. This is my fourth online class as a graduate student and I took one as an undergrad way back in 2007…or 2006. Although the classes are online, I have never really consider them to be included as distance education. I guess that’s because I live in the same city that the courses are being offered, but just because I live in the same city the courses are being offered doesn’t mean they aren’t distance education courses. They are exactly that. Tony Bates describes what distance education looks like:

Students can study in their own time, at the place of their choice (home, work or learning centre), and without face-to-face contact with a teacher.

Photo Credit: MyTudut Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: MyTudut Flickr via Compfight cc

Obviously technology and the internet play a huge role in this process. I think it’s important to discuss the different ways that these courses can take place. Our courses are synchronous meaning that they happen at the same time for everyone. There is a specific time and place that we need to be online to participate in the class each week. Another way the course can be presented is asynchronously  in which participants work at their own pace completing modules or learning tasks by a specific date. And the last way a course can be offered is through a blended method. A blended classroom offers both online and face-to-face components.

There are advantages and disadvantages to all methods of learning online. I have found that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages by far. The biggest advantage for me has been the convenience of being able to work from home. Working as a teacher and having two toddlers at home makes this method ideal for me. I also appreciate the collaboration and network that is created within the class through the media we use. A disadvantage for me is that I find it harder to stay focused during class as well as be productive outside of class. This goes back to a previous post of mine discussing the internet and productivity. 

I don’t know that I would enjoy an asynchronous method because I feel like I need the ability to connect with others. Luke did a really good job discussing the importance of making the connections and establishing networks while we learn. This is something that we need to consider when we are looking at how courses are delivered. If I had to base the course offering method solely on how students are able to connect obviously I would put synchronous first, followed by blended and then asynchronous. However, this order would change depending on what factor we are looking at. For example, asynchronous might be best for those people who have busy schedule that would be better suited by the flexibility of the course.

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Janitors Flickr via Compfight cc

Like many of my classmates have already mentioned, zoom is a great tool to use for an online class. Stephanie talks about the user friendly aspect of zoom as well as the social aspect and I would have to agree that they are both positives in my mind as well. Since most of us in class are familiar with zoom I won’t go into too many details about the usefulness of the platform but I will take some time to talk about Google Hangouts because I was just introduced to it this weekend at an SBTA meeting. At our meeting we were trying to find a more user friendly way to collaborate and meet rather than having some people travel from 2+ hours away to have these monthly meetings. I had suggested Zoom because I am familiar with it and another teacher mentioned Google Hangouts (learn more here). Both tools can be used for free with certain restrictions on the free accounts.

Photo Credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Flickr via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Piyushgiri Revagar Flickr via Compfight cc

As Elizabeth mentioned in her blog, it’s great that we are trying to create more online learning opportunities through videos or online content, but we have to remember that adding a computer to stream content is not too different than us teaching the content at the front of the class. I strongly encourage you to read Audrey Watters take on online education. Audrey makes it very clear that providing content using the web doesn’t change how we are teaching it or the way students are learning the materials. The web allows us to do so much more than simply read, write and listen. We are able to connect and collaborate with others from great distances. We can choose what we learn and how we want to learn the material. We need to remember that many of the platforms we use online control a lot of what we do by using templates and algorithms creating these “template selves”.  Online education will not reach it’s full potential until we can break free from these templates and create our own information, our own learning experience and share our own thoughts.

Regardless of the learning method used online I feel very strongly that there needs to be a social and emotional connection between the learners as well as the teacher in the class. Zoom allows us to connect with each other in ways that we may not be able to in a face to face class. It allows communication to always be flowing through discussion in the chat and allows us to share resources using links. Having said all of this I haven’t taken a blended or asynchronous course before, have you? What did you find were the advantages and disadvantages? Do you feel that we need to have a social connection within our learning environment to learn? Can we have those same connections through a chat or email? Or does that make it more difficult? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Distance education: bringing the Mr. Petlak Classroom Experience Worldwide?

I have been travelling the #edtech world for several years, and here’s what I’ve seen:


All the tools presented and proposed in this class are actually a bit overwhelming! There are so many options and yet what feels like so little time to experience all of them. The clock is ticking as I consider how to deliver content in my AP Biology course synchronously as soon as next school year for Prairie South Schools (and SunWest doesn’t offer this, yet! I’ll be a hot commodity). In our meeting October 25th, Jade Ballek mentioned that SunWest even offer classes to international locations such as China… how do they receive funding for this? Do they receive a tuition from Chinese students (what is listed is $500 on the website)? Do they charge more to international students?

Can I use this?

A colleague/friend of mine, Jeff Boulton, mentioned the potential of offering distance education privately. At $500/student, could I offer a Biology course to 10 students for $5000? And could I even have this class programmed asynchronously so it basically funds me once I complete my initial prep work? And if it’s asynchronous, with automated marking programs, couldn’t I manage well over 10 students?

Money? Interesting.It is here that we reach our quandary. Do we sell our educating soul?

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Chappelle Swag via Giphy

I possess the ability to offer education to individuals worldwide and potentially receive money to do so. Should I? Would you? Based on my principles and beliefs related to open education and how learning should unfold, I should make my content and work free, which I have, but if I were to actively record instruction and create lessons to educate students worldwide, do I take a “small handout or reward”? Is it okay to?

It’s important to note that I believe that every individual deserves an education… so perhaps the solution lies in equity, with affordability to those who can’t and collection from those who can to promote my use and production values?

All these questions aside… can I even replicate the Logan Petlak Classroom Experience online? Is the educator I am on a screen the same as that face-to-face? I would argue probably no. Not without active discussion and interaction with students. That’s my favourite part of teaching, getting to work and talk with as well as read and respond to students… is that gone in the distance classroom – even with synchronous sessions (perhaps offered via Zoom)? And does this lend itself to more direct instruction? What about the socialization of being on campus and engaging with other students in the classroom? Many sources will tell you that a cons to distance education is a lack of “student to teacher face time” and “no social interaction”.


Digital citizenship: fostering a digital presence and creating a networked learning community. And from that networked learning community, perhaps presents opportunities to collaborate with professionals from around the world to invite to contribute to class sessions (Adam reminded me of this idea with Skype).

This stuff you’re teaching Alec is starting to take shape more and more, day by day!

What are your thoughts? Does distance education present an opportunity for us as educators to earn beyond our negotiated salary? Do we as educators have a moral obligation to simply provide instruction to all and do this in the most cost-effective way possible?

– Logan Petlak