Intro to Blended Learning…Again

This summer is my second exploring Blended Learning and I’m beginning it with a course entitled, “Introduction to Blended Learning” which is offered by the Global Online Academy.  The GOA is a consortium of independent high schools around the world which offers high level online courses taught by and on par with courses taught in the more face to face arenas of its member schools.  I was fascinated by the model when I encountered it at iNACOL last fall, and am taking this course in part because it is a prerequisite to becoming an instructor there.

I feared that this class would be rather redundant for me.  After all, I have been exploring “blendedness” for a year now, and I didn’t really think I needed an Introduction.  However, already my first 24 hours have been enlightening and have prompted me to write this blog post to share what I’ve learned!

First, I am thrilled that GOA uses Canvas.  This is not only a Learning Management System (LMS) that I know well and use daily during the school year, but also one that I know has huge amounts of untapped potential at St. Mark’s.  GOA uses modules in a cool way, as students are expected to interface with those almost exclusively.  In each module students seamlessly go from the Discussion boards to YouTube videos to a Canvas wiki page just by clicking the Next button.  This allows for a very clear layout of the various tasks involved in a single night’s assignment.  I have also enjoyed seeing how certain tools (even ones I use all the time, like Google Spreadsheets) can be used within Canvas (as opposed to being linked from Canvas).  I have done some exploration of this with Voicethread before and really liked it.  The more students are forced to leave the LMS site, the more distracted they could become from the module’s path.

Second, I have already gotten some great new ideas about a classic advantage of blended classrooms — better use of class time — and a keystone blended activity: classroom stations.  One thing I almost always do after a summative assessment is write up a list of the most common foibles (e.g. “there seems to be confusion between the words secession and cession”, “let’s all go over question 3 together, since 55% of you missed this one”, or “shall we review the key elements of successful POV analysis?”) and address them with the whole class.  This generally takes up 15 minutes.  What if I put that online instead?  In a short video or Voicethread, I could walk students through the test questions they missed while also showing them where they could find that information in our course materials (on Canvas).  I could create a library of videos reviewing commonly troublesome concepts or skills (thesis writing, POV analysis, etc.) and refer students to these as needed.  That way, if Tommy, Anna, and John are watching the Thesis writing video during class, I can be meeting one on one with Sally about her more particular questions on the test, and the students who aced the assessment can move on to the next step in the module.  Other things that can be put on videos on Canvas to free up class time include housekeeping stuff like going over the first day sheet, which not only frees up class time but also allows students to reference it throughout the year.  If it’s on Voicethread, they can do Q&A with you about the first day sheet in a more thoughtful manner (because they have time to think!).  I am thinking too about how our administration at SM could blend faculty meetings more.  Could it be helpful for everyone if some information was delivered online via video or presentation so that in the actual face-to-face meetings we could discuss and collaborate rather than sit passively receiving information?  Further, critical info would be permanently available online for reference rather than drawn from memory only.

Third, the course has introduced to me a new technology evaluation model called SAMR (Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition).  It has encouraged me to look at the technologies I use, and those I could use, in terms of how they are changing my classroom.  What I think we’re doing in the course today is actually doing the reverse as well — looking at a classroom activity (in my example below, essay writing) and exploring how technology can S, A, M, or R the activity:

If I have a student write their essay on Word instead of paper, I’m substituting a technological tool for a more traditional one.  If I have them use Google Docs, which saves automatically and lives on the Cloud to be shared with me easily, then the technology is augmenting what we currently do.  If I visit that Google Doc during the assignment process and comment on the draft, and the student responds to that feedback, then I have now used technology to modify the assignment parameters and improve student experience/student learning.  Finally, if I use Google Docs to have students answer an essay question as a group, peer editing and collaborating on their answer to form a more complete understanding for all of the students involved, I have redefined the task for better learning in a way that would not have been possible before the technology.  My assignment for this week is to consider what I do in my class now and how I can redefine certain areas with technology.  I’m excited!!

