10 Tools to Get Started with Blended Learning

I'm often asked by teachers how to get started doing Blended Learning. My answer is always "why do you want to try Blended Learning?" Rather than trying to be cheeky or coy about my practice, I'm trying to begin Read more

It's not 1892 anymore

We have all gone to school. We all know that school is organized around academic subjects like math, English, history and science. But why? -It is not easy to question something that everyone takes for granted. It is especially Read more

Advanced Placement: A Race to Nowhere?

"Honestly, the best thing to do would be to get rid of the AP Program, and just design a course that prepares students for the college-level experience." A few nights ago, we hosted a screening of the film Race to Read more

Photos Across the Curriculum

ITSC '11 Mid-Day Three My last day at ITSC 2011 began with a high-energy session by Dean Shareski (@shareski) and Alec Couros (@courosa). "Photos Across the Curriculum" challenged participants to consider how valuable images are in 21st century education. Dean's Read more

History Education in a World of Information Surplus

In light of the realities of the 21st century, I think all history classes should be interdisciplinary courses about current events, taught Read more

Math is dead. Long live Mathematics!

Recently I watched a TED talk which got me thinking about Mathematics in a way I hadn't before. To cut straight to the video, scroll down. Let me be clear at the start of this post: I've had a difficult Read more

Blended Learning

OESIS 2013 – “Tearing Down Walls” Presentation Resources

Resources used in the presentation: “Constructing Community Online: Building Relationships and Global Understanding by Tearing Down Classroom Walls”, given at the Online Education Symposium for Independent Schools.

Slides (pdf): http://bit.ly/WEeUaR

Quad Blogging: http://quadblogging.net

Sample Blog –> Age of Exploration Blog: http://ageofex.wordpress.com

Blogging Assignment: http://bit.ly/sKsz3v

Blogging Guidelines: http://bit.ly/VxB54d

Commenting Guidelines: http://bit.ly/Ahmg9y

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Blended Learning, Conferences, Contribution, Online Learning, Schooling Leave a comment

10 Tools to Get Started with Blended Learning

I’m often asked by teachers how to get started doing Blended Learning. My answer is always “why do you want to try Blended Learning?” Rather than trying to be cheeky or coy about my practice, I’m trying to begin a conversation about the value of moving learning online. If you haven’t determined why you’re doing it, your attempts will be unfocused and confusing for students. So my suggestion is that you consider your goals – what I refer to as the “verbs” (connect, network, collaborate, cooperate, create, etc.) – and then create the Blended Learning experiences that fit.

Once you know what you’re trying to do, here are the 10 tools I recommend to get started with Blended Learning.

1. For those of you who don’t have a LMS (Learning Management System) at your school to host your online learning activities, I highly recommend Edmodo. It can do most everything that an expensive LMS can do, but is free for individual teachers. An interesting option with Edmodo is the ability to connect with other teachers’ courses. Edmodo has iOS and Android apps, so it’s a good mobile solution too.

2. If I were looking to begin a course from scratch and wanted a LMS, I’d probably choose Schoology. Envisioned as more of a social learning network than the typical LMS, Schoology looks and feels like Facebook, but with the powerful features teachers want. Students report they don’t want their classes interfering with their Facebook life, and Schoology gets the most out of students already well-honed social networking skills in their academic life. Best of all, it’s free. There is a fee for adding “power features”, but prices are fairly low.

3. WordPress is my favorite tool. Reading and writing are more important than ever in the 21st century, and blogging allows students to improve not only as writers but also as readers and thinkers. WordPress is the platform of choice for professional bloggers, and I think it’s one all students should learn. (If you have Google Apps for Edu, Blogger is a good alternative.) WordPress.com is free, and hosted for you, making it easy to start blogging in minutes. With WordPress.org, you can self-host your blog, and customize it a thousand ways. [NOTE: WordPress can also be a powerful LMS! For details, contact me!]

4. Evernote is a complete information management system that my students and I can’t do without. This free tool allows you to take notes in many formats, including voice and handwritten, and stores them on your devices or in the cloud. Evernote has excellent apps for all mobile devices, and users with an account can sync information across all devices instantaneously. My students keep all their research information in Evernote, and can make these public for me and others to view. Evernote also has “clipping” plug-ins for browsers that make capturing information super easy.

