My #ITEC13 Reflection

After two days of waking early and making the trek to Des Moines from Waterloo, I find myself on #ITEC13 +1 having trouble sleeping in to my normal 6am and instead thinking about everything I learned over the last two days…at 4am mind you… So, rather than have an isolated reflection while futilely trying to go back to sleep, I might as well get up and share my thoughts, my ideas with anyone who may be interested, which brings me to my first major takeaway: As educators, we find ourselves constantly taking resources and ideas from the internet, but when was the last time we contributed?

Jeff Utecht was the keynote on day two and I’ve been a big fan of his for a few years now. So having the chance to hear him speak in person was amazing. There were a number of things that he brought up, but perhaps one of the most compelling was the need for educators to contribute to the larger community. How are we giving back to others who we don’t directly interact with? Certainly we give back in our classroom, schools, and local communities, but what about the larger community? How are we contributing to the advancement of the profession? More and more I find myself thinking about non-positional leadership and how we are advocating, leading, and working with others to advance meaningful change. Hearing Jeff talk about sharing with the larger community only served to reinforce this concept that each of us are leaders and do have opportunities to lead within our profession and beyond the classroom. For me, I’ve seemed to fallen off the larger community radar a little over the last year. Things get busy, I have small children and I have a pretty full schedule. Yet, given all of that, I still feel this nagging feeling that I’m not contributing enough. I’m not posting enough about what I’m doing or enough about some of the ridiculous ideas that I have that I want to start putting legs on. This wasn’t a major theme Jeff had, but it was an important theme, and has given me pause for reflection, as I hope it will do for each of you.

Sticking with Jeff a little longer, there were two other things that really stuck out for me. The first was the idea of a moonshot idea. As Jeff described it, a moonshot idea is an idea that seeks to change something that appears almost impossible. However, we strive to make that moonshot idea happen because we are bothered by it. We want it to happen and refuse to let it pass us by. The name moonshot comes from when JFK said we would put a man on the moon. No one knew how to do it, but we were going to do it anyway. There was a drive, a passion for making it happen. For me, moonshot ideas are what keep me going, keep me asking questions, and make me challenge those around me. Things bother me. Some more than others, but being bothered is what has kept me feeling like I can make change happen. Probably the biggest thing that bothers me is ineffective use of technologies in the classroom that is then highlighted as increasing achievement, learning, (insert term here) when in fact nothing has really changed. Scott McLeod had a session on this called Gratuitous Use of Technology (or something to that effect). While I missed the session, that really sums up what bothers me. It may be a far cry in comparison to putting a man on the moon, but nevertheless, it still matters, it’s still important, and it really bothers me.

The other thing that really stood out from Jeff’s keynote was the video of the young man doing a Rube Goldberg, at what appeared to be his house. This child, I think he was in fourth grade, but can’t really remember, creates this impressive Rube Goldberg machine and he makes a prediction about how many times his machine is going to succeed and how many times it will fail. I think it was a two to 14 ratio. As the video continues, it starts showing the trials. The first three are a bust and then on the fourth a success. What happens next is the best thing. This kid literally flips out. He is so excited that it worked on the fourth time when he predicted that if would fail “umpteen” times. I immediately thought, when was the last time we were this excited and willing to fail “umpteen” times? The mantra seems to be if we can’t do it it right the first time, we better not even try. I’d say this was a common theme I ran into throughout the conference. It’s okay to make mistakes, but what we do next is what matters. What’s worse is that we appear to be sending this signal to our students via standardized tests with all the focus on getting the right scores and the high stakes nature of the tests. Nothing in life, at least in my life, is as high stakes as those tests are for students and schools. They aren’t realistic and the emphasis we place on them as a nation, state, and local community truly bothers me. This certainly is a moonshot idea and it’s almost embarrassing that it is.