For those still looking for a good definition of Blended, here are some resources from my GOA course:

Introduction to Blended Learning (video by NAIS)

What is Blended Learning?  (video)

Blended Learning  by Common Craft (video)

Daphne Koller: What we’re learning from online education (TED Talk)

Heather Staker: Disruptive Innovation and Online and Blended Learning  (video)

Need a job? Invent it!  by Thomas L. Friedman (article)

The Case for Online Education (article)

Online Independent Schools: Defining a New Generation of Excellence  (article)


Blended: a Lifestyle Change

The Sloan workshop I attended online this summer was less helpful than I had hoped (mostly because I was already very familiar with Backwards Design), but I definitely had a few key takeaways:
1) Putting learning online allows students to access it at anytime from anywhere. That means reviewing content before tests, practicing skills not yet mastered, and/or exploring extension activities for students operating at a faster pace than others.
2) Homework assignments that are textbook readings after textbook readings, and course assessments that are unit tests after unit tests after in-class essays, are really boring. The internet and computer technology offer so many innovative and interactive tools that are far more effective and engaging than the “Old School” style — why not make the most of them?!
3) We have a great tool here at St. Mark’s to facilitate Blended classrooms — Canvas. I really need to spend more time figuring out how to maximize its potential for my courses. In particular, I would like to work more with modules and with grading through Speed Grader (so that students and I can always reference past graded work and my feedback). The other cool thing that I have not looked into at all yet is the “outcome mastery” feature. I would love to be able to show my students that they are making progress towards mastery of the key skills of history, and to demonstrate to them which assignments are specifically geared toward teaching them each skill.

Obviously (thankfully!) there are still 4 weeks left before classes start up again, but I already feel like my summer has been very rejuvenating and inspiring. I have been reminded to focus on learning outcomes (both content- and skill-based), and have been prompted to go outside of the box in helping students reach them. I also am newly committed to being transparent with my students about these goals and my path to help them reach them.

Legos and Technology – Learning out loud

Heather and I attended two sessions at the November Learning annual conference last Monday and Tuesday (July 14th and 15th.)  The first “Making Students Think Visible” focused primarily on using apps and other tech tools to get students thinking and talking about what they see.  The second “Teach less, learn more” started to be about learning while doing, but devolved into a discussion that wasn’t terribly focused.  That said, I had takeaways from both…

The Lego exercises (from Day 2) are ones I’ve done before in different forms – we were asked to follow specific instructions in a group of three first to make a Lego duck, then to make a “boat” that could float and hold pennies.  Throughout the exercises we mixed up our groups and had to explain and reassess the situation with our new colleagues.  We were also encouraged (as you all saw) to share this work with the world beyond our classroom.  I like this idea but I wish we had followed up on how to best use email, text, Twitter, Facebook to share work and seek feedback.  None of this was groundbreaking but it was a good reminder about the value in talking and explaining, switching groups, and hearing other points of view.  The learn-by-doing factor was high and it should be relatively easy to tailor this kind of activity to our various subject matters.  While it wasn’t specifically related to blended learning, it was student-focused and could be easily recreated making videos or other recordings.

The discussion that followed the Lego exercises took a variety of turns and in the end, the most valuable resource we found was Challenge Based Learning, which puts the Lego duck example into a bigger scale. (CBL – Take action and make a difference)

I’m working backwards here… so going back to Day 1.  The first workshop was primarily student (participant) centered and we were asked several times to contribute and image, video or voice recording to a group project.  (We used the app Phonto to take and annotate photos and we used various voice/video recording devices as well.)  The facilitator then collated the contributions into various programs (Keynote, Audacity…) and we discussed each other’s work.  While I could have done without some of his flashy tech tricks (he was very tech savvy and enjoyed showing off) – a lot of the ideas could be feasible and useful in our classes.  Heather pointed out that the first exercise we did was essentially PechaKucha – 20 slides x 20 seconds.  This would actually be great in French class.

The biggest nugget of advice I took away from the first day was that we need to focus on the ratio of thinking time to technology time.  Thinking, talking, design time should be much much greater than time spent with technology.  This speaks to my interest in sticking with a limited number of flashy apps/programs so that the kids have less to master and can focus more on content.  I am hoping to use some of these ideas for illustration of vocabulary and then to promote risk-free (or limited-risk) small group discussion in response to various prompts.

