Blended Learning Basics

classroom applications

One of the big changes with moving to a 1:1 environment is how easy it is to have a blended learning environment.  The goal of any 1:1 initiative is to not create online classes but to create a learning environment that makes use of many different tools to meet all the needs of our learners.  A blended learning environment makes use of those digital tools that allow for the increased effectiveness of what is already working well in our classrooms.  It also provides an opportunity to replace and fix those parts of our learning environments that do not work well.  

 

There is no “one kind” of a blended learning environment.  Each will look different and make use of different tools, based on the needs and likes of both the students and the teacher.  The goal is to find ways to make the technology feel like a natural part of the classroom and use it in an effective way.  We do not use technology for technology sake, but we do use technology to increase engagement and provide different opportunities for students to learn as well as to be assessed.  There are some basic components to almost any blended learning environment, the functions will be very similar but the tools can be very different from class to class.  

 

Content Management (Curation)

There are many different resources that can be used in the classroom as well as supplemental resources that may benefit different types of learners.  The key is to have a place where students can get quick access to these resources.  It could be something as simple as a shared Google Drive folder or even a Google Site page.  You could make use of digital curation tools such as Scoop.it, Symbaloo, Evernote and Educlipper.  (there are many more but these can get you started)  Find a way that works for you to easily curate the resources and one that your students can easily use to get access.  Do not be afraid to try out new tools, but definitely test them and play around with them before you use them with students.  These can also be shared with other teachers so you can see how others are doing the same things in their classrooms.

 

Collaboration

Collaboration should be a part of any learning environment.  The collaboration however does not always need to happen physically in the class or even during class time.  Using tools that have built in collaboration features allow for the increased opportunities for students to work together and learn together.  Google Apps are great for collaboration and even allow for easy work between students and teachers.  I have always enjoyed being able to view the progress of the work that my students are doing even if I am not in the classroom at the moment with them.  There are many tools that are either connected to Google Apps or share the same features, this increases productivity since you do not have to wait for the other person to get done before you get your turn.

 

Feedback Tools

Prompt and precise feedback is necessary for any learning environment.  We can use online formative assessment tools like Socrative, InfuseLearning or even a Google Form to help students see how well they are learning up to that point, as well as to provide a snapshot for the teacher to make changes to the class.  Teachers also have more ways than ever to provide feedback for student writing assignments.  Teachers can leave comments in the Google Doc, leave voice feedback that includes highlights and corrects using Kaizena, or can even do a screencast of them evaluating the student work.  We do not just have to give feedback at the end, we can be giving constant feedback throughout the assignment.  

 

Communication Tools

It is important that the teacher have a way to easily and quickly get information out to students.  This can be information such as reminders about class work or about changes to the schedule.  I started using Twitter because it was a way to quickly get information out, not only to students who use Twitter but to everyone by using a widget on my website.  I have also had student subscribe to my Google Calendar for class so that they would get reminders about when things were due and could look forward to what we will be doing later.  I could also put links in the calendar events that gave them access to resources in case they were gone that day.  A website (Google Site) or blog (Blogger.com) can also does these tasks while at the same time allowing for more options like curation and feedback.  The key is finding something that is easy for you to update and change that your students will have easy access to.  You will not be able to force all of your students to use it but many will find it very useful.

One of the biggest advantages to having a blended learning environment is that you can easily use asynchronous discussions or even support asynchronous learning.  Many teachers make use of class discussions to further the understanding of some topic, but there are many students who may not be ready or able to participate in the moment the discussion is happening in class.  Asynchronous discussions can take place any time online and allow those students who did not participate in class a chance to participate at a later time.  Some students may need more time to process the information and develop an adequate response while some other students may be too shy or nervous to participate in front of people, but they will have a much easier time participating online.  You can create a forum post in Moodle or even just have a shared Google Doc for that topic.  You can use a Padlet wall post or some backchannel tool that allows for discussions to take place outside the class period.  

 

Making use of asynchronous learning is a cornerstone of any truly student-centered classroom.  If we are truly focused on students first, then we need to be able to allow them to learn at a pace that best fits them.  When we expect every student to learn and perform at the same rate, we miss a large portion of the student population.  Students should be able to take more time on difficult topics and easily move through the stuff they either already understand or can learn quickly.  We need to be able to also accommodate 24/7 learning.  That means giving our students the resources to not only learn whenever they want but also to show their learning.  Technology gives us the ability to easily create a learning environment that helps our students learn and allows them to learn in a way that is best suited to them today, not how it was done in the past.

 

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