Category Archives: Education reform

Hierarchy of Needs

HIERARCHY OF NEEDS.TXT

2013-09-29

by Richard White

You’ve almost certainly heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which describes five levels of needs, in ascending order, that lead toward fully realizing one’s human potential.

Those needs are summarized in the triangle below, with an important addition at the very base of the pyramid, courtesy of the Internets.

IMG_3512

It’s funny in part because it’s true, at least as far as educational technology is concerned: if you don’t have a wireless signal at your school that students can use to access the Internet, well… it’s going to be pretty hard for you to do anything technology-related.

Okay, maybe you need hardware—I’ll give you that. But hardware by itself doesn’t really cut it anymore. (Yes, I know you’re leaning back and thinking fondly of the days when we could give a kid a multimedia CD-ROM, point them towards a computer, and pretend that we were teaching them. Those days are over!)

And depending on your classroom setting, the hardware issue may already be solved: your students are in a 1-to-1 program, or a Bring Your Own Device program… or maybe you’ve got a critical mass of smartphones that some of your students already own. There are lots of ways this could work out.

And from there, it’s up to you, you and the students, what you want to do with this technology, and how you want to leverage it. Web-based research assignments? Shared Google Docs (either via Google Apps for Education or students’ private Google accounts) for students submitting cooperative work? Web pages? Mobile apps?

With apologies to Maslow, then, here is an update Hierarchy of Needs for Educational Technologists. There are thousands of technology-facilitated things you can do in the classroom, but it all begins with a device and a connection to the Internet.

hierarchy

There are perhaps a few elements missing here: administrative support for new ideas, new hardware, or new software? And certainly professional development funding/time for inexperienced teachers is always needed.

What else have I missed? Or are these really the essentials that are needed for successful deployment of Educational Technology at a school?

The Intersection of Teaching, Learning, and Technology

At Laura Holmgren’s request, last spring I wrote what became the inaugural post at poly360.org, a blog for the independent school community in which I work.

I’m fortunate to work in a community where the topics covered in that post are actually part of ongoing, day-to-day discussions I get to have with other teachers and technologists.

I’m cross-posting the piece here.

The Intersection of Teaching, Learning, and Technology

Richard White – 360 Reflection

When I was nine years old I read Danny Dunn and the Homework Machine, a story in which Danny and his friends Joe and Irene program a computer to do their homework for them. At that time the personal computer was still a fantasy, but the possibility of being able to have a machine handle my academic chores–my learning–was absolutely intoxicating.

Fast-forward a few years: I’d gone from programming a mainframe in high school to majoring in Computer Science in college, and then from teaching computer programming in high school on IBM PCs (pre-Internet!) to teaching AP Physics in Berkeley. I’d re-discovered the book from my childhood–there’s my name on the inside, written in my mother’s neat cursive–and read again about Danny’s hard-earned lesson: that programming a computer is not a shortcut to learning. The last page of the book, though, opens up a new possibility:

“Danny had a strange, wild look in his eyes, and a faraway smile on his lips. ‘Listen–what about a teaching machine…?'”

I began investigating the possibilities of technology-enhanced programmed instruction. The learning process for an inspired student can be a pretty straightforward process: get exposed to something new, learn a little bit about it, and then use what you’ve learned to do something interesting. For some subjects, the process of presenting information and checking for understanding is ideally suited for a computer, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so. Programmed instruction in book form had existed for years, and computer-based math instructional methods were already being launched.

I was a month or so into developing my own programmed instruction when I began to realize that this system, whatever its benefits might be, also had the effect of isolating me from the very best part of my vocation: working with students to help them understand the world around them. Teaching content, exploring with students the process of interpreting content, and perhaps most importantly, learning to develop strategies for dealing with new and unexpected situations, all demand a dynamic, creative, process that is the very heart and soul of my work. There was no way for me to write this stuff down, to program it, to “classroom flip” this aspect of my work.

That hasn’t kept me from leveraging technology where appropriate. The vast majority of my current curricular materials are online–lessons, labs, homework help, and practice tests–and students across the U.S. and abroad use these materials as a guide in their own learning. I am part of a global learning and teaching community, using technology that is faster, cheaper, and better than ever. We are actively exploring new ways that we can use that technology to improve education.

But at the heart of it all–sometimes just barely visible behind the iPads and the laptops, the email and the tweets, the websites and the Massive Open Online Courses–are students and teachers, working together, just as we always have.