I am traveling this week but look forward to getting back to my classroom and applying ideas to the content I’ve been researching.  I have planned out the year in terms of units/timing and will focus on developing the particular assessment (both formative and summative) for the first two units, roughly 9 weeks of school.

Online vs. Blended Learning – Are they really that different?

Increasing curricular demands and a desire to provide meaningful and engaging instruction for my students have pressed me to review and revise both my teaching style and my teaching methods.  When I attended the Hybrid Learning Consortium Symposium in Kansas City, MO, I was ready to learn new strategies and content for blending my literature classes.   Clearly, blended learning is the new frontier and I was ready to face it.  What I was less ready for, however, was discovering that an online class was definitely in my future.  Of all the classes I teach, Literature on Trial – a public speaking intensive exploration of the intersection between law and literature – was the last class I could imagine as an online course.

It’s important that we take a quick detour and define a few terms to ensure we are all talking about the same things:

  • Asynchronous learning – typically it is considered to be anytime, anywhere, online instruction primarily used in the non-academic world. The courses are completely self-contained and non-linear in nature, meaning you can jump around rather than following a set path. In addition, asynchronous learning can be tailored to the student and relies heavily on online quizzes and assessments to track progress.
  • Synchronous learning – typically thought of as “live” learning or face-to-face (F2F) learning. Where the student is the center of asynchronous learning, everything in synchronous revolves around the teacher.  Classes are linear in nature and require that all the learners progress together. Engagement and dialog can be as important as the assessments when in a classroom.

Blended learning – Yep…both. It’s a hybrid. The Prius of learning and instruction.

At the HLC Symposium, however, I quickly discovered that using the word “online,” does not mean the entire class occurs only in front of a computer screen.  In fact, many online classes require students to engage in active learning or various other techniques that do not involve the computer – except maybe to document the work they’ve done or for class communications. The idea that an online course eliminates F2F interactions is misplaced – unless a teacher specifically designs it to avoid all interaction. F2F interaction can absolutely be required and in fact is encouraged.  Taking linear F2F materials and simply offering them online is not true asynchronous learning because students learn differently. More importantly, students need different things in order to learn.  Asynchronous learning is great … for some.  Some students, however, learn best with a live teacher and the engagement of a classroom of students. Some students love the independence and personalized training that online learning provides. Some don’t have the self-discipline or integrity to make online-learning a viable option.

Leaving the HLC Symposium, it was impressed upon me that an online class would allow me to leverage the pros of both methods and would provide the flexibility in what I offer, allowing the engagement, practice, and real-world experiences that F2F offers while also enabling development plans to be tailored to students.  Thus, affirming that an online course really is a hybrid of synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning.  I also understood that calling my class a “public speaking course” was something of a misnomer given that students only speak in front of 12 other students and myself – meaning there isn’t much “public” to speak of.  In an eye toward blending my classes, I certainly plan to “flip” my classes, having my students record and post their speeches online (more on that later) for comment and review, however, I learned from several online instructors, that through an “online class” there are actual means of having my students speak in front of a live audience online.

YouTube and other sites that allow anyone to communicate with the public are the norm, not the exception. Being able to communicate and effectively present oneself through electronic media is an extremely important skill for future success. With this, an entirely new audience is provided to students when they record their speeches and post them online. This creates an interactive audience (private or public depending upon the setting) that can leave comments and suggestions, which is not restricted to being in the same room at the same time as the speaker. Does a student have extra incentive to do well knowing that teachers, peers, and possibly a future employer might see this speech – or are they more motivated by their 12 classmates in the classroom?

Even better than just recording a speech and posting it online, I discovered several live broadcast tools like,, and  There is even a Facebook app for Ustream.  Most of these tools are free and they allow for a live broadcast that can be recorded for future viewing and critique; they also have the pulse-racing feature of going live to an unknown audience.

Comparing this experience with the “classroom speech” raises the following question: why don’t all public speaking classes (regardless of delivery method) have this as a requirement?

