Learning Management Solutions (LMSes – or Virtual Learning Environments, VLEs, if you’re in the commonwealth) are a category of software that serve a variety of functions at schools, from simplifying content distribution and assignment collection to flipping classroom workflows to delivering instruction completely online. The International schools I’ve been at have broadly agreed that teachers should use some kind of LMS. They diverge in two key areas, though:
1. Whether the LMS should be centrally mandated managed by the school or whether teachers should feel free to pick and choose the platform they use
2. If the LMS is centrally managed, which system it should be
Centrally managed LMSes offer enough advantages over individually-managed ones that schools should provide them if financially able (pricing is in the range of 8-10USD per student annually for most commercial products). This runs counter to what some ed tech leaders recommend; they see such implementations as “walled gardens” having “limited control and customizability.1” Continue reading Which LMS? Choosing between Canvas, Haiku, Edmodo, et al.→
The final project