And there is nothing that will be able to replace that.

MOOCs and You

MOOCs and You
Richard White
2013-03-23

Doug Johnson, as always, has words of wisdom over at Blue Skunk Blog, where he regularly weighs in with wisdom and insight on the very same topics that I find so interesting: the intersection of technology, teaching, and learning.

His January 29 entry is entitled “MOOCs—need K-12 pay attention?”, and if it has taken me two months to weigh in on the topic for myself, well… it’s an important question that’s worthy of some reflection.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have been discussed here before. Massive Open Online Courses are the Internet-enabled version of what we used to call a distance-learning course, although the new and improved version often includes enhancements like asynchronous discussion boards and wikis, video presentations from world-class instructors, perhaps some interactive online experience, and (if they’re doing it right), some form of periodic assessment, as well as a final assessment. If you get through the course you at least get a PDF certificate and a congratulatory email, and if you’ve paid some money, you may get some course credit that can presumably be applied toward a degree or certification program somewhere. Or, maybe you’ve dropped out of the course somewhere along the way, in which case you’ll be in very, very good company. Some ridiculous percentage of people who enroll in this courses don’t end up completing them.

(I myself have a 33% completion rate based on the three courses I’ve enrolled in, only one of which I managed to find time to complete… and even that was touch and go for a bit.)

The development of MOOCs such as Udacity, Coursera, and MIT’s Open Courseware (now looking a little dated) are an important development in the evolution of education, any way you look at it. Getting back to the Blue Skunk blog, the question Johnson raises is, “As K-12 teachers, what does it mean to us?”

I won’t repeat his thinking on the topic—head on over to his post to check it out—but my own thoughts on the matter parallel his in some ways. Certainly there are some students in the 9-12 grade range who might be in a position to benefit from online learning. For many students in this age range, though, and certainly for students at a younger level, a good deal of learning is bound together with the relationship that one develops with a teacher.

Most of us have favorite teachers that we remember from our youth, or even from college, and we found ourselves influenced by them in important ways, as a parent, youth group leader, or religious leader might influence us. As adults now, and as teachers, aren’t the parents of our students, of course, but we are very much, emotionally and legally, in loco parentis for our students during the school day, so the fact that we develop important relationships with our students isn’t a surprise.

As long as we have this kind of responsibility for our students, and as long as these kinds of relationships are important for encouraging our students, I don’t think any of us are in any real danger of losing our jobs to a Javascript running on a Khan Academy server somewhere. The interactions that we have with our students as we help them to learn and to grow are a vital part of their development, and our communities and institutions rely on us to encourage students along that path. The students rely on us as well.

There are rare exceptions, of course—self-learners who teach themselves from a book, or who academically bootstrap themselves—and more power to them. The MOOCs may become an important tool for them.

Learning can scale very nicely on the Internet. Given a MOOC, and Wikipedia, a little curiousity and the right starting conditions, the self-starting learner can accomplish wonders. But teaching does NOT scale. Teaching—where I sit down with a student, learn a little about who he or she is, give them a little academic shove in the right direction, and help them figure out the answers to their questions along the way—that’s a one-to-one process. Even in a classroom of 10 kids, or 15 kids, or 23 kids, or—God help you—40+ kids—teaching is about developing a relationship with your kids so that you can help them move in the right direction.

That’s one thing that the Internet can’t do, and will never be able to do.

For the educator who loves working with kids, that’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re still going to have to sit down with your students’ homework and take a look at how they’re progressing, a process which (for me and most of the teachers I know) quickly becomes tedious. Even scantron assessments, ideally, require interpretation and discussion.

And even computer programs written by my students require sitting down, late at night, with tired eyes, and making a few comments on their individual work.

It’s what we do. We’re teachers.

It’s a Jungle Out Here

IT’S A JUNGLE OUT HERE
Richard White
2013-03-14

I’ve been wanting to write for a long time about the challenges that technology users face in some schools, in some rooms, in some educational cultures. It’s something that we all face on occasion, from a colleague who “doesn’t really do technology” to a school leader with an uninformed knee-jerk reaction to social networking, from infrastructure that is unable to support the increased hardware and bandwidth demands of a classroom to pure, simple, reluctance to change… being on the leading edge of technology-based education reform—and worse, being on the bleeding edge—is not for the meek.

You can insert your favorite Don Quixote quote here if you like.