Other highlights from my conference experience:

  • Teaching students how to search is truly critical. We don’t live in a world where we can organize everything into nice little units. Our knowledge is too large, complex, and changes way to fast to keep up. Being able to sift is going to be much more important that sorting. I actually started this with my son last night. We started searching for orange juice and he loved it! (Henry’s four BTW)
  • Our knowledge has a half life of 18 months. This is interesting for me since the work I did for my doctorate in my first couple semesters is going to be outdated by the time I write my dissertation. Let’s not even go to textbooks…
  • Some key things when it comes to searching on Google: find the ads, the more links to a website means Google thinks it’s an authority, use the search tools to refine results, site: and filetype: are very useful for getting the resources you want, reading level is also helpful, and it is possible to search for dated materials, such as newspapers from the Korean War era (type Korean War, limit results to 1950-1955, and click on the news link in Google).
  • It’s easy to make info grams. Some resources: infogr.am, easel.ly, and piktochart.
  • Never underestimate the power of Twitter. The majority of my resources, including those from the previous bullet, came from Twitter. One person was at ITEC, but the other was in Oklahoma. Not to mention all the things I would have missed that were captured by others via the back channel #ITEC13
  • Speaking of Twitter, it still has a spam issue. I hadn’t really noticed it for a long time, but during the conference it was certainly present in the hashtag. But I did learn that you can filter your results. For me I used #ITEC13 -hidelink (Hidelink was what was spamming everyone). Thanks to @jamiefath for that one!
  • Kids are important and are missed when they are gone. But do we let them know that? My guess is not enough.
  • We are social creatures, yet school is typically the place where we can’t interact either with those literally sitting next to us or those in the larger community. If we want students to be engaged, let’s give them something to be engaged in.
  • There are a number of apps in iOS 7 that use location and notification services that really don’t need to. All that does is suck my battery life down and shares more than I really want. Check it out in settings and take back control!
  • There were three 8th graders at the conference (perhaps more, but I only saw three). It seems like more and more young people are showing up at conferences and I love it. Young people have a voice and they should let it be heard. As I was working on this post I saw Ian Coon tweet out something that appears to be a student bill of rights (I don’t think that’s what it’s called, but something generally like that) about what they want from their school and their educational experience. I haven’t read it yet, but I’m going to later today when I get to work. I don’t know if K12 students have to pay for ITEC, but they shouldn’t. These are the people we need to invite in, because above all, their voice counts, yet they are the most underrepresented group in education. We should be inviting them in so we can learn from them.
  • I met a number of people I follow on Twitter. Always a fun experience. I also had the chance to meet up with some people I hadn’t seen in a few years, even since high school.
  • Looking for more? Check out #ITEC13 and http://www.jeffutecht.com/itec

Finally, perhaps the best part of the conference were the conversations I had with my colleagues on the way to and from the conference. We were able to talk about more things in the two hour drive there and back than any number of meetings would have accomplished. This is on top of the interactions we had during the conference. For me, I was able to get a ton of feedback on my dissertation topic and some new directions to keep my work moving forward.

So all in all, I had a great conference experience. My only regret is that I wasn’t able to stay for all the afternoon sessions. Time is a scarce resource, but even with my mostly limited ITEC experience, I still feel I’ve been rejuvenated and am ready to keep on being bothered.

PBL: An instructional strategy or instructional design model?

Yesterday at work I began pondering whether PBL (project-based learning, not problem) is an instructional strategy or an instructional design model. This question reappeared early this morning while I was trying to get my 10 month-old daughter back to sleep. I successfully was able to coax her back to bed, but I couldn’t do the same for myself. I’m left wondering about PBL and what it really is. So in a vain attempt to go back to sleep before I have to get up in just over an hour, I’m going to expand upon my thoughts here and see if I come up with an answer that pleases me enough to put my mind at ease so I can sleep.

My general thought is that PBL is an instructional strategy. Much like any other instructional strategy. Say cooperative learning or differentiated instruction. There are a variety of characteristics related to PBL that make it different from other teaching methods. In short, PBL is one of a number of strategies I can use to teach my curriculum.

