Dr. Matthew X. Joseph – Follow on Twitter @MatthewXJoseph
Over a year ago I took on a new professional challenge as the Director of Digital Learning, Technology and Innovation in the Milford Public Schools after 11 years of holding a school principal role. I heard so many “buzz” words and jargon that it was difficult to focus on strategies or tools to being the shift to digital learning. I kept hearing about blended learning and heard multiple “ways” or strategies for blending learning. Over the past year I have learned a lot in this role and from other staff, attended multiple blended learning sessions for my own growth, and did reading on the topic to support my role. I believe giving background and examples for educators is the best way to support the instruction strategy of blended learning to create active learners.
I believe and have seen in classrooms that that the more students are engaged and take an active part in their own learning, the more likely they are to perform well academically, obtain higher grades and earn higher scores on standardized tests. Think about that – it makes perfect sense – the higher student participation and active learning the higher content retention. With this idea as the base of instruction, teachers can shape curriculum and instruction to maximize engagement by increasing student participation.
One of the keys to academic achievement is active learning. According to research – personalized, collaborative, and connected learning experiences enhance student engagement, which in turn drives student success. By integrating blended and digital learning into the classroom, educators can take learning experiences to the next level and improve student performance.
In its basic and simplest definition, blended learning is an instructional methodology. It is a teaching and learning approach that combines face-to-face classroom methods with digital created activities to deliver instruction. A classroom that nurtures creativity often results in students taking different approaches to interacting with the same curriculum. I have found in my 11 years as a building principal that there are students who are happy to express themselves verbally. There are others who prefer to write. There are students who don’t like to be in front of the camera, but they’re more than happy to explain their ideas verbally. Teachers can help every student focus on their strengths by learning a variety of instructional tools and apps.
Each learner has a unique learning style & unique requirement. There is a paradigm shift in learning. I remember a time when my phone was attached to the wall, the remote was my arm, and passing notes in class was actually passing paper. Early adopters of this paradigm shift have experimented with various media formats & delivery options and realized that blended learning works best. The best mix depends on analysis of the learners’ requirements, their level of understanding, competencies at stake, the nature & location of the audience & resources available. As I stated earlier, the focus of the classroom shifts from a presentational format to one of active learning. As Daniel Pink stated, “We need to prepare our kids for their futures not our past”
What follows are recommended blended learning tools that can increase engagement that educators can use for blended learning and create active learners.
EdPuzzle: EdPuzzle enables self-paced learning with interactive lessons, add your voice and questions along the video
Poll Everywhere: This tool is versatile and one efficient use is gathering instant classroom responses using student Poll Everywhere on a student digital tool. It is a clicker-free classroom polling tool to solicit student participation and gather data for discussions.
Popplet: Popplet is a tool for the iPad or used on the web to capture and organize ideas. Anyone working with Middle and high school kids understands that any help with organization of ideas is a good one.
Kahoot: Kahoot is an easy to use game based blended learning tool. It enables educators to assess learners in a visual bar graph meanwhile students take control of their own learning. This game-based platform is very entertaining that encourage creativity in the students. Kahoot is a great platform to make learning with fun.
Screencast-o-matic: This powerful screen recorder allows users to capture anything happening on their screen, as well as voice and video from the webcam for up to 15 minutes in the free version. Regarding its pedagogical use, students can record their own videos describing how they solved a particular problem step-by-step. This could also be helpful delivering lessons, student projects, or allowing students choice in an assessment of knowledge.
Write About :One key to improving student writing is to have students write more often and a tool called Write About can assist with blended writing lessons. I know paperwork is hard to manage and teachers are often limited in how much feedback they can provide due to time. Write About provided students with an online space to write on high-interest topics and get feedback from their peers. This can also be combined with Google Suite so teachers can use the Write About prompts and use Google Docs to share content, give feedback, and have student writing evolve over time with real time feedback.
Today’s learners are active learners and digital natives who learn by discovery rather than being “told.” They like to interact with content to explore and draw their own conclusions. They also like playing different roles in their learning, either as a student, or even as instructor or facilitator or supporter of others, and switch between them. As educational leaders we are driven to create classrooms where students are defending and explaining their ideas as opposed to regurgitate facts.
Computers don’t teach, Apps don’t teach, TEACHERS teach. Technology does not replace educators. Digital learning is an instructional strategy that enhancing and engages learners. It’s important to know what tools are available and what those tools are capable of providing to enhance student learning to create active learners.