A little bit of a wildcat mentality may come in handy if you’re more gung-ho than your colleagues, administration, or school is currently willing to support… and dare I say it, a little bit of cash. When LCD projectors first dropped to the barely-sub-$1000 price range a few years ago, both I and a colleague of mine each bought one. It’s not that we had loads of cash lying around; it’s just that we were *that* committed to trying to transform the way we were doing things in the classroom.

If your school can’t buy you a computer that meets your needs, try to beg, borrow, or buy one that will.

If a decent backup strategy for your computer isn’t currently available to you, buy a service, or get an external hard drive, or learn how to roll your own backup strategy on a friend’s server.

If your kids don’t have “clicker”-style Classroom Response Systems, get a set of whiteboards and dry erase markers that they can use to record their responses for display to the instructor.

If your school blocks YouTube, use a video downloader plug-in like Flash Video Downloader to pull down the video locally onto your computer and show them from there.

The point is obviously that there are almost always options. We just need to be creative.

Will Richardson tells the story in one of his blog postings about the time he was giving a presentation at a school, and there was one teacher who kept road-blocking efforts to move forward technologically. “Yes, but that won’t work because…,” and then, “I tried to do that, but…” Finally tired of the negativity, Will stumbled upon a response that both acknowledged the man’s concerns and placed the responsibility for addressing those concerns squarely on his shoulders: “Yup, you’ve got some challenges there. So what are you going to do about that?”

“What are you going to do about that?”

It’s a jungle out here, and we’re all looking for ways to survive. It’s okay. We signed up for this. We can deal with it.

I stumbled upon this post a couple of days ago, which is a nice reminder of how we sometimes need to do things a little differently. It comes from the Business section of Wired Online, but I think it’s got a lot of relevance for educators as well.

Check it out: http://www.wired.com/business/2012/06/resiliency-risk-and-a-good-compass-how-to-survive-the-coming-chaos/

“Back of the Book” Answers

“Back of the Book” Answers

by Richard White

2012-10-04

Welcome back to the new school year!

One of the very first things I did when I started incorporating technology into my teaching was to put homework answers online for my physics students. I was relatively new to teaching physics, and what I learned pretty quickly was that my students, in attempting to solve a problem that could involve understanding how to apply multiple problem-solving steps in sequence, often found themselves getting stuck by one concept that they found especially challenging. Whether that one difficult concept occured at the beginning, the middle, or the end of the problem, they didn’t have the chance to work on anything else in the problem that occurred after that–they were stuck and couldn’t move on.

For simple problems, having access to the correct answer for an odd-numbered problem in the back of the book sometimes gave them enough of a clue that they could work their way backwards from that answer, and realize where they had made a mistake. But for more complex problems, they were dead in the water without a bit more in the way of hints on which direction they should proceed.

College textbook authors are aware of this problem, and most college-level chemistry and physics texts now offer some form of Student Solutions Manual that students can purchase (at considerable expense) for just such help. These student manuals usually cover some subset of all the problems in a textbook. Complete solutions manuals to these texts are also sometimes available, usually only to professors, and these are accompanied by dire warnings about the possible unintended consequences of sharing the contents with the young’uns.

This whole concept of gatekeeping information, or parsing it out to students on a “need to know” basis, runs completely counter to the idea of life-long learning, fostering self-guided discovery, and the current revolution in online learning.

Will Richardson, an educational reformer, famously supported his daughter learning how to play a Journey song on the piano by following a tutorial on the Internet, even when her piano teacher objected, saying that she wasn’t advanced enough to learn the song. I applaud Will’s sensibilities on most things, but even he occasionally gets it wrong, as when he posted this tweet on September 6.

It *is* good to see all of Tucker’s homework answer posted online. This information regarding the question of whether or not he’s making the progress he needs to make is just-in-time feedback that Tucker can use to step over the stumbling blocks that would otherwise require that he try to ask the question during class, or go to school early to talk to the teacher, or stay late after school. Why make him wait? Why hold his progress in completing homework hostage?

The obvious concern is that many students–perhaps even good students–may fall into the habit of taking the easy way out. If the solutions are posted, then students may be tempted to simply copy them, which is a double whammy against him or her: not only are they getting credit for work that they haven’t done (and getting reinforcement for cheating in the process), they’ve managed to temporarily avoid acquiring the very skills that those homework problems were meant to foster.

These are the perils of always-on access to information, and I’m afraid the obvious benefits come with some risks, and managing those risks becomes part of what we need to teach our children.