Where my dissonance emerges is with the design aspect of PBL experiences or units. I learned PBL from the Buck Institute and always refer to their terms and their characteristics of PBL when I’m explaining PBL or helping someone implement a PBL experience. Where I think I’m being thrown into chaos is with the way BIE has packaged the design aspect for creating PBL units through their project planning form. This form is a nice, compact guide that walks the teacher step-by-step through all the components necessary to make PBL work. Much like an instructional design model, it has all the major players: goals, curriculum standards, strategies, assessments, assignments, etc. However, as I work through the PPF, it feels like I following an instructional design model.

Now it probably feels like I’m following an instructional design model because I am. However, my instructional design model is not PBL, but rather something that better resembles a Dick and Carey or ADDIE flavor. As I’ve thought more about PBL and what it really is, it would seem that PBL truly is only an instructional strategy. But the way BIE has packaged their materials has confused me for some reason into believing PBL was an instructional design model. I’m not sure why this has preoccupied me so much, but it has.

And with that, I’ll go back to bed hold Nora because she just woke up…

My experiences with blended learning

Note: This blog post is being used as part of the UNI Teacher Quality Partnership Course Redesign Summit that will take place from June 1-7, therefore, this post may seem a bit out of context for those not participating in the summit.  However, feel free to leave comments and interact as you see fit.

I’ve had a few experiences with blended learning as a student, some good and some bad.  My first experiences were during my undergraduate course about distance education.  This course was taught in an entirely blended format.  There were face-to-face meetings on campus and there were also a number of interactions using a learning management system.  Like many things, the first time you try something is rarely the best experience and mine was no different.  Having never taken a course that met at a distance, I was unprepared for the online experience of the course, in particular, the online discussions.  I’m typically a more reserved person when it comes to discussions in front of my peers and this transferred to the online environment.  When the time came for discussions it was difficult for me to engage with others in the course.  I’d have something I would want to share so I would post it in my forum, but I rarely received feedback from anyone else in the course.  Essentially I thought what I was posting was wrong and no one was telling me otherwise so I went on that assumption.  I felt isolated.  As time went on I continued to feel more and more isolated and in the end my performance in the course suffered.  The problem with this first experience was that I didn’t feel like I was noticed by others in the course.  This is what is called social presence, which has to be facilitated and cultivated by course instructors.  If instructors fail to do this, students tend to fall into the same situation that I found myself in during my first blended course.

However, my second experience was much different from my first.  I enrolled in a distance masters program where all the courses were taught primarily at a distance.  In each of the courses, we only met physically about once or twice a semester and, for the most part, the people I began my courses with were the same throughout the entire experience.  This helped each student develop relationships that will last a lifetime.  There were many typical class activities, such as readings, lectures, discussions, and collaborative group work, that were done at a distance with people from all over the US.  The key for the experience was being able to work asynchronously, but still on a schedule to ensure we progressed through the course together.  This way we could learn when it was most convenient for us.  Also making this a positive experience were the instructors who were flexible and responsive to the needs of the students.  If something needed to be changed, they worked with the entire class and modified the course accordingly.
Reflecting back on the experience, there were a number of changes from my first blended course to my last.  The biggest factor has probably been time.  About 7 years has elapsed since my first experience and during that time a number of advances, both intelectual and technological, have been made with blended and online learning that have made them easier to design and teach.  This isn’t because blended and online learning is an easier format to teach through, but instead, we are better able to identify and change problem areas both in the design process and once the course is underway, which in the end makes the entire process easier.  While we will share and discuss many of the resources and strategies you can use to design effective blended learning environments, I underlined a few words above to have you start thinking about how you and your students interact in your courses.  Even though there are a number of contextual differences between my experience and the ones you create for your students, these are still common themes that will appear in nearly all blended learning environments, so think about these themes in your context and what it means for your students.

