Blended learning has been a hot topic in corporate training where terms like “learning management systems,” “blended learning,” and “content management systems” have been kicking around for some time now. The lingo hasn’t quite caught on in the k-12. The reason? Without access to computers, it seems silly to talk about blended learning. But with programs like Bring Your Own Device, which our district launched last year, that paradigm is changing and it’s changing quickly. So for me, the question is not will blending learning come to k-12 education, but rather when.
Computers can do some really amazing things, and I know teachers who fear classrooms will one day be filled with students being taught by computers. But we’re a long way off from that and we’ll get into the reasons why in a minute. For now, let’s put that debate about computer-based learning aside and focus on what the computer and teacher do well that makes their partnership such a great guide for learners.
Here’s how computers come in handy for learning:
- Accessibility to a mass amount of content in many different forms: music, video, photo, text, interactive simulations, graphics, publishing etc.
- Organization by creating structure for tracking assignments, grades, feedback, etc.
- Searchability through data bases by categorizing/tagging/grouping/sorting
- Aggregating massive amounts of data
So with just a computer we can access content, organize it, add to it, and gather data that may give us some insights to better instruction. But the computer is only the half of it. Here’s where teachers come in.
- Building relationships: It’s the cornerstone of being human, something most of us don’t do well without.
- Identifying nuances and misconceptions: Right now a computer can tell you if your answer to a division problem is right or wrong. But a teacher can pin-point exactly where the mistake is being made for example is it a multiplication error, understanding of place value, or misunderstanding of order of operations.
- Tweaking: Computers use algorithms to “learn,” but it’s teachers who tweak and experiment to find new effective ways to motivate and break through barriers.
- Scaffolding and leading learning: Again this gets back to recognizing nuances and making inferences. A teacher can fill in gaps students may have from lack of personal experience.
The disadvantages of blending learning tend to be in rooted in design, class management, and social issues. Blended learning is not simply pre-recording lectures and power points and putting them online for students to access. Teachers need consider what is the best method to teach the concept and then use this information to design the course. Some teachers have reported that planning for both live classes and online environments is taxing. Others say having an LMS makes their class management much easier. Depending on the structure of the class, some students have reported feeling isolated. These issues however, can for the most part be address through training and design. The key thing for us to remember is that there is no foolproof design, but there are tools at our disposable and we do the best service to learners when we think about how we can use those tools to their highest and best utility.
Last year one of the small successes I celebrated was getting a group of math teachers together from across the district to help each other out. Five teachers took time out of their day, drove across town and spent an hour talking about challenges with a new curriculum, strategies for teaching certain concepts, as well as clarifying each other’s misconceptions. It was the kind of discussion that releases tension, nurtures, comforts, and invigorates all at the same time, and frankly I’m dying to see more of it.
I’m excited I got to explore how to host web conferences and will be using this format to try to encourage more of these healthy conversations across our district this year. Last year I had the experience of finishing a 7 part how-to series only to have the entire format of the website revamped the following day. During the making of the screencast, my prior experience taunted me, but as of this date, the process for setting up a paperless classroom in Google haven’t changed. Ironically enough, in week five, I found the how-to video clip for one of the apps I featured had been removed. I’m guessing they made changes and had to pull it. The world is just changing that fast now.
By far, playing on Moodle was the most interesting work. I really enjoyed experimenting with different types of activities and was glad to learn that there is more to Moodle than I’ve been exposed to. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m somewhat obsessed with learning management systems and how they can help teachers and students manage their learning. This was a great insight to see what’s possible and confirm thoughts that we still have big strides to make in this industry. Best of all, I’m looking forward to seeing it all unfold from a front row seat.
Before I describe my first experience using Moodle to create an online lesson, there’s something I should confess right from the start. I day dream about designing an outstanding Learning Management System daily. I dream about designing space and tools that helps teachers meet the overwhelming requirements of their work and a space that truly invites students to be engaged in their learning. So I’ve had my eye on Moodle and many other LMS’s for some time. Like men who get giddy looking under the hood of a car, I’m eager at any opportunity to see how an LMS functions. This assignment was my first chance to play in the Moodle Sandbox and I loved every minute of it! Geek. I know.
For my lesson, I started by watching some of the tutorials, but then I headed off for some exploration and to do some clicking around. The navigation and menus are standard enough, so no real learning curve there. The tools for designing the lesson were abundant. There were twenty-six options for adding activities including chats, wikis, forums many of which I was surprised to see and had never experienced as an online learner. There were another nine options for uploading resources including books, files, and labels. I had always wondered what beast of a program could be created with an open source concept and now this was a great view into one of the most well known open source projects to date.
My first overall impression of Moodle was that it was designed by programmers. I don’t know many programmers, but the focus seems to be on the backend rather than the user interface. It seems overly complicated. For example, there are options like setting up a Personal Learning Designer, renaming the roles of participants, and forcing filters on different features. Some of these fields feel tacked on, like they were added for a specific project. But then in an open source project like Moodle, I guess that’s exactly how it’s supposed to go. Unfortunately, this makes the user interface is a little overwhelming for a teacher with moderate to low technical skills. Case in point, my school district set up a Moodle account but no one in the district warmed-up to it so it’s still sitting there in the box, virtually unused. That said, I found the experience of taking it for a test drive boarded on fun. And that’s enough for me.