Perhaps part of teaching children to be lifelong learners is teaching them not only WHAT to learn–readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic, social skills, expository writing, critical thinking, etc.–but HOW to learn. That necessarily requires presenting them with content, and with strategies on how to access that content and use it best to their advantage.

It will be up to Will (and his son Tucker) to find a way to best manage learning in the new world, and that process will almost certainly involve a few potholes along the road. In the meantime, however, Mr. Richardson is far brighter and forward thinking than this one errant tweet might lead one to believe. I encourage you to read his blog.

Bringing things back around to my own classroom, my AP Physics classes are using a new text this year, and those homework problems aren’t easy. A significant part of my prep time for class is now devoted to writing up solutions to the homework problems that I’ve assigned, and making those available to my students online where they have access to them. The reality of the situation is that I’m going to have to go over those problems with them at some point, perhaps writing out the solutions in class (wasting additional face time with them, after they’ve wasted time struggling with the problems at home), or writing the solutions out in advance so that they can get the help they need when they need it, and not later.

It’s a good thing that I enjoy solving physics problems, because I’ve got a couple of hundred of them that I’m doing this year…!

Opening the Gates

Opening the Gates

2012-08-24

by Richard White

It’s a new school year! I don’t see my students for another few days, but many of the teachers are already back at work, greeting colleagues, cleaning classrooms, prepping calendars and websites, and a hundred and one other things that go into starting things up again.

It’s a special year for the science teachers and math teachers at my school. After a hard year’s worth of new construction, our brand new Math/Science/Library building is ready to go. The number of science classrooms has increased, our facilities have improved drastically, and we now have 10 ThinkPads installed in each of our two physics classrooms, with everything from Vernier’s Logger Pro to Microsoft’s Office to the University of Colorado’s excellent PhET Simulations installed. Having a set of computers installed in the 9th and 12th grade physics classrooms is going to revolutionize the way we teach physics at our school. I can’t wait to tell you about it.

But there is nothing more revolutionary than this simple fact:

Our school is opening up access to the Internet.

Teachers at our school have had mostly unfiltered access to the Internet for at least ten years, but students, until recently, have only had highly filtered access, and then only on school computers. This was presumably out of fear for their online safety, although students have access to literally anything they want on the Internet via their cell phones.

That all changed over the course of the summer, however, thanks in part to ongoing discussion in our Educational Technology Committee. Our IT Director, however, was almost certainly the one who did a little last-minute verbal judo to help encourage the decision. Regardless of how it came about, my school has now joined an increasing number of high school campuses that provide students with effectively free access to the World Wide Web.

Although my school is occasionally guilty of moving a little slowly on some of these things—I’m occasionally the one issuing this charge!—here, we’ve made the right move.

A friend forwarded an article to me earlier this evening, however. It contains a long series of Internet Safety Talking Points, and is a telling reminder that some schools still suffer from a “culture of fear.” I know all too well how hard it can be to be patient in the face of what appear unyielding barriers to the kind of technology-based policies and progress that are vital for educating our young people.

But the right conversation, at the right time, can make all the difference.

Keep the faith.

Bee Venom & Training Devices

Bee Venom & Training Devices
2012-08-18
by Richard White

I’m allergic to bee venom.

It wasn’t always that way. Growing up, I got stung by my share of bees, and hornets, and yellowjackets. I recall one particular time when I was riding down the road on my motorcycle when I happened to catch a bee in the neck of my t-shirt, and a sudden sharp sting on my back. I pulled over at a rest area, went in to the bathroom, and took off my shirt to see in the mirror the bee’s barb, and the little venom sac dangling at the end of it. I’d been stung, but it wasn’t more than a slight, painful swelling.

I’m not sure when I developed an allergy–I’m told that repeated exposures to venom can precipitate this–but when a bee sting, over the course of a couple of hours, turned my hand into a big round softball, I knew something had happened. I walked away from the emergency room with a shot of antihistamine and a prescription for an epi-pen, which one can use to administer a quick dose of epinephrine in the event of a sting.

Cool.

You have to get a new epi-pen every couple of years. This last time there was an extra pen in the pack, which turned out NOT be a “limited time, two-for-one” offer, but rather a “training device.”