#i11i Post-Conference Reflection

Well, the day has come and gone and it was a wonderful experience.  I met with a number of educators and had a great time learning from each of the presenters.  I’d like to highlight what I thought the big points were from each of the sessions I attended and then have some final thoughts about the conference and where I’m going to take my focus next.

Social Media: @shannonmmiller

This was the session I started my day out with, mainly because as we look to the future of education, there is a global context that we have to address in education.  I think social media is one way we can accomodate the need for global connectedness and global presence in education, so what better way to learn about social media than from the queen of social media herself, @shannonmmiller. I’ve been interested in #VanMeter‘s story for a long time but haven’t had an opportunity to really listen and see what they are doing in their district that is so special.  What I saw was truly something special.  It wasn’t the computers or the software they were using, but what they were doing with the computers and software that caught my eye.  From using Facebook pages with students, to creating Flickr clubs around student interests, to having students interact with other young people across the US, @shannonmmiller highlighted how the #VanMeter teachers and students had knocked down the four walls of their school to interact and learn with others from around the world.

What I liked about this session was how @shannonmmiller discussed the implementation or the process they went through to create these opportunities for their students.  By process I don’t mean step-by-step directions for replicating this in your school, but rather the intellectual process.  A few comments that stood out were: “There are a number of reasons why we shouldn’t use social media, but do those reasons outweigh the benefits of using them?” “If there is a problem with a Facebook page, most likely administrators will be able to find out who posted the comment and take care of the problem rather than ending the entire project,” “Sometimes it takes a little hand holding to help teachers try something new in the classroom,” “Students have a love-hate relationship when using social media in education, which needs to be taken into consideration when using social media in a course,” and finally, “If you want to interact with someone using social media…just ask.  They are there to learn with you and will likely be willing to arrange some time to talk with you and your class.”  My big take away from this session is not that we need to unblock social media sites, but rather, we need to begin talking about how we can create opportunities for students to interact on a global scale, so they can become a global citizen which will be crucial for living and learning in the century ahead of us.

Rethink Assessment </summative> <formative>: @mctownsley and @russgoerend

I thought this was a fun session.  Matt and Russ had a very engaging and interesting presentation about why we need to stop summatively assessing students and begin assessing our students more for mastery using more formative assessments.  Matt and Russ introduced competency-based grading, which appears to be an interesting approach to assessing students, but I wonder if that means eliminating summative assessment entirely.  (Note: I just want to point out that I know very little about competency-based grading so if I make a huge misstatement, please correct me.)

I was able to identify with the situation they presented where a relatively young teacher grades purely using summative assessments, never taking time to see if students understand the content.  The “I taught it so you should have learned it” concept was highlighted which I think is true for many teachers.  I know I’ve been in that situation in the past.  As the skit progressed, they introduced formative assessment and how it benefits students by letting them know where they are and how they can improve to meet mastery standards.  What resonated with me was when one of them said, “We need to be more interested in student learning rather than when they learned it.”  We shouldn’t be assessing their compliance, but rather their learning which is something I feel many teachers don’t do.  “Teachers need to stop hiding behind points,” was another statement I thought made a lot of sense, because we often give students that zero for not completing an assignment, which sends the signal that we don’t care that you didn’t do the homework and then we move on.  I think most teachers went into education because they care about students and want to help others succeed, but at some point our purpose has changed and we lose focus of our true mission and passions.  I think that is what this session was about.  Using formative assessment to show students that we care about them and want to help them learn.  Formative assessment isn’t easy, but it’s necessary.

Higher Ed Listens: Dr. Mary Herring, Dr. Leigh Zeitz, Robin Galloway, Megan Balong, and Dan Mourlam

This was my first session as a presenter at a conference and was a bit exciting.  It was different than I expected, likely because there were fewer people than we anticipated, but that’s okay.  We have to start the conversation somewhere and the conversation we had was a great one.  The goal of this session was to have practicing teachers and administrators in one-to-one laptop districts help higher ed identify what is necessary to be prepared to teach in a one-to-one school.  With so many school districts going one-to-one in the next year in Iowa, we wanted to bring to the forefront the implications for higher ed and pre-service education.

