Since I’m known to experiment compulsively with Web 2.0 and ed-tech tools, I’ve been asked to present a workshop for the campus PD week on blended learning.  This is an interesting tension for me for a few reasons.

Return on Investment Often Too Low

On one hand, I try to give a fair shake to any promising tool or technique.  On the other hand, most of the software, Web 2.0, or gadgets I’ve tried didn’t make it into my ongoing practice.  Reasons include

Bigger Gains from Assessment, Critical Thinking, and Quality Feedback

Although screencasting, “flipped classroom” experiments, and peer instruction have been helpful to me, they have not caused the massive gains in effectiveness that I got from skills-based grading, self and peer assessment, incorporating critical thinking throughout my curriculum, or shifting to inquiry-based modelling.  But, I wasn’t asked to present on those topics; I was asked to help people think about blended learning.  Planning for the workshop has been an interesting exercise in clarifying my thinking.

Blended Learning Is…

People seem to mean different things when they say “blended learning.” Some possible meanings:

Face-to-face meetings, in a group where everyone’s doing the same thing, during school hours, in classrooms, blended with

  • Learning at your own pace
  • Learning in another location
  • Learning at other times
  • Learning that does not have to be done in a specific order
  • Using a computer to learn (maybe online, maybe not)
  • Using an internet-based technology to learn
  • Learning that is customized for the student’s level
  • Learning whose pace, location, time, or order is controlled by the student

It’s hard to have a short conversation about this, because there are several independent variables.  Here are the ones I can name:

  • increasing the level of computerization
  • automating the process of providing students with work at their demonstrated level of achievement
  • increasing the data collected about student skills (naturally, computerized assessments offer different data than teacher observation…)
  • increasing the level of student control, but only in some areas (format and speed, not content)

Are We Doomed to Talk Past Each Other?

The thing I’m finding hardest to articulate is the need to disaggregate these variables.  Some advocates seem to assume that computers are the best (or only) way of adapting to student achievement, collecting data, or empowering students.  The conversation also runs afoul of the assumption that more computerization is good, because young people like computers.

Here’s my attempt at an outline for a conversation that can at least put these questions on the table.  I will provide a list of resources for participants to take away — so far, I’m thinking of including some resources on visual design (probably from dy/dan, as well as The Non-Designer’s Design Book and maybe Presentation Zen), as well as some of the posts linked above.  I’ll probably include at least one piece debunking the assumptions about “digital natives”.  Other suggestions?  If you were just starting to think about blended learning, what would you want to know more about?

The workshop is on Thursday — all feedback welcome.

Before the Workshop

  1. Watch this video about blended learning
  2. Read this blog post assessing the effectiveness of blended learning
  3. Use a feedback sheet to write a summary and keep track of questions that arise, and bring a copy with you to the workshop
  4. Use a GoogleDoc to vote on techniques you would like to know more about

Intros

  • Brainstorm in groups: What blended learning techniques have you used, if any?  What questions do you have so far?
  • Gather questions on front board

What is Blended Learning?

  • Explain common definitions
  • Ask group for other definitions
  • Explain common reasons for trying it
  • Ask group for other reasons why someone might try it
  • Each participant identifies advantages/goals they are most interested in working toward, and enters them into a worksheet
  • Discuss in small groups and modify/add to list if desired.

Examples of Blended Learning Techniques

Each presenter discusses the techniques they have used.

Participants take a moment at the end of each technique to evaluate whether it would contribute to their identified goals

How Can We Assess the Effectiveness of Blended Learning?

Results

Each presenter discusses the results they noticed

Your Plans

  • Invite participants to think of something in their teaching that they would like to improve, and consider if any of the tools we’ve discussed can help.
  • Participants explain their plans in small groups, and keep track of questions that come up.
  • Questions added to the class list

Q&A

Return to any questions that haven’t been answered.

Recommendations

  • Each presenter passes on any recommendations they have for teachers starting to explore blended learning.  Mine:
  • Learn about visual design
  • Practice learning new software — it’s a skill and you can get better
  • Learn to program — it helps you look at computer programs with a more critical eye
  • Check out the resources included with the day’s worksheet
  • Stick around and experiment with these tools if you would like