This thing is amazing. It looks just like a real epi-pen, from the shape and coloring to the little blue cap you have to pull off before jamming the thing into your thigh. Now I’ve actually used an epi-pen before, and it’s not hard to do, but it’s true, there’s a little bit of trepidation going in the first time you try it. Part of it’s the idea of a needle going in to your body—”that’s not going to be fun,” you think—but a good part of is more of a general anxiety: “Am I doing this right?” How hard should you swing the pen so that it works right? I mean, I saw Pulp Fiction, and everybody knows you have to swing pretty hard to pierce that area over the heart, right?

So this training device is a little bit of genius. It gives you a way to practice administering the injection in a non-threatening context, and lets you get used to the idea of this thing that otherwise might be kind of scary. That’s awesome.

You probably already know where we’re going with this, right? Just as the Training Device acts as a model for that Authentic Assessment that shows up in the form of a bee sting, it’s important for us to provide Training and Models for our students.

In particular, technology-based delivery of materials can be of enormous benefit to kids who are desperately trying to figure out just exactly what it is that we’re asking of them.

Whether its a rubric that lets kids know how they’re going to be evaluated, or a practice test [PDF download] that gives them an idea of the format of questions, examples of acceptable work from previous students, or a quiz that gives them a low-grade stress situation that they need to manage, Practice Makes Perfect. It’s our job as teachers to provide students with opportunities to practice, as well as giving them ridiculously clear instructions on what our expectations are for an assignment.

Otherwise, how are they to know?

How to Flip Your Classroom

HOW TO FLIP YOUR CLASSROOM

2012-06-30

by Richard White

Flipping a classroom consists of off-loading (usually to the Internet) some of the non-interactive aspects of one’s classroom, in favor of using time in-class for activities that take advantage of the teacher’s immediate presence.

Perhaps the most obvious example might be this:

At school At home
Standard classroom Student listens to teacher introduce new math topic Student goes home and tries to do homework, often unsuccessfully and without the opportunity to get questions answered in a timely manner.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student watches brief video explanation of new topic online, or reads new material to be discussed in class the next day. Student works on “homework” problems, with teacher answering questions or providing clarifying follow-up as necessary.

Pretty straightforward, right? It’s a good idea, and there’s lots to recommend it. In fact, you may already be implementing some aspects of the flipped model, even if nobody has ever referred to it by that name before. Some teachers give students time in class to read a chapter in novel, and then discuss it in the remaining class time. Others choose to assign the reading as homework, leaving more time in class for re-reading passages, interpreting what the author has written, or general discussion.

If you’ve done something like this, congratulations—you’re officially part of the most recent trend in education, and you should feel free to strut around saying things like, “‘Inverted learning?’ Honey, I’ve been flipping my class for years…

If you haven’t tried this yet, or you’re just looking for a few ideas on how to get started trying this out, let’s take a look at the stops involved in doing such a thing. And then read below for some specific bits of advice regarding the process of converting to a flipped classroom.

Things to think about:

Start with a single day, or a single week, or a single unit.

You don’t need to reorganize your entire semester to begin trying out a flipped model. A day or two will give you a chance to see what the benefits and challenges are, and give you some good ideas on how to go about designing a flipped model on a larger scale.

Be patient with the students.

It may take them a little time to adjust to this at first. Under the traditional model, it’s easy for a teacher to ascertain whether a student has turned in a homework assignment, and easy for students to recognize something tangible like the piece of paper with their writing on it. A flipped instruction model is going to ask them do something rather than make something—watch a video, read this section, interview their parents about something—and this is a little different from what they ordinarily do for homework.

What can you flip in your class?

We all teach different subjects, in different ways, so it’s a uniquely personal challenge, figuring out what you can try flipping in your own class.

Here are some ideas to get you started, following the same format listed above.

The French Revolution

At school At home
Standard classroom Teacher lectures on the the origins of the French Revolution Student goes home and does a worksheet or write answers to problems from a textbook.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student at home watches a Khan Academy introduction to the French Revolution, and is asked to take notes on that presentation. Student comes in to class with notes prepared for a discussion. Students are asked to take additional notes as the discussion proceeds, and teacher collects notes at the end of class for evaluation.

Adding Fractions

At school At home
Standard classroom Teacher presents the idea of adding fractions with different denominators, and does an example. Student goes home and does homework problems from his or her textbook.
At home At school
Flipped classroom Student at home watches a YouTube video on adding fractions, and is asked to do attempt two different practice problems at home. Student comes in to class with practice problems completed (or not), and instructor gives an additional 15 problems of varying degrees of difficulty to reinforce the skill.

You get the idea.

Think about assessment.

