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.

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…


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…

Summer Begins

We all had a good meeting at Ted’s the other day.  We decided we’d start this blog as a place to update the group on our progress over the summer and solicit feedback.  In addition, we discussed technology (Camtasia, camcorder, Voicethread?), budget (I think we each have $500 to spend on materials and tech?), and the need to defend our choices of activities for Face to Face and online.  A bunch of us will be using the Understanding by Design framework, and I shared some resources for learning about that.

Part of my summer work will be taking two online classes, and thus experiencing what works and what doesn’t first hand.  So far, I have participated in online discussions and live-streaming lectures.

Have a great and productive summer everyone!