Teaching Without Walls - How to Become a 21st Century Teacher

By: Verena Roberts

I stared at the laptop in front of me and looked into the eyes of my new Vice-Principal who said, “This is your desk”. I did not know how to admit that I didn’t even know how to turn the computer on. It wasn’t like the ones I was “used to”. This is quick the story about how anyone can become a 21st century teacher.

My technology career began as the k-3 part-time online teacher for @KOOL - Kamloops Open and Online Learning based out of Kamloops, BC Canada. I had applied for any part -time positions in the hopes of creating a balance of work and family. I had recently completed an online based Masters Degree in Leadership and Training, and I had the qualifications for the job.  The first step is accepting that you are on a difficult journey. Learning something new is never easy and in Educational technology, you learn something new everyday. Like in any journey, you need perseverance to overcome challenges. It is really difficult and frustrating at times, and you need to know that there will be ups and downs, but you have to keep going.

Step 2 to learning and teaching online is to ask questions and search for an answer yourself. I asked my Vice-principal to help me “set-up” and I began my lists of questions about what it would mean work online. Leave your ego at the door. Technology is a humbling experience and you are not going to learn if you do not accept that you don’t know everything already.

In that first year, I learned how to “relearn”. Step 3 is accepting that they way “we” learned as kids, is not the way we will teach our students. I tried to scan my resources that I had used as a bricks and mortar teacher to create documents online for my students. I asked them to print off the copies and then come in and visit me weekly with the written work.  I quickly learned that “f2f” content is not the way to engage. In fact they could find better and more interesting worksheets on the Internet already. As an online teacher, I had to figure out how to engage, encourage and motivate students using technology as a tool. I had to become a facilitator to guide the students in their personalized learning, not push worksheets. I also had t learn how to “meet” virtually, using skype and consistently facilitate their learning by offering my time and developing a learning relationship.

I took a course through RRU on “Teaching” Online learners to learn about different ways that I could teach/facilitate online. This was my first introduction to wikis and some basic Web 2.0 tools. As a Teacher On Call with @KOOL, I was able to see how different teachers offered their courses, the importance of building a learning community and giving timely feedback. Step 3 is ensuring you develop learning relationships with your students. This includes building trust by creating Digital Forum Cafes, defining Digital Citizenship, setting clear expectations and guidelines and demonstrating respectful behaviour to your students. Offer synchronous and asynchronous times to meet and opportunities to ask for clarification. Use your LMS (Learning Management System) to create a positive learning environment for your students where they feel safe and ready to learn.

After taking an online course, Technology Conferences offered me the opportunities to learn more about what people are really thinking. Step 4 is use problem solving skills to get what you need. I went to every conference sponsored by my school district. Then I looked for grants and volunteered to ensure that the “Digital Divide” did not influence my learning. I also turned  online to learn. My first step was completing a “Web 2.0 Tools for Teachers” Checklist. This encouraged me to try out new ideas in my own time and my own space. I started searching the Internet for  interesting blogs and research. I started thinking about who I wanted to connect with and why.  Step 5 is try and surround yourself with like minded-people. When you are learning how to teach differently you need to be around positive people with great ideas. Conferences offer you the face to face stimulation and the Internet offers other ways to connect with like-minded people.

Since I was not offered a contract with my school district, I volunteered as a technology parent at my children’s school.  Step 6 is look for opportunities where there is need. With teachers- I created classroom blogs (some still in use today), assembly presentations and SMARTboard units. I also presented at a local university teacher training program on how to integrate technology into a classroom. What I learned was that teachers have two attitudes about technology: the “why technology should not be used” in a classroom teachers or those teachers that see a bigger picture and try to get there in their own way . After supporting too many “why technology should not be used” teachers, who had a variety of different rationale, I knew that I wanted more educational opportunity for my children. After dealing with technological frustration firsthand, I decided to complete a second Masters, this time in Educational Technology, online, through UBC. I thought that by going back to school, I would be able to more effectively meet the needs of my students when I was able to get a job in the classroom again.