I haven’t looked at the session notes yet, but what stands out most to me was that higher ed institutions need to be more involved in PK-12 education.  This means both faculty and students going out to these schools that are being innovative, especially when there are a large number of districts all doing the same thing.  To me, this means changing our methods experience for in our pre-service programs, but how do we do this with 2500 students?  I refuse to think that we can’t change due to the large number of students enrolled in our program, but I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel.  With the grant project we are working at at UNI, one piece is creating virtual field placements/observations for our students, so hopefully the work we do with the grant will appeal directly to this gap that is forming between what many Iowa schools are doing with technology and the skills new teachers have once they enter the profession.

Role Alike

The role alike session was new to me.  I’ve never been in one of these sessions in the past and the one I went to was for technology coordinators.  The session didn’t start out very well as most everyone in the room just sat around talking.  One of my colleagues came up to me and asked what we are supposed to do and I decided to sieze the opportunity to work on my leadership skills.  So I hopped up, plugged my laptop into the projector and grabbed the mic and started talking.  It was a bit awkward at first, but after a few minutes the people in the room started opening up and talking about questions they had and things they thought was interesting.  I didn’t have any agenda for the session and did it just because I thought it would be fun, which it was.  The discussions centered around troubleshooting related to networking, servers, firewalls, etc.  Most of what you would expect technology coordinators to talk about.

There was one thing I was a bit disappointed about in this session, which was the extent to which many of the tech coordinators didn’t seem too interested in talking about learning as much as they were interested in talking about why we shouldn’t do something.  I didn’t want to capitalize the session and push the envelop too much since I don’t think that was the intention of the role alike, but there are a couple things that bothered me that I want to share.  The first thing that truly bothered me was that this conversation wasn’t about education.  I don’t mind talking about servers and networking if it is in the context of making greater educational goals happen, but this wasn’t the case.  It seemed like in a group of technology coordinators from schools that give all their students some kind of mobile computing device there would be discussions about how to solve problems that restrict greater learning from taking place.  This wasn’t the case though.  The focus wasn’t on enhancing, but rather maintaining.  Very little innovativeness for making greater learning possible.

The other thing that bothered me about this session were the number of excuses for not doing something.  Bandwidth limitations, students will abuse it, teachers aren’t using it, etc.  These are poor excuses for not being a change agent in your school.  I feel technology coordinators have a very special position in schools to help make change happen, but often that position isn’t embraced.  This was the feeling I had yesterday, which disappointed me a little.  It’s possible that the people who capitalized the conversation were the only voices heard and thus limit my perception to an extent, but I think it is time to stop hiding behind excuses for not doing something and to start making positive change happen in your district.

Oh, and by the way, if your teachers have access to a tool like Facebook but aren’t using it, that isn’t a reason to block the site.  It’s a reason to have professional development so teachers can understand the benefits of using the technology and create amazing opportunities for their students.  Refusing to accept the need for professional development and support is a lack of vision as well as a lack of leadership, because as a technology coordinator you have a responsibility to lead from an educational perspective, not a controlling perspective.  Just needed to get that off my chest!

What Are the Students Doing? @mcleod

I thought this was the best session of the day, because it brought to the forefront why we have one-to-one initiatives: to increase student learning.  The session started by having us talk about what learning is and how we define it, but then began to progress to whether or not we need to define learning and how as a group we define learning and subsequently assess it.  I had my own assumptions and opinions about what learning is and how we can assess it, but where the value came out was when @mcleod brought us to a close and said, “Technology does not equal learning.”  A simple statement that most of use agree with, but don’t always practice.  By giving all my students a laptop I cannot expect them to learn more.  It’s what we do with those laptops that will determine if they learn more or less.

