Tag: Blended Learning


The Learning Continues… PBL and Developing a Customized Search Engine

imagesToday began with a continuation of building my knowledge base and expertise in designing Project Based Lessons. The Buck Institute for Education also known as BIE is a treasure trove of resources in which one can get pleasantly lost in. I focused most specifically on the resources found in PBL World discovering a variety of project based lessons and different formats for planning the PBL lessons. What each lesson had in common though was it’s focused on being student rather than teacher centered. The best lessons created room for a variety of outcomes allowing students to use their previous experiences, creativity and collaboration skills to come up with their own solutions.

As part of my exploration, I discovered the 21st Century Educational Technology and Learning Blog written by Michael Gorman. In his award-winning blog, Gorman has brought together a wide variety of resources to use as idea starters and resources in planning PBL units. There is a strong emphasis on STEM resources, but the blog is by no means limited to these as it also provides PBL resources on gamification, language arts, philosophy, history and character development.

The most exciting part of today’s discoveries, playing and creating, was the development of my first customized

Google Custom Search Engine which can be found at pgildersPBLsearch. The customization feature allows the developer to refine the search results thus helping students to learn the basics of online research while providing parameters that will keep them on topic and with grade and reading level appropriate material. The developer can limit key word searches to the topic at hand. The pgildersPBLsearch allows the researcher to search the open web for articles and images, but the site emphasizes the customized online resources I specifically want users to go to. Keywords added to this site include:  PBL, Project Based Learning, Custom Search, Google, Google Searches and Grading. I’m looking forward to refining the site and getting feedback from teachers as they made suggestions for resources to add from their personal repertoires.

If you’re interested in creating your own search engine, Gennexttech has a nice youtube video tutorial to guide you through the process which can be found at Gennexttech Google Search Tutorial.  


Leading Edge Certification – A Reflection on the Learning

1371694787This week brings the culmination of the IEASC Spring 2014 cohort Leading Edge Certification in Online and Blended Learning. The learning throughout the process of earning this certification was tremendous. Each module brought a specific focus that increased the knowledge base of members in this cohort. I, however, found three areas that proved to be most transformational in my personal development as an instructor.

I entered the course feeling like I was bringing with me a pretty solid foundation and understanding of assistive technology (AT) and universal design for learning (UDL). I’ve spent the past couple of years working closely with and supporting the work of an occupational therapist and speech language pathologist who have real expertise with AT and engaged in a two year Assistive Technology Project. This course however got me to dive in and start creating and embedding accessibility features into my websites, videos and presentations. I learned a lot about what it takes to create accessibility features and grew in my understanding of how many people can benefit from their incorporation into instruction. It is essential that we provide pedagogically sound programs to all of our learners whether they come to us with typical cognitive and physical functioning abilities or with disabilities.

I appreciated the focus the course placed on the four primary roles that an online/blended learning instructor engages in. Ed Hoostein describes the roles of social director, program manager, technician and instructor in his blog post, “Wearing Four Pairs of Shoes: The Roles of E-Learning Facilitators.” There continues to be discussion in the education community about the integrity of online coursework and how it measures up in quality and accountability to traditional brick and mortar instructional environments. Diving into a deeper understanding of how these four roles are interwoven into a strong program gave me an understanding of what to look for in evaluating online and blending learning courses and their pedagogical soundness.

Finally, a review and self reflection of the iNACOL Standards for Quality Online Instruction proved to show me just how much room for growth I continue to have. As I finish the requirements for the Leading Edge Certification, I am cognizant of the need to continue my professional growth as an educator interested in incorporating digital literacies into the curriculum for both adult learners and students in the K-12 education system. The role of the technician as referenced in the four roles of the online/blended learning instruction in the blog post by Ed Hootstein, as well as ongoing inquiry into developing software that supports student learning, will continue to be an area of focus. Embedding the use of the tools society uses in everyday life into instruction are an essential component of providing students with an education that will allow them to be contributing members of society.



An Observation: A Key Difference between a Son’s E-learning and his Mom’s E-learning

imgres-1My own e-learning begins fairly early in the morning and is often a large part of my overall day. I get up before the rest of my family every morning, grab coffee and dive into my email. My inbox is filled with professional articles, blogs and ed. tech resources. Some of my favorites include: Edutopia, EdReach, Seth Godin, Emerging EdTech and Ron Edmondson. I throw in a little morning humor in there with Andertoons as well.

I’m an education “learning nerd.” Not only do I love the profession of being an educator, but I love to learn! The advent of the internet, online courses, learning modules and articles, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and email have been a blessing to my learning habit. On the flip side of my joy in having learning just a click or couple of taps away is the need to find balance in life. I make a concentrated effort to put my digital tools aside when my family gets up or the clock lets me know it’s time to get ready for work. I do however look forward to when I can get back to my inbox and click on the next article to read, persuse the posts in my Twitter feed or take a look at what has been posted in the various Google+ communities I subscribe to.

