In a recent blog post, titled “Let’s Not Romanticize 2019”, I found an interesting reflection shedding light on how the tenets of online education can positively impact face-to-face teaching practices and how the experience of the last two years can help us improve our connection and engagement with online learners.
This discussion reminded me of one I just had with a colleague, Paul Blackman, Director of the Barbados Language Centre at Barbados Community College, who is now joining BIDAcademy as a tutor for the course Online Teacher Training for the Caribbean starting May 12th. We are so glad to have Paul share his experience in distance education in the Caribbean with learners in the region.
You can find information about Paul Blackman by checking out his LinkedIn profile.
Stella Porto: Before we start, I wanted to share with our readers that Paul and I know each other for many years now. We were colleagues as part of the University of Maryland Global Campus masters in Distance Education.
Hello, Paul, and welcome! I wanted to start by asking you to share with us, what you have been doing in the online learning space over the past few years.
Paul Blackman: Thank you, Stella. I have been up to quite a bit but have been grounded principally in my desire to use technology to improve the ability of teachers to effectively deliver their courses and provide a rewarding learning experience for their students. This I have done at several levels. I have worked for several years as an English e-tutor for the Open Campus of the University of the West Indies. You are aware of my work as an adjunct with the MDE programme and then with the wider university at the University of Maryland University College UMUC (now University of Maryland Global Campus). I did several stints with the University of the West Indies – Curriculum Development Specialist – Open Campus, Educational Technologist Cave Hill Campus, Online Coordinator Shridath Ramphal Centre – Cave Hill Campus. I have served as a consultant on a major Caribbean project to build capacity in the area of Open and Distance Learning across the Caribbean working from Haiti in the north to Suriname in the south. I worked with a private sector training entity developing online courses for persons in the insurance industry across the Caribbean. I have now returned to the Barbados Community College to head up the Barbados Language Centre – a division of the Barbados Community College which uses technology “sensibly” to enhance the teaching-learning process in the acquisition of foreign language while providing support in the area of eLearning to the wider college and chair of the College’s eLearning committee. My most recent interest is the use of Free and Open Source (FOSS) software and Open Education Resources (OER) in education, forever cognizant of the need for developing countries to find cost-effective ways to deliver education.
SP: We have both experienced the effects of the pandemic in the world of distance learning. What has been your experience in the Caribbean during this period compared to the time before the pandemic? Has your work changed? And if so, how?
PB: For me, the pandemic has allowed me to use my skills to assist colleagues and institutions in Barbados in the area of online distance education even if there has been a disconnect in fully appreciating the difference between true online distance education and the remote learning exercise in which we all engaged in the last few years. I believe that I have been able to persuade most colleagues to appreciate what I refer to as the sensible use of technology and the application of good practices when teaching online, and the importance of training and professional development. There is still a lot of work to be done, however. At my institution, we have moved beyond seeing online learning as a “Paul Blackman thing” (I was something of a lone ranger – a term I have not heard in a while) and have become someone who most people will listen to and whose advice is sought out. Online learning is seen as a viable way of course delivery both by students, parents, and teachers even if there is a hankering for a return to in-person teaching. Online learning is not for everyone – both teachers and students.
SP: How do you see the role of professional development in online teacher training in the region?
PB: Professional development is critical. Teaching online can only be effective if persons are properly trained and seek continuously to upgrade their skills as technologies and the persons being taught evolve. Persons need to have a full appreciation of how technology can be used to enhance teaching and the effective use of that technology. From something as basic as understanding that a class delivered by video conference is absolutely not the same as delivering a class in person in the classroom or to the more complex yet very important role that asynchronous learning can play in teaching at a distance.
SP: Do you see many differences between the various English-speaking countries in the region regarding online learning? What are the major challenges and opportunities?
PB: A lot has to do with access to technology whether it is with regard to devices and to the internet and then to the training that is necessary to teach online. In a small country like Barbados where internet penetration is high, there are still large numbers who do not have access to the internet or to the necessary devices. As the territories become larger the problem increases exponentially. The opportunity exists for service providers to partner with schools and institutions to provide affordable internet service and reasonably priced devices and for those entities engaged in online learning to share resources to assist one another and, by extension, to assist their countries in understanding the role that online learning can play as far as the delivery of education is concerned.
SP: We are looking forward to having you as the faculty of our next edition of the Online Teacher Training for the Caribbean. What would be your recommendation for success to those interested in this professional development opportunity?
PB: Participate fully. Collaborate. Share. Do not hesitate to reach out for assistance. Use the opportunity not just to acquire knowledge but to establish contacts and build a community of practitioners with shared experiences on whom you can call for assistance or just moral support both during and after the class. I look forward to learning and sharing with participants.
SP: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us!
I hope you all have enjoyed this exchange as much as I have. The Online Teacher Training for the Caribbean course that starts soon can be an effective way for you to acquire the skills and competencies you feel you need to be an effective teacher in any virtual modality.
IDB is committed to helping the region with free online courses and Caribbean citizens can find a variety of opportunities by visiting BIDAcademy.