The number one online vs. blended take-away from my experience at the HLC Symposium is that, in the end, teachers are the key in either world.  Just throwing material “online” won’t do.  Courses are only as good as the teachers, and teachers who are not engaged, active, and committed to the training will lead to failure. For most, true learning requires some practice, context, and real-world experience, something only teachers are best equipped to provide.  It is the well-trained teacher who facilitates social learning, experiential training, and group work. Understanding that students need different things in order to learn, and that they still need engaged, passionate teachers is still key, regardless of whether the class is online or in the classroom.

Turning my in-class Literature on Trial public speaking course into not just a blended but also an online class may very well be a game changer.  Either way, a Prius isn’t so bad if your goal is to get from point A to B as effectively and efficiently as possible.



Saving Time?

I am working through a blended unit plan right now as part of my Sloan Consortium “Blended Mastery” online course.  I am coming up with some cool ideas for how to use Canvas and Google Docs as well as videos of lectures to accomplish goals I used to accomplish only face-to-face.  However, I was initially drawn to this research and our Patterson grant group because I wanted to see how blended learning could help me transition from 4 nights of HW a week to 3, from 4 class meetings to three.  I wanted to know if this could save me time.

What I’ve realized, however, is that most of the online assessments (both formative and summative) would be completed by students outside of class, i.e. in homework time. And that (HW time) is what is being slashed with the new 5-day week.  Our face-to-face (F2F) time is pretty much the same (though some color blocks are losing 10 minutes a week).

I see the great value in moving things around.  For example, moving in-class lectures to out-of-class videos will condense required content to the essentials (more efficient) and will allow students to reference and review that content at any time from Canvas.  It also frees up class time for more interactive experiences.  However, in making that switch, I must be aware of potential negative consequences.  This past year, I was having students read content in a textbook, then we’d do an interactive lecture in class to go over key points.  That had the benefits of A) forcing students to first try and pick out the points of greatest significance from the reading themselves, and then B) having that same content reinforced.  The “flipped” model takes away the role of the student in analyzing the text, and removes that reinforcement (unless of course they choose to review the video, but even that is the same information conveyed the same way, not two unique casts on the same material).

Thus, while my Sloan course is prompting me to come up with lots of great ideas for online assessments and activities, it isn’t helping me (yet) to solve my problems of how to cover the same amount of material in 25% less homework time.  In fact, I want more homework time so they can do the cool online activities and explorations.

Would love to hear your thoughts…


What is Blended Learning: The Hybrid Learning Consortium Summer Symposium 2014

What IS blended learning?  

I headed to the HLC Summer Symposium in Kansas City, Missouri with a general idea.  However, throughout the two days I repeatedly found that my definition was not aligned with the definitions of others.  In some cases, the definition of blended learning was larger than I had envisioned.  For example, the Blended Teacher Network uses Horn and Staker (2013) definition of blended learning:

… a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.

Having learned, however, that Horn and Staker’s definition resulted from extrapolating a definition from the traits that a selected set of Case Studies included made me question the validity of the definition.  But … I do find this definition resonates with me.

Whereas in other cases I found people describing an entirely on-line entity as “blended”.  I challenged this classification but despite my questions never felt satisfied with their use of the term.  Ultimately, it became clear that the concept of blended or hybrid learning is not defined, described, or used in a consistent manner.  Jeniene located a set of definitions that quantified – and I like that! – the differences between on-line, blended, hybrid, and, wait for it … hyflex learning.  Ultimately, it became quite clear that the research and formal education on this topic is new and that we, particularly as a high school, are getting into this realm early in the process.  I see this, therefore, as an opportunity to help define and shape blended learning.  How awesome!

Why Blended?