There have been times when I’ve reflected on the idea of the learning being somewhat superficial or cursory and not “good learning.”  However, the topics I am really interested in are ones that I spend dedicated time with, studying deeper and accessing further resources. The cursory learning is a bonus as it gives me an idea of what else is out there that is of interest to others and also gives me a conversational knowledge that is good for connecting with others.

I suspect that other adult learners who engage in online learning would have similar responses to this type of a reflection regarding their online learning experiences. I also suspect our school age students are more likely to get distracted though. While I may sometimes veer towards a game of Jelly Splash

IMG_2109to take a break, my lives tend to run out quickly and I am able to refocus.

My son however, is taking an online driver’s education course. I noticed him working intently this afternoon, took a look at the computer screen, saw the module he was working on and made sure not to bother him so he could concentrate. Yet, when I returned to the computer to do some work for my Leading Edge Certification in online/blended learning,I was greeted by the following image:

Screen Shot 2014-07-20 at 6.28.59 PM

It turns out he had finished the unit we had agreed he would complete by the end of the day, but being at the computer gave him quick and easy access to playing games while his parents thought he was studying. He is a pretty typical teenager and I suspect most students his age would do the same thing. It’s not such a big deal over the summer, but as it gets later into a school night, the temptation to reward oneself for finishing an assignment could, and I know has in our home, result in some unintended late nights.

As we teach our students how to learn using the internet and Web 2.0 tools as well as how to become good digital citizens, we also need to guide them and teach them how to create balance in their lives to be sure they eat their meals away from the computer, engage in regular exercise, get together with friends face to face, and moderate their online gaming and socialization. These have the potential to turn into a battle of wills on the home front as watching too much tv was for my generation. Yet as educators, we can support our students and their families by sharing models of guidelines for home use of the computer for learning and entertainment. As the learning environment continues to shift towards increased use of digital resources, guidelines will need to be adjusted, but they are an important part of the overall education of our children as well as adult learners.


Implementing a Blended Learning Approach to Professional Development

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 1.05.00 PMAs an administrator with responsibility for providing professional development (PD) for certificated and classified staff,  I had the opportunity to be part of a team that implemented a blended model approach to PD the last few years. Working with a county office of education, I had staff located throughout a 50 mile radius. In addition to the challenges that come with being separated by so many miles, staff also had different areas of expertise. While there are many similarities to good teaching across specific student populations, there are also distinct differences to be found in best practices for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, visually impaired, emotionally disturbed or diagnosed with autism. By implementing a blended learning approach to professional development, staff were able to engage in more personalized learning focusing on skills and curriculum that would best support the success of their students. Additionally, this provided staff with greater flexibility to engage in learning and developing their individual areas of expertise at times that worked best for them. It also provided staff who were interested in engaging in further development, resources to guide their learning.

This blended model of professional development incorporated the study of online modules, video, Google presentations, Google forms and Google documents. Teachers and classified staff whose expertise was being developed in supporting students with moderate to severe handicaps chose evidence based practices to study from AIM (Autism Internet Modules. Teachers chose two practices a year that all staff would study and one to two evidence based practices (EBPs) that they would study individually. This course of professional development was supported by two monthly in person meetings.

One meeting was a presentation style lecture led by a guest speaker, expert in developmental disabilities, and the other meeting was a small group gathering with a specific monthly format that allowed teachers to share what was working and not working within their practice in addition to sharing examples and materials from EBPs being used in their classrooms. This approach allowed for a shared base of instructional knowledge on the part of all staff while also allowing teachers the opportunity to develop expertise in areas that were of specific interest to them. Classified staff were provided with the access to the same materials as certificated staff, were invited to the larger monthly meetings and were provided with follow up training by the classroom teacher that focused on the specific implementation of evidence based practices that supported their classroom instruction.

As individual teacher expertise began to grow, a coaching component was added to this model. When a teacher would develop an interest in an area that a colleague had expertise in or encountered a student or situation that would benefit from a another teacher’s area of expertise, release time would be provided for the two staff members to conduct observations of each other’s classrooms and to work together to incorporate the new evidence based practice into the classroom’s instructional model.

In addition to the internet modules, Google presentations and videos were created and presented via an online format. For example, staff studied the evidence based practice of video modeling this past year. The video modeling presentation was was made available for all staff to view and review as per their preference. The presentation  was easily modified to offer suggestions applicable to general education classroom instruction and to provide a guide to consider when creating video models. This presentation was supported with researched based articles for staff to read as well as steps to guide the process of creating a video model for students. The unit ended with a brief reflective assessment and submission of videos that were shared with all staff to use as fit their needs.