When students walk into class the next morning, how are you going to know whether or not the students have done their flipped-style homework from the night before? A warm-up activity? A quiz? A discussion in which each student is monitored for participation? My own students tend to try to get away with doing less rather than more, so you’ll need to identify a means for checking that they’re doing their new homework.

Allow for varying access to technology.

If students don’t have some sort of comparable access to technology, you’ll need to develop strategies for managing those differences. If a video lesson is being watched online, a teacher might send home a DVD that the student can watch at home. At-school access to the video, in the library perhaps, can be arranged for during other times of the school day. These factors can complicate your efforts to flip the classroom, but it’s important that all students be accommodated in one way or another.

Create your own resources.

Ultimately, there will come a point at which you’ll find that what you need your students to see doesn’t yet exist, or maybe you’ll be inspired to develop something unique and personalized for them. Creating and uploading videos to YouTube is a relatively easy thing to do with the webcam that’s probably already included in your laptop computer. If you want a higher production value, or you want to capture your computer screen while showing a PowerPoint presentation, you’ll almost certainly have to buy some software that will allow you to experiment with that process. TechSmith’s Camtasia for both PC and Mac, and Telestream’s Screenflow for the Mac, are currently popular and powerful screen capture utilities. If you run Linux, you can do a $ sudo apt-get install xvidcap to install XVidCap, a live screen capture utility that’s very good, but lacks some of the high-end editing capabilities built into Camtasia and Screenflow.

Make your materials available on a website.

Google’s YouTube is a powerful means of delivering videos, but it can be a distracting place to send a student for flipped homework assignments. At some point you’ll almost certainly want to create a webpage or website that will give students a one-stop shop for finding materials used in your course. Your school may offer the means of putting up a course webpage, but if not, you can certainly create your own. The quickest, easiest, and certainly cheapest way to do this is to use Google’s Sites feature, available with any Google account. Once you’ve got your page set up, you can use it to easily deliver flipped assignments to your students.

When you look at all of that up there, it seems like it’s a lot of work, but you certainly don’t have to jump into this all at once. Begin at the beginning, and move forward as your time and teaching assignment allow.

For more resources on Flipped Classrooms, see:

Notes On the Flipped Classroom

NOTES ON THE FLIPPED CLASSROOM

by Richard White

2012-06-27

Okay, the singularity has arrived. My friend Sharon, an outstanding English teacher who has remained, to this point, a very traditional and non-technology-based instructor, just texted me from an ed conference she’s at, and she wants to try out this whole “flipped classroom” thing.

She wants to know how to go about doing that.

Let’s take care of some terminology first.

What’s a ‘hybrid classroom?’

A “hybrid classroom” or “blended classroom” (the terms are synonymous) is one in which, in addition to meeting in a physical classroom on a regular basis, some significant amount of the work for a course is conducted, or at least available, online.

This is typically something more than just a single online assignment. A course in which students regularly work online—perhaps via a discussion board, a wiki, or blogging—or a where content is delivered online, or assignments submitted online… these are all aspects of a hybrid course. (It should be noted that historically, non-online activities might be part of a blended course as well, but today, nearly all references to hybrid courses refer to Internet-mediated work.)

Traditional Activity Online Equivalent
Watching/listening to a classroom lecture from the teacher. Watching/listening to the teacher in a pre-recorded podcast or video.
Participating in a classroom discussion Reading an online Discussion Board and contributing one’s own ideas to a topic of conversation
Asking the teacher or other students for clarification, or help on an assignment Emailing, texting, online chatting, or videoconferencing with the teacher or classmates
Taking a quiz in class Taking an online quiz (via Google Forms, for example)
Writing an essay on paper Writing an essay on Google docs
Turning in papers in class. Turning in papers via email, Dropbox, or by sharing the document with the teacher
Collaborative projects in class Online collaborations via shared documents
Classroom presentations to students Online presentations—websites, wikis, videos—to the world

You can read about people’s experiences with, and the ideas behind, hybrid or blended learning here, and here, and here.

What’s a ‘flipped classroom,’ then?

A flipped classroom is simply a type of hybrid classroom in which activities traditionally conducted in class are shifted to an out-of-class time, allowing for valuable face-to-face class time to be used for other work.

Most commonly, this currently consists of teachers recording short videos of material that would have been presented in class, so that students can watch that presentation at home. The idea, then, is that students can do their “homework”—working on problems, asking questions of the teacher—in class, where the teacher is available to assist.

