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Saturday, 11 May 2013

Blended Learning in Their Eyes

I finally got around to having a class discussion about Blended Learning.  I wanted to hear from my students: what did they think of Blended Learning? Do they like it?  Do they find it helpful?

This is what they had to say:

  • Most of kids don't always pay attention to the teacher; but kids pay attention to what is on the Internet, so if you didn't pay attention in class, you can learn what you missed on the D2L (our learning management system). ~ one of my English Language Learners
  • I like Blended Learning because it can help you get ready for tests, everything you need to know for the test is on the D2L.
  • Using the D2L is helpful because if you forgot a text book at school and you have homework, you can just message your friends and ask them to email you the work.
  • I like the D2L because I work better on the computer; I have trouble spelling and using punctuation so doing my work on the computer and submitting it through the Dropbox means I can do my work better.
  • If you are sick and you miss school, you can just go on the D2L and find out what you missed.
  • Kids mostly use the Internet and video games for entertainment these days, so when you learn from the D2L it is more like entertainment and doesn't feel like school. This particular comment was reiterated over and over again, especially by the boys in my class.
  • Kids pay more attention to what is in front of them, using digital tools makes kids pay more attention.

Overwhelmingly, the students in my class love Blended Learning.  They are already expressing their concerns that next year, with a new teacher, Blended Learning might not be an option.  They find learning this way more engaging, and it places them in the driver's seat, giving them more control of when and how they learn.  Using a learning management system, like the D2L, they now have greater recourse when they don't understand something. 

We've had a lot of fun experimenting with Blended Learning this year.  My students asked me, back in January, to "flip" my class.  A flipped class is when you provide the introduction to a lesson via a video or link on-line that students can access at home as homework prior to a lesson.  It gives them background knowledge, so that when they come to class, they are ready to start the "action" or "working on it" part of the lesson right away, while the teacher is there to provide support.  So often, teachers stand in front of the class lecturing, and then students have to do the practice work alone at home where they don't have the teacher's support if they run into difficulty.  The idea with a flipped class is that the students get the "lecture" at home, and then they work on the practice at school while the teacher is present and able to scaffold for them. 

Some of my students had heard about flipped classrooms and they wanted to try it out.  It didn't work that well for us.  Invariably, some students didn't do their homework, i.e. didn't watch the video or access the links, and other students didn't understand the videos or links.  So I still had to address the information one way or another prior to the "action" part of our lesson.  But it wasn't a total failure.  The students who didn't understand the videos went home and watched them again AFTER the lesson, and said that they made sense now.  They realized that they need some "background" knowledge to understand the videos.  Likewise, I think the lesson went more quickly and made more sense to the students who had watched the videos prior to the lessons.

What we learned was that it is helpful to have the information available for the students to access on-line both prior to and following lessons.  That is what I have continued to do all year.  Some students choose to always access the information prior to the lesson so that they are "primed" for learning.  Others prefer to access the information after the lesson to "top up" their learning.  Either way, it puts the students in charge of their learning and that is the goal.  They are paying attention to whether or not they understand.  They are monitoring their learning. 

I believe strongly that every teacher should somehow incorporate Blended Learning into their teaching.  If you teach in Ontario, your board can probably get you access to the Desire 2 Learn (D2L) learning management system that I have been using with my students.  But if you don't, Edmodo is another great option.  It looks similar to Facebook, and allows you to input your students into classes and groups so that they can access content and submit work electronically.  

But even if you are not ready for a learning management system, you can start small.  You can create a class blog where you share information that is happening in class, upload videos for your students to access, and links for them to use to supplement their learning.  There are so many on-line supports for learning, it seems wasteful not to give our students easy access to them. And if you are intimidated by the thought of managing a blog, please don't be.  I knew NOTHING about creating and managing a blog last June.  I taught myself using on-line supports via the "help" button and Youtube. Trust me, no one can be less computer savvy than I was last June. 

Consider having your students use some digital tools to collaborate together, like Prezi, Google Docs, or iMovie.  Many students are already familiar with these tools and are using them for fun at home.  Encourage a student to become the "expert" on a tool and teach the rest of the class how to use it.  You don't have to be comfortable with these tools for your students to use them successfully.  

The greatest thing about Blended Learning to me is that it is not only more engaging for the students, it makes teaching much more fun as well!

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