@mcleod ended by asking a few questions that we need to talk about back home.  There were two that stood out to me and is how I am going to leave you today:

  • What kind of support do teachers need in order to have the type of learning and teaching we want to see take place?
  • How will the use of laptops improve student learning?
I had originally wanted to put my final thoughts in this post, but it is long enough.  I’ll work on another tomorrow and promise to keep it shorter!

An update on the TQP grant

TQP LogoI haven’t talked about the grant lately so I thought i would give an update.  For those who aren’t aware, I recently changed jobs, moving from being a technology director at a PK-12 school to working as a technology specialist on a Iowa Teacher Quality Partnership grant at UNI.  It has been a good change, providing a number of new opportunities.

I’ve been up to a lot of different projects lately, with the biggest being researching video conferencing technologies.  As part of the grant we are going to send pre-service teacher to five rural schools that are each about an hour to an hour and a half away from campus.  Our goal is to increase the amount of time pre-service teachers spend in the classroom, which means we are going to need to redesign our coursework some to allow for distance synchronous communication.  I’ve been looking at a Polycom HDX 7000, which is like most traditional Polycoms but this one has the ability to place calls in HD at relatively low bandwidth.  What I also like about this device is that it allows a user to connect a computer to it using a DVI cable.  This open so many more opportunities for instructors and their students as they begin looking at classroom planning and management.  Before this was limited to using services like Adobe Connect, which really only had mediocre results at best when it came to screen sharing.

I’ve also been spending a lot of time looking into how we can record a teacher’s performance in the classroom.  The key here is determining what we want to capture.  What is the most important thing in the classroom that evaluators need to see to determine a teacher is effective?  My answer is that we need to capture student learning and what led up to the student learning.  So I’ve been talking to people both on campus and some of the AEAs in the state to see what they had for suggestions.  Some key things I’m keeping in mind are:

  • Needs to be simple, but quality
  • Need to have a good audio source, which means the teacher needs to wear a wireless mic
  • Needs to be affordable so others can do the same thing in their classrooms
  • Needs to have a small footprint in the classroom

So I’ve been looking at cameras and coming up a little short here and there, but I have found a couple I would like to demo that are reasonably affordable, high quality (or at least they appear to be), and have an external mic input.  May not sound too glorious, but what we use for our pilot projects has the potential to be adopted statewide so I’m trying to think everything through as much as possible and think of the implications they have once we deploy.

Finally, the last big thing I and the rest of the TQP team are doing is making presentations to groups we want to have involved in this project.  We are getting out and meeting people both throughout the state and on campus.  Next week I’m meeting with one of our pilot schools to learn more about their technology plans and initiatives, hopefully learning something in the process and opening a door for the district should they have the need for my services, either for implementing a new project or even to troubleshoot a problem.

Its been a little slow from time-to-time, but things are starting to pick up and move forward and I’m getting excited for what’s beginning to unfold.  If you want to learn more about the Iowa Teacher Quality Partnership grant, click here.

The time for talking has ended, we need to start doing the things we are talking about

I’m sitting here in my office at the end of the week thinking back on some of the things I have done, heard, and saw this week.  The one thing that has stood out is the amount of talk about how we should improve, change, and transform education because it isn’t good enough as it stands.  This seems to have consumed my PLN lately, which has made me tune out to an extent, not because I don’t think it is important to talk about how we need to improve education.  I think it is important to do this, but I’ve been left wanting more and more from my PLN and I’m not getting it.  I want to know what others are doing in their classrooms to make education better.  How did it impact your students?  What are your reflections on what you did?  What would you change for next time?  This conversation seems to be missed in most of the blogs and tweets I have been reading in the last few days, and even the last few weeks.  Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places, and if that is the case, please point me in the right direction.  It almost feels like I’ve been sitting in the teachers lounge for the last little while and I can’t seem to get out.  Please help by letting everyone know the great things you are doing!