5. Twitter is both an excellent tool for connecting students and teachers, as well as a valuable learning resource! My students and I use Twitter as our base social networking platform for our Personal Learning Networks, bringing in the collective wisdom of crowds (up to half a billion users now!). Teachers can use Twitter to follow leading innovative educators, and to follow “hashtags” that fit their interests – #isedchat, for example, is a weekly chat of hundreds of independent school teachers. Twitter can be a great tool for “backchanneling” during lectures or research projects, allowing students to ask questions that many people can answer. (I have my students create accounts they use for academic purposes – part of building a positive digital footprint!) To start building your PLN on Twitter, follow me (@MikeGwaltney), and find more Educators on the Twitter4Teachers Wiki. Read my recommendations for how to use Twitter in your class.

6. Use Screencast-o-Matic to produce instructional videos. Screencasts are also a great way to answer the same question time after time after time.  Many teachers who have flipped their classes use Screencast-o-Matic to record their  content delivery videos (less than 10 minutes apiece, typically). While Screencast-o-Matic is a free service and does not require  software download, the $15/year Pro Account is well worth the price.  This small fee gives you access to easy-to-use editing tools, storage and organization of recordings, and more efficient ways to upload videos to YouTube (if desired).

7. If you have ever been frustrated that your bookmarks from one computer aren’t available on another, Diigo is a solution.  At its most basic, Diigo allows you to access all of your bookmarks from anywhere on the web.  There are a variety of toolbars and shortcuts to make this process seamless.  Other great features include the ability to tag, highlight, and annotate webpages that you bookmark.  Your notes appear when you re-visit those page and can be aggregated by visiting your list on Diigo’s website.  Perhaps the most powerful feature are those that support collaboration and sharing.  Your bookmarks and lists can be made public or shared with a defined group.  Group members are notified when new sites are added to a list and comments can be read by others that visit the page. Diigo also has numerous groups you may join (such as Classroom 2.0), making it another great tool to grow your PLN.

8. Voicethread is one of the most popular online learning tools in use today. Teachers may create voicethreads for students to record comments demonstrating knowledge or problem-solving methodology; students may create voicethreads to tell a story or hold an asychronous conversation with classmates; the possibilities are endless! Post images or video for others or have them create their own threads as an alternate presentation and collaborative tool. Art teachers use it to post images of student works and perform peer critiques.  Dance instructors and physical education teachers and coaches could post videos of rehearsals and games for analysis and feedback. Voicethread has an educator version that is reasonably priced, providing greater privacy and easier account management.

9. Google Drive is “a place where you can create, share, collaborate, and keep all of your stuff. You can upload and access all of your files, including videos, photos, Google Docs, PDFs and beyond.” (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/…) Google Docs is built into Google Drive, perfect for creating and collaborating in real time on documents, spreadsheets and presentations. You can add and reply to comments and receive notifications when other people comment on shared items. You can get started with 5GB of storage for free.

10. TodaysMeet is a great tool for creating “backchannels” during class meetings or as a chat room for students to use asynchronously.  No accounts or sign-up is necessary.  Name your room, choose how long you’d like it available, then send the link to whomever you’d like to have access.  It’s also great for public note-taking, brainstorming, etc.

This is a Top 10 list, but a bonus tool I can’t ignore is Wikispaces. I’ve used Wikispaces with my students for years as a site to host student-created work and for allowing students to collaborate on large projects. For a sample, check out our AP U.S. History wikispace: http://apush-wiki-marlborough-school.wikispaces.com/

Many thanks to my colleagues Craig Luntz and Melissa Wert for collaborating with me on this list as co-facilitators in our OSG professional development course on Blended Learning.

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Blended Learning, Education Technology, Online Learning, Web 2.0 Tools 3 Comments

What I’ll Be Watching For at ISTE 2012

As ISTE 2012 is about to begin, I’m thinking about disruptive innovation.

I quickly dismissed the ideas in Disrupting Class when I first read it in 2010. If you haven’t yet read Clayton Christensen’s 2008 book, I highly suggest you do. Here’s a plug: those people I know that have read it do not have an ambivalent reaction – if you like a provocative read, one that will either elate or madden you, it may be right up your alley. Christensen, et. al., suggest that customized digital online learning is coming, and though it won’t initially be as good as the schooling you can get at your local public school, the efficiencies will sustain it until it eventually changes the role of teachers and schools everywhere. You know that scene in the recent Star Trek movie in which Spock is learning from the computer? It’s not far off, the authors suggest.

As I was getting ready to leave for the conference today, I stumbled upon the news via Ray Schroeder’s blog, that at the “Top 10 Tech Trends Dinner” in Silicon Valley a couple weeks back, the 2nd most important trend noted is venture capital’s move toward funding open online education. The collection of valley big shots on stage at the dinner was especially venture capital-heavy this year, and Forbes noted that their opinions “carry special weight” with interested movers and shakers. The tradition at this event is for each member of the assembled panel and audience to vote red or green on whether the identified trend is a big deal, and every panel member and most every audience member at the dinner voted green that open online education will be an even greater disruptor in education than most of us think. Soon.