At this point I had moved from Kamloops and left saying, “If you ever have a job for me where I can work from home - give me a shout!” Just over a year ago, I received a phone call from my former principal to come and help him create a new way to “do” online learning. Dean Coder and Dr. Terry Sullivan from SD73 Kamloops/Thompson had been granted permission by the Ministry of Education in British Columbia to develop a business company that could offer accredited online courses to international students. I joined the team to help with administration. I am now the CEO- Chief Education Officer of www.GlobalEd.ca and I am a 21st Century Teacher. Step 7 is to be fearless and follow the path that is less travelled. In the last year, Dean and I have created a “new” vision in online learning. Based on an teaching model, created by Corrie Macdonald, we have brought together a wide variety of online learning resources to create a cutting edge program that meets and exceeds anything that I have ever taught  in any classroom. We follow the principles that there are no walls to learning and that we learn with integrity..

Step 8 is to share what you are learned. Collaborative learning leads to bigger and better ideas.

  1. How to Become a 21st Century Teacher:

Step 1: Accepting that you are on a Difficult Journey - It’s not going to be easy!

Step 2: Ask questions and search for an answer yourself. Leave your ego at the door.

Step 3: Develop learning relationships with your students

Step 4: Use problem solving skills to get what you need.

Step 5:  Surround yourself with like minded-people

Step 6: Look for opportunities where there is a need.

Step 7: Follow the path less travelled

Step 8: Share what you have learned

Based on all the steps to learning using technology we have created our own - Blended model which I would like to share. These are the primary differences between a “Traditional Online Learning” Environment (TOL) and what we call “Technology Assisted Learning” Environment (TAL) which can be used in an “online” or bricks and classrooms as a Blended Learning Environment.


Traditional Online Learning


Technology Assisted  Blended Learning:

Content Based

Limited Teacher Communication

Traditional Learning


Flipped Classroom

Creation of Online Community

Project  and Inquiry Based Learning

Constructivist Learning

Extensive Teacher Communication


A  GlobalEd.ca “course” could be facilitated in the following way:

  1. We train our  BC Certified teachers in a “GlobalEd” teacher training course facilitated by Dr.Betty Boult PhD and created in collaboration with our teachers. We also encourage our teachers to learn by participating and “experiencing” the learning themselves like moderating for the Classroom 2.0 Conference  We teach like we want the students to learn.
  2. The students are registered in groups of synchronized cohorts with clear beginning and end dates.
  3. We train and meet  with the “Home School- Teaching Assistants” to ensure that the program is clarified.
  4. The course is created in Moodle using Open Source software to ensure that the teacher can edit according to student and course needs.
  5. The Course focuses on the development of on positive online environment  where we all learn from each others(includes forums and “Digital Cafes)
  6. Teachers and students are encouraged to communicate using Moodle communication tools and/or www.Edmodo.com. Students, parents, teachers and administrators are all members of the Moodle and/orEdmodo online communication system to ensure that all assignments, announcements and activities are clearly outlined.
  7. The course is designed using Problem Based Activities building on constructivist theories. The activities are designed to use Web 2.0 tools to complete the activity (usually one web 2.0 tool a week) in order to ensure that the students receive a blend of course topic and technology skills. The BC curriculum expectations are met and exceeded.
  8. The teachers create weekly videos to provide direction and content that are embedded into the course or on www.Edmodo.com . We attempt to follow the recent “Flipped Learning” phenomenon by offering the content of the course at the beginning of each week.
  9. The teachers “meet” with the students in small groups using Elluminate videoconferencing Tools to engage in face to face interactive activities with the teacher.
  10. The teachers respond to e-mails, or encourage “FAQ” forums to ensure that all questions are answered in a timely manner.
  11. The teacher ensures two day  feedback to ensure student motivation and satisfaction.
  12. Students are encouraged to “reflect” upon their learning in e-portfolios and blogs embedded into their courses. The e-portfolios can be taken with them at the end of the course.

After spending the last year forging ahead on the “new” version of online learning - I would say the final step to learning how to become a 21st teacher, is to collaborate, build relationships, be open and forthcoming about your ideas and teach with integrity. I have been honoured to speak with people around the world about Educational Technology and this model would never have been created without the time and energy of a huge Global Village. Learning and Teaching today is not about “closing the door” to your classroom, it is about opening the doors and teaching without walls. I look forward to learning from you.

People who contributed to this development of this model and I would like to thank, include:

Jay, Mackenzie, Carson and Paxton Roberts

Dean Coder

Terry Sullivan

Gloria Viaud

Corrie Macdonald

Betty Boult

Tracy Poelzer

Sunddip Panesar

Shannon Poulsen

Jamie Wright

Alan November

C. Ryan Hoskins

Bev Hoskins

Chris Hoskins

Major influences:

www.GlobalEd.ca Teachers


Nik Peachy