I’ll start.  This past week I have been working on crafting and promoting our message to various stakeholders for the grant project I am working on.  The goal of the grant is to prepare more highly effective teachers to help boost student achievement.  This is done through the use of a Teacher Performance Assessment, which has yet to be developed, but we have a general idea of what it looks like (see PACT and TPAC).  Before we can begin working with university faculty and K12 faculty, we need to get our message out and let everyone know what we are about, which is what I’ve been working on in an attempt to make education better for the nation’s youth.  Not too exciting, but it’s a start.

ELI Focus on Blended Learning

Here are my reflections from the Educause Blended Learning conference.

There are two ways that blended learning has been used in education: a transformative approach and an add on approach.  The key to effective blended learning is finding the right amount of f2f and online instruction.  Also key to successful blended learning is making sure there is a teacher presence.  There sometimes is a tendency to skip the teaching part of an online course because the content is readily available to students.  The content cannot drive the instruction, the teacher must drive the instruction.

An interesting observation while looking at the conference as a whole is that there isn’t an agreed upon definition of blended learning.  However, if you take all the different variations of blended learning together you are able to create your own definition of blended learning, which in my opinion is what counts the most.  The model for blended learning a teacher uses for their classes needs to work for them and might not transcribe to a definition of a colleague or leader in the field.  What really matters are the features of blended learning that are integrated into the course.

Garrison explained seven principles for blended learning, which include: design for open communication and trust, design for critical reflection and discourse, create and sustain sense of community, support purposeful inquiry, ensure students sustain collaboration, ensure that inquiry moves to resolution, and ensure assessment is congruent with intended learning outcomes.  These seven principles do make a nice foundation to start from as we begin to create a blended course, because it forces us to focus on how we need to change our pedagogy to create an enriching learning environment for students.

Just like in a f2f classroom, teachers need to keep students actively engaged in the content, which can be a bit different in an online environment.  This is why teaching presence is important for a blended course.  Students need to know that the instructor is present in the online environment as well as in the f2f environment.  What this means for teachers is that they need to nudge students along and model the type of behavior expected in a blended learning environment.  This has to be an attitudinal change in how we look at blended learning/online education.  Cannot expect students to know what to do.  We must prepare them for a different learning environment than what they are used to.

Dzubian says that students are taking a blended course for three reasons: convenience, convenience, convenience.  There are a variety of reasons why a student may choose to take a blended course, but they ultimately come as a convenience over traditional f2f courses.  The course takes place on their terms, which works well for students with certain personalities and also for students that physically are in a distant location from the f2f classroom.  However, what’s important to remember with blended learning is that “you can lead a student to a webcast or the online learning environment, but you cannot make them think” (Dzubian, Educause Blended Learning Conference).  This is a powerful statement because ultimately, it is up to the student to manage their own learning.

As we begin to look at the creation of a blended course, we need to make decisions based on pedagogical decisions about what parts of the class will work best online and which will work best in a f2f classroom.  Teachers need to look at every aspect of the course, because you may now how to teach in an online course as well as a f2f course, but that doesn’t mean you know how to teach in a blended course.  The environment is different in blended courses, but it does have the potential to be the richest learning environment (Ragan, Educause Blended Learning Conference).

Ragan discussed seven main categories of online teaching competencies with active learning and administration/management being the top two desired components by students.  Students crave engagement, so the learning environment needs to be designed to promote active learning.  Administration/management is also craved by students.  Administration/management is defined by Ragan as the management or administration of the course and learning environment.  Just like all courses, students desire structure and organization, and unsurprisingly, students continue to desire the same in an online environment.  Failure to manage the course in a blended environment will lead to student failure to learn the content.

One of the best ways to prepare faculty for teaching in a blended learning environment is to have them take a course in a blended environment.  This will give them the student experience and model best practices.  Another one of the seven principles that Ragan discussed was that teachers need to set realistic expectations.  It may be easy to become trapped by all the possibilities of blended learning, but it is essential to first survive before you can grow.

You can find all my notes from the conference on my Twitter page at twitter.com/dmourlam.  See everyone’s tweets by searching for #elifocus in Twitter.