I was initially intrigued by blended learning because of its potential to more effectively utilize out of class time.  My courses tend to be student-centered and hands-on.  However, I consistently feel the tension of how to provide solid content resources when necessary without interrupting the flow of the class or “wasting” class time to provide standard information.  However, many of the participants at the Symposium focused on how this shift enables them to open up their class time because they have been utilizing a more traditional approach.  Regardless of the direction from which you enter blended learning I believe that the thoughtful, effective use of this structure can enable us to make learning more efficient and assessment more directed.  A number of the speakers at the Symposium were definitely making an argument for the shift towards blended/online learning.  Repeatedly the presenters made two points: (1) simply posting material on to an LMS (Learning Management System) does not make it “online learning”, and (2) hybrid/online learning takes a lot of work.  Unfortunately, for Jeniene and I, multiple presenters spent a lot of time trying to convince us that blended/online learning was something to consider through general reviews of learning theory research.  Jeniene and Ii had just traveled 1400 miles during our first week of summer vacation – we were not there to be convinced… we were there ready to jump into the deep end (or maybe 5 ft area) of the pool and get busy.  So thankfully, @KatieGimbar was there.

Rethinking the Flipped Classroom

Great teachers grab your attention (or at least mine) immediately.  And Katie Gimbar had my attention the moment I walked into her session (or class).  A teacher from the public schools of North Carolina, Katie has been (appropriately so) pulled from the classroom to help increase the use of her innovative strategies for the flipped classroom.  Having worked in rural NC as a Teach For America corps member in the mid 90s, I immediately recognized that Katie’s energy, enthusiasm, and strategies would be so effective for her students.  That said, good teaching strategies can be adapted to any setting to meet the particular needs and challenges of your students.  Two of the catalysts for Katie’s rethinking of the flipped classroom were classroom management and access.  At St. Mark’s these two factors are minimal, if even present.  However, the strategies she employs have incredible potential in our classrooms.

Duplicating Yourself

Katie uses her efficient, one-take, whiteboard video “lectures” to essentially duplicate herself.  She presents these videos in the classroom and watches them with her students.  Why?  Most importantly, and this relates especially to us at SM, is that the taping allows her to produce efficient lectures of content.  A topic that might take 20-30 minutes to present in class can be taped in 6-8 minutes in the absence of questions, confusion, side-conversations, etc.  While the video is playing Katie can roam the room, keep students on task, answer brief side questions, recognize more effectively when a pause is needed, and so forth.  In terms of SM, I don’t think that I would review my video in class given that I am confident our students have access and that my students will watch the video if I structure the course in such a way that this information is important to them.  However,  these videos provide an archive of the explanation of a topic.  An archive that can be saved for her students to reference later in brief form.  Imagine that AP (Advanced) teachers … all of the “precious content” saved for students to reference.  For me this is an amazing idea.  A negative feedback loop is discussed and I have a link to both a video of me explaining the idea and other resources (such as my new e-book)!  And my kids can access my “duplicated self” whenever they need me … not just in class, not just when I say they need to pay attention – but when they want the information.

Keep it Brief

Every presenter, Katie included, reinforced that these videos NEED to be brief.  8-12 minutes seems to be the maximum length recommended … with some 15 minutes videos once in a while.  And for those of us who think we teach the best and brightest and want to be the most rigorous of teachers… if you exceed this length you are probably exceeding cognitive load and therefore your students are not going to be moving as much information into LTM (long term memory) as you may think.  An assignment could included more than one video, but then the videos need to be interrupted by the application of the content from the previous video in an effort to help construct an understanding of the concepts and begin the process of developing LTM.

You still get to be You!

Katie really supported the idea of producing your own videos – putting your own voice and face into the picture for YOUR own students.  She stressed the idea of demonstrating your competence in teaching the subject matter (not using someone else) and the connection that you have developed with your students.  Other viewpoints were expressed at the symposium … there are a lot of people who say “don’t reinvent the wheel” if someone else has already produced a video on the topic.  I find myself agreeing with Katie in that I know I explain ideas in a way that I think are useful to my specific group of students and when we hear other explanations I often find myself adding in ideas.  But this seems like an individual choice to me.

It doesn’t have to be showy

Katie’s videos were one-take (usually) videos of her explaining ideas on small sheets of whiteboard.  Nothing fancy, no gimmicks, no editing, etc.  [Note:  We did watch a couple of sessions by Bill Blass on Camtasia and other TechSmith products and I am planning on using this level of technology for some of my videos this year.  I think that I will use the more professional videos for particular purposes but since I am not there yet … I am not going to blog about it now.]  You can learn more about 1-take videos at this great resource by fizzedu.  There are even options for taking an online course.