“Education faces massive disruption. Bing Gordon says public schools are not very productive. At Stanford University, great professors can get 150,000 students, not 150. People who grew up digital don’t like sitting around and listening to experts talk. “Technology can enable better education” seems to be Gordon’s message. The panel is all greens in response to this. Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn) agrees: Khan Academy is an example; EdModo, K-12 too. Steve Jurvetson says his 12-year-old boy taught himself programming on the Internet. Audience votes mostly green, same with the Twitpolls.”

It seems the VC smart money is on investing in customizable digital online ed. Well, in fairness, they put it only at number two, behind “Radical Globalization of Social Commerce”. But that also means they rated it ahead of 8 other trends, including investment in Electric Cars, “Gamification of Everything”, and Biotechnology.

What will it mean over the next 5 to 10 years when all that money enters the education market? Are we who work in schools prepared to respond to hundreds of millions of dollars that will be poured into online ventures marketed directly to our students and their parents? Or dollars that will be spent lobbying school boards and legislatures in every state?

Lest you think this is all just dawning on me, yes, I know that big money is already flowing to ventures like Khan Academy, and that there are plenty of software companies producing curriculum-in-a-box. Don’t think I haven’t been paying attention. I’ve reread Disrupting Class with the clarity of recent events (roll out of Udacity, Coursera, KA, edX, etc.), and also Christensen’s original work Innovator’s Dilemma. Those close to me know that lately I’m something of a broken record constantly playing “the tsunami of disruptive innovation is coming to education!” This article about venture capital money simply presents the urgency of the situation.

So, what will I be looking for at ISTE this year?

The VC money, for one. I usually skip the vendor show in the convention center, but this year I’ll be looking carefully for the disruptors’ booths. Meanwhile, I’m going to a few online education events. I’m a member of the ISTE Online Learning Special Interest Group and will attend the group’s events, specifically, Monday’s Forum on Trends and Issues in eLearning. I’ll also attend the all-day Online Learning Institute on Wednesday. And, of course, I’ll check in to all the relevant concurrent sessions.

ISTE this year is even more of a reconnaissance mission than usual. I’ve been to enough education conferences in 20 years to know that it works best for me to go with a particular need-to-know, and I definitely have one this week. I hope that I discover the hype around disruption is overblown. Either way, I’ll share my thoughts here.

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Blended Learning, Education Reform, Innovation, Online Learning, Schooling Leave a comment

Pricing eLearning and the Value of the Online Option

As I was trying to make a dent in the unread count in my Google Reader this weekend, I read a few blog reviews and watched a few highlight videos from the much ballyhooed D10 Conference last month. Of special interest to me was Wall Street Journal’s tech columnist Walt Mossberg’s interview with Stanford President John Hennessy and online learning celebrity Sal Khan.

About 11:30 into the interview (see it below), during a conversation about the skyrocketing cost of education, Khan made a provocative comment about what a particular university he’s familiar with is charging for their online program – roughly the same amount as the school charges for the full brick-and-mortar experience. I tweeted the resulting question:

If #highered schools price #eLearning at/near the brick/mortar price, are they saying their residential program has zero value? #Edchat
@MikeGwaltney
Mike Gwaltney

Hamish Macleod, Joint Programme Director of the highly-regarded Masters in eLearning program at the University of Edinburgh responded:

@ #highered #eLearning #Edchat Perhaps *equal* value? Why should online be cheaper? Every mode has infrastructure costs.
@hamacleod
Hamish Macleod

Khan’s rhetorical question resonated with me, because the argument often offered for the dramatic increase in tuition in the U.S. is for the on-campus experience: luxury boarding, quality meals, world-class fitness centers, cutting-edge lab facilities, etc. So if you don’t get any of that when you take the online program, why do you pay the same price? Seems like a fair question, right?

Enter the word: value. Depending on how you define it, the value of something can be fairly subjective. A one-of-a-kind vintage Beatles t-shirt from the 1960s might be worth a couple hundred bucks to me, despite its cost of production. So I can see that the value of a Stanford degree earned online, for example, might be worth much more than the cost of production. And here, I’m assuming the cost of production for online learning is much less than the cost of the residential experience. Push back on that if I’m wrong.

To Hamish’s point, eLearning certainly has its own costs. And I’m an eLearning advocate who really values the online option – to be honest, often in my experience the quality of online can surpass the brick-and-mortar. But should I have to pay more for it than the residential experience? Aren’t the residential prices completely bloated and unreasonable?

Am I missing something?

