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)