Reflective Teaching (and Learning)

Katie also uses her video to refine her teaching practices.  She is constantly evaluating her videos and changing them from time to time as she realizes that she can do better.  She also often keeps a camera in the back of her classroom so that she can review and reflect upon her teaching sessions ALL OF THE TIME.  She openly talks about being a reflective teacher.  For those of you knowledgeable about “deliberate practice” you all should recognize that this is one aspect of becoming an expert in your field.  But Katie also uses has her student make these 1-take videos which provides the opportunity for her students to be reflective learners.  I will talk more about this below.

A Great Selection of Strategies 

1-Take Videos

You can have your students make 1-Take Videos in class (or for hw … but might not be 1-take).  Why?  …

    1. Opportunity for your students to “publish” their scholarship.  And this increases ownership of their learning.
    2. (Our) students have access to the technology on their phones and therefore we can have everyone do this at the same time.  I have been struggling with how do I get every group to present their research or experimental design (or other) verbally with the time allotted.  Now I can claim the last 5 minutes of class (I don’t need 25 minutes) for all groups to record and then they can submit these recordings to me.  Everyone gets to practice the skills (and presentation skills are a huge part of our academic goals) and I can give feedback to everyone and save time for more learning.
    3. Great opportunity for formative assessment.  As I mentioned above, leveraging the technology our students have can allow me to provide fairly immediate feedback to my students (overnight) and allows me to get a better sense of where my collaborative teams are before they return to class.  I can also envision using this for individuals – video selfies if you imagine.  Why not just write?  Because when students explain their ideas verbally I often find some misconceptions lurking.  I also can help my students develop their ability to explain ideas verbally through this deliberate practice.  This doesn’t mean I won’t have my students write – because we do a lot of that – but this will provide a different medium that might be really attractive and engaging for some of my students who find writing more challenging or cumbersome and might challenge some of my students who can write well but have a difficult time expressing their ideas verbally.  Scared to be seen on video?  See the Paper Slide strategy below.
    4. Opportunity to gather formative assessment on your students at the same moment … when I have to move around to groups towards the end of class they are at different points by the time I reach them.  Using this strategy will allow me to see where everyone is at the same moment.
    5. Developing discipline-specific terminology.  Katie has found that as her students make more of these 1-take videos (and review them) that they become more aware of their use of terminology.  The reflective nature of this process propels them (with guidance) to better utilize appropriate terminology.  This applies to all of our disciplines.

The Paper Slide

This strategy simply video records a piece of paper while the presenter speaks into the camera.  The result is a video of written work with voice recording but the presenter is off screen.  Sometimes students are shy.  Sometimes you just want an image to be explained.  A quick video of “just” the paper – simple sheets of 8 1/2 X 11 paper with diagrams, words, etc on screen while your students explain.  Students can use multiple pieces of paper each or maybe each student explains their paper in a quick successive movement through each.  Another quick, low-tech approach to gathering explanations and ideas and allowing your students to publish.  You can use your iPhone (again) to video … but you do need a tripod and a phone clamp to connect the phone and iPod.  I am thinking that I will purchase a set of clamps and tripods for my classroom so that I can have my students make these all at the same time.  We did these in our session and they really are quick PROVIDED that you run your class like Katie did – no playing around, no (or very limited retakes), and quick movement connecting your video to the computer.  So there is a learning curve for some of us who may not have used this technology.  But it definitely can be done in class time efficiently and effectively.

One-Word Whiteboard

You can use a whiteboard (small boards for groups) or a paper for this strategy.  Ask students a provocative, open-ended question – but they can only answer in one word.  The example Katie used was with Jamestown.  After a short video on the settling of Jamestown she asked, “Why did the settlers struggle to succeed in Jamestown?”.  This exercise (in groups) provided an opportunity for academic discourse and critical thinking.  Each group has to write their one word and then explain their reasoning for the selection of that word to the class.  Now you can do this on or off camera based upon multiple factors.  Brilliant follow up strategy … ask a second question (after the students are really satisfied with their selection) that flips them around.  For this exercise it was, “So then why was Jamestown so successful?”  Note:  sorry to Katie for misstating her questions… they were much better articulated than I have done… but hopefully everyone gets the gist.

What else did we pick up?  

Jeniene will be blogging as well … and I might have spoken about some of what she intended (sorry Jeniene!).  But there were some other really interesting strategies and technologies that we started to explore and intend to play with this summer (thanks to the Patterson Grant!)

TechSmith Products:  Camtasia, Snag It, Fuse, ScreenCast, Coach’s Eye

These products provide some exciting tools to make more professional videos for online use.  Documents, powerpoints, actual video can all be used – and integrated.  I will spend a bunch of time this summer exploring these products and practicing!


We saw a really great use of a class blog for an Art History class.  I am thinking about how I can use it for Advanced Environmental Science and maybe Advanced Biology as well.  This teacher used it as opportunity for students to (1) explore areas in which they were interested, (2) share their learning with others, (3) “cover” more content than the class would be able to in the traditional setting, and (4) provide living documentation of a student essentially growing up over the course of the year.   I have always wanted to better incorporate the use of the NYTimes Science Section into my classes and this might just be the medium to keep all of my students involved while not limiting time for the other demands of the course.  He used a rotating schedule for “publishing” to the blog.  This medium also helps the students to develop their voice which will be really helpful for my Environmental Science students given that they will be participating in the Dupont Science Essay competition next winter.

What about Assessment?  

One aspect we found to be minimal at the Symposium was the conversation about assessment.  How, when, and for what purpose are students assessed?  I know that the assessment piece will be an integral part to my work on this topic this year.  In fact, I think it is important that we are very reflective of integrating the use of technology and education research in terms of assessment.  I am excited about my week at InstructureCon next week for this purpose.  More to come.


Using what we already have

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few days investigating the Modules function on Canvas and thinking about how we can use what we already have access to.

Some observations:

1 – Crocodoc is now AppBox and is nothing that we can’t accomplish Google/Drive.  Not worth it.

2 – Voicethread will be great, but I appear to be slow on the learning curve.  I think it will work well for annotating documents in addition to images and video.  One question – I set up a test account for a student in a test course called Patterson Test Group.  When I log in as the student (no problem logging in, so the account was well set up) but I can’t access the Patterson Test Group or any of the threads I’ve started… any ideas?  For what it’s worth, it seems to work on the ipad but not on a computer.  And another question – I’m concerned about how I might properly cite my sources (web images, pdfs of excerpts from books, etc.)  Has anyone done this?

3 – I think it will be important to maximize the tools that we already have so as not to re-invent the wheel every time.  I’ve been making progress on my first Module, and for now I’ve made the decision to have the grammar (review lessons for advanced kids) be self-paced through Canvas and we can then apply skills via content in class.  I’ve been using material from the textbook so that it will align with what we are discussing in class.

I’m also considering using the discussion feature as a blog for each student to be ongoing throughout the year.  Again, we could have kids set up wordpress accounts, or we could use what we have.  (WordPress is certainly flashier…) This blog post from the site Langwitches (from the Twitter feed that Kim just sent out) supports the use of blogging for students as good pedagogy.


For now, I’m moving forward with my first unit considering essential questions, desired outcomes and assessments.  Since it will be a new course next year, I had to do some basic framework for the year in terms of the same questions before I could look at the unit.  So far so good.

From the Sloan Consortium

Workshop 2 Citations and Resources

Online courses

Stuff I’ve learned from the online courses I am taking right now:

1) so much cooler if the students have pictures attached to their profiles, even if the picture isn’t of them.  Gives a better sense of online presence.

2) speaking of pictures, one class I am taking asked us to discuss an object in our own homes and to post a picture.  I was thinking that students in my World class could do something like that — easy enough to take a picture with an iPhone or rented ipad from library, and it engages the reader in the discussion more than a simple text posting.

3) Very important for the teacher to involve herself in the online discussions.  Not to necessarily correct people or insert her opinion, but just to be a presence so the students know they are held accountable for what is being put online, just as they would be for what they say in class.  This will require more time than my online discussion posts in the past…