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Blended Learning, Education Reform, Education Technology, Innovation, Online Learning 6 Comments

Misunderstanding Sal Khan, and Missing the Point

I’m starting to get a bit tired of the criticism being leveled at Sal Khan.

After plenty of attention from old media about the launch of Khan Academy, Khan’s a coveted speaker. He’s been making the rounds at conferences, trying to explain to educators why his strategies for flipping the classroom can be effective, and judging from the backchannel chatter on Twitter and subsequent posts in the education blogosphere, he’s not getting his point across as well as I’m sure he hopes.

For those who will no doubt inquire, here’s full disclosure: I do not work or advocate for Khan Academy or Sal Khan. I don’t work in a school using his products. I have watched some of his videos, heard him speak, read his written pieces, and downloaded his TED talk, but I do not know him personally.

However, I think I understand Khan’s point. My problem with the critics is that they apparently don’t.

What Khan is not saying is that Khan Academy or “flipping” class using KA videos is the panacea for ALL that ails education. He doesn’t claim that lecture is the best teaching strategy, or that he is a better lecturer than the teachers at your school. Further he doesn’t claim that his YouTube videos should replace teachers. He certainly does not claim that “the future of education lies in a disembodied voice that lectures [at] squinting students on a blinking screen.

If you’re tweeting or blogging refutations to these imagined arguments, you’re engaged in classic Straw Man argumentation.

When I play back Khan’s presentations, what I hear is advocacy for greater connection between teacher and student. If you’re listening, you’ll hear him say teachers are too important to be disconnected from students, at the front of the classroom, lecturing. He criticizes the traditional classroom model where a lecture is given, then students leave to attempt solutions to difficult textbook problems, on their own, without much teacher support. To be fair, there’s still loads of this kind of teaching happening in our schools, and it’s this pedagogy at which Khan’s reform efforts are aimed.

by removing the one size fits all lecture from the classroom and letting students have a self-paced lecture at home, these teachers changed a fundamentally dehumanizing experience. In a traditional model, most of the teacher’s time is spent giving lectures and grading and whatnot. Maybe five percent of their time is actually sitting next to students and actually working with them. Now 100 percent of their time is… you’re humanizing the classroom (TED talk)

Khan does not want to replace teachers. He consistently claims his work should free up teachers to actually deepen connections between teachers and students – he argues that teachers are more important than the videos or the technology. He doesn’t claim he’s a better lecturer than other teachers, rather, he insists the pedagogy of lecture ‘in-the-room’ is the problem. Face-time with students should be focused on discussion, problem-solving, critical thinking exercises, not lectures. This is the beauty and genius of the flipped classroom strategy that KA follows. In the end, it’s not about the quality of the lecturer, it’s about the student’s ability to stop, start, rewind, and review “how-to” lectures that makes it powerful (not to mention the greater possibility for dynamic visuals that digital video holds over classroom lecture).

Khan began by making “how to” YouTube videos on how to work through textbook math problems. If you want proof that “how-to” videos are effective, search YouTube and look at the number of views (try this one). Or go into a commercial training program and check out video instruction. Or ask yourself how many times you’ve watched a video tutorial for a new product or service. Yes, this is classic lecture stuff, but made more effective with great visuals and by your ability go back and forth and to return to the video as needed. This way of learning “how to” works.

More disclosure: I think education, and math ed specifically, as “how-to” is wrong-headed, a complete misunderstanding of education’s purpose, and a bastardization of mathematics. My position on this is well-known and articulated here (“Math is Dead. Long Live Mathematics!“). We need more teaching that puts students in positions to articulate problems, plan how to solve them, and apply the solutions to the real-world. Teachers can then mentor “how to” on a one-on-one basis as necessary, or help students find the tool (calculator? computer application/spreadsheet?) that will do this for them.

However, I realize that many teachers are stuck with national/state math curricula that have a 19th century understanding of math. If you’re teaching math as “how to”, you’re much better off using class time for one-on-one tutoring through difficult problems instead of lectures that are more effective online. For this, the flipped classroom works.

I am a History and Social Sciences teacher that advocates and uses PBL. I won’t give an in-class lecture this year, and few online lectures. I have no plans to use KA videos because I think the “give info / memorize info / give info back” model of education doesn’t produce the kinds of learning that matters. But if you’re engaged in that kind of thing, flipping your classroom may be the best way to improve your students’ success with the material.

So stop with the luddite-esque hysteria over Khan Academy – it is neither accurate or necessary. And if you’re reacting out of defensiveness for your job, ask your students if they think you could be replaced by a computer. My guess is that you’ll feel validated, or you’ll find direction for professional growth.

Posted on by Mike Gwaltney in Blended Learning, Online Learning 8 Comments