Why Would I Want to Consider Changing What I Do?

There are lots of reasons why you might want (or might not want) to change the way you look at how you teach. There’s no question that students find technology-mediated experiences more interesting, and teachers interested in exploring new possibilities tend to be enthusiastic about these ideas, which has a positive effect on their teaching.

Many teachers, and I count myself among them, also feel that we should not only be teaching content, but process; having students learning to use technology is critical to preparing them for their future.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, teachers who have shifted to a flipped classroom model feel that that model actually allows them to make better use of the time they have with their students. Why have students work on their homework at home where the teacher is unavailable to answer any questions they might have? Why have students sit in class listening to a presentation when they can just as easily do that at home, on the computer?

What are the Challenges Associated with Hybrid Classrooms and Flipped Learning?

  1. Time
    It takes time to make these changes. Teachers will have to spend time reorganizing their courses, recording video for flipped classrooms, developing and maintaining the website, communicating new processes and expectations with students and parents…

    This isn’t meant to dissuade you from taking on the process, but for teachers who already occasionally feel overworked, it’s important to acknowledge this at the start. A good strategy is to make small, incremental changes, rather than trying to re-do your entire course at one time. See the follow-up post on one strategy that you can use.

  2. Student Access to Technology
    It may well be the case that not all of your students have access to a computer connected to the Internet, which is obviously going to have an effect on how a teacher or a school chooses to approach these strategies. Some schools already require technology experiences for students via a 1-to-1 or Bring Your Own Device program, some provide financial or hardware support for students-in-need, some teachers will provide non-technology-based alternatives, and some teachers/schools will restrict new learning strategies unless every student can be provided with the same experience.
  3. Not Enough Research Yet on Learning Improvements
    If you’re an evidence-based guy or gal (as I am), and you’re looking for data that suggests all of this improves learning or test scores, I’m afraid that the jury is still out on that.

    From the U.S. Department of Education’s Evaluation of Evidence-Based Practices in Online Learning: A Meta-analysis and review of online learning studies:

    …Analysts noted that these blended conditions often included additional learning time and instructional elements not received by students in control conditions. This finding suggests that the positive effects associated with blended learning should not be attributed to the media, per se. An unexpected finding was the small number of rigorous published studies contrasting online and face-to-face learning conditions for K–12 students. In light of this small corpus, caution is required in generalizing to the K–12 population because the results are derived for the most part from studies in other settings (e.g., medical training, higher education).

    This doesn’t mean that a flipped classroom isn’t worthy of exploration. On the contrary, interested and enthusiastic teachers are encouraged to consider new ways of looking at how they teach, and implementing new instructional strategies that they feel might be of benefit to their students.

Okay. So how do I get started?

If it turns out that you’re interested in taking some steps towards making your course more hybrid, and in particular you’d like to play around with the idea of flipping your class a bit, the next post will give you one possible path.

See you then!

Udacity

Late night provisions for Computer Science homework session at Udacity

UDACITY

by Richard White

2012-04-03

Today I finished the first online course that I’ve ever taken, thanks to my professor David Evans and Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun… and the experience has changed my life.

If you haven’t heard about Udacity you might consider a) going to udacity.com to wander about the website, or b) reading the excellent writeup in Wired magazine. But the upshot of it all is this: education is never going to be the same.

MIT’s OpenCourseWare offerings were a fine way to get the online education experience started—who can argue with access to top-notch professors at a world-class university? And Sal Khan’s Khan Academy offers increased granularity in bite-sized chunks at the secondary school level.

What makes Udacity so amazing, though, is the platform that they’ve developed to deliver and manage true online learning. Thrun identified nine components that he considered essential for education at the university level:

  • admissions
  • lectures
  • peer interaction
  • professor interaction
  • problem-solving
  • assignments
  • exams
  • deadlines
  • certification

While Udacity hasn’t completely solved every one of these problems yet, it is well on its way. I greatly enjoyed taking the inaugural CS101 Intro to Computer Science course, a seven-week curriculum that used the context of “building a search engine” as a vehicle for presenting core computer science concepts.

I’ll admit right now that I was well-acquainted with the subject matter—I teach an Intro to Computer Science course myself—but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t find most of the assignments entertaining, and some of them quite challenging.

If you haven’t had a chance to try out an online course yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. Both Udacity and Coursera have plenty of fine offerings in a wide variety of fields.

It’ll change the way you look at education.