The outcome of implementing a blended learning model was a highly skilled and motivated staff who had confidence in their specific areas of expertise, foundational knowledge in over 30 evidence based instructional practices as well as in person and digital resources to access to supplement further learning. Teachers engaged in higher order thinking skills as they evaluated which evidence based practices their students would benefit from the most. They synthesized their knowledge to design instructional programs that incorporated these strategies into the curriculum while creating materials based on the practices they had learned. Additionally, staff began to create video models to support increased student learning.

The blended approach solved several of the logistical challenges of having staff spread across such a significant geographical area. It engaged staff as adult learners, provided flexibility for staff to engage in learning at their convenience while also capitalizing on their professional knowledge of their students’ needs and interests. This supported the implementation of instructional strategies to maximize student’s individual success. Added bonuses to using 2.0 tools and having materials available on the web were that parents and substitute teachers started to access the resources as well. This allowed for greater than expected fidelity of instruction when substitute teachers were in the classroom, particularly when staff was out for coaching. All in all, the implementation of the blended learning model to support professional development proved to be a resounding success with a positive impact on student learning.


An Online/Blended Teaching Approach to Staff Meetings and Professional Development

teacher_cartoon-257x300After spending seventeen years of my career as a classroom teacher, four years ago, I was hired for my first administrative position. Nevertheless, I continue to find that at the core of my being, I am a teacher. Having had the chance to mentor both new and experienced teachers in my administrative role, I have become aware of the skills and insights that I have as a part of my repertoire and how to share these with other educators. I am also highly cognizant of the fact, that once out of the classroom we, as educators, must stay knowledgeable with current as well as innovative practices that have the potential to be “disruptive” to our profession. Disruptive is used here to reference the work of both Clayton Christensen and Michael Horn, both of the Christensen Institute, who have collaborated to explain how new technologies can enter a market such as education. Through success with a previously untapped base, “disruptive” technologies and practices can grow to introduce effective innovations in a market that previously may have been inaccessible.

Online and blended teaching models have been a “disruptive” force in education. These models have tapped into students who have experienced struggles with the more traditional brick and mortar school system and traditional lecture style approaches to education. Online programs tapped into the market of students requiring credit recovery to graduate from high school. Given the opportunity to learn at their own pace, at a time that worked for them and with access to a computer and the internet, online learning made a significant impact in assisting students to earn their high school diplomas. This same approach was used by students who were receiving home school instruction or who required accelerated course work.

The successes did not go unnoticed and educators began to incorporate online learning within the more traditional education structure. Thus the blended learning model was born. As I reflect on how I might incorporate a blended model of instruction into my own practice as an administrator in the field of education, I see the opportunity to use this pedagogical structure to enhance professional development opportunities for staff and model how to incorporate a blended approach to a previously more traditional classroom.

Let the days of boring staff meetings be gone. Let those of feelings of our time as educators being wasted disappear. Welcome, the blended model of teacher professional development and staff meetings. I believe face to face time with staff and as a group continue to be essential components of site based communication and identity, however, using a blended approach, similar to the rotation model of a blended learning environment, could allow staff to more effectively use their preparation and professional development time. Let’s give staff access to announcements via video (and let’s make those videos entertaining), engage in discussions through a Google+ Community and focus on personalized learning to enhance individual teaching practice via internet modules and readings. In-person meetings and professional development or guest speakers via Skype or Google Hangout can be enhanced through back-channeling via Twitter discussions or by using Today’s Meet to comment and ask questions. Staff can comment, ask and answer questions for one another and share resources without ever interrupting the flow of a presentation. The level of engagement increases dramatically when the learner has the opportunity to actively engage in a presentation. These approaches offer a more effective method than the previous, “Write your question down on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it and wait until the end of the presentation,” expectation.

In order to engage staff in a blended approach to staff meetings and professional development, it is essential that the staff know how to access and use each of the technologies that will be incorporated. This requires planning and training in addition to well prepared materials to present to staff. It was not uncommon in my teaching experience to hear from the principal during lunch on a staff meeting day that the agenda for the afternoon had not yet been set. This led to the perception that administration did not place a high value on the opportunity to meet with the staff which was often reinforced by overly general agendas with a lot of “discussion” topics being made available at the time of the meeting. By incorporating a blended approach to staff meetings and PD, administration has to engage in thoughtful planning. Creating a rotation to include activities such as meeting as a large group, taking on online courses, creating an innovative lesson to share in an online community or reading an article and discussing it in a community create opportunities for increased engagement and personally relevant PD.

The intention would be that by modeling the skills and strategies used in an effective blended model of staff development and communication, staff would feel positive about their higher level of engagement as well as feel increased respect for their personal expertise within the profession. This would allow for discussion on how students could share in the same experience. Using the tools of the blended model, part  of the PD would be to learn, discuss, create and share lessons and ideas for relevant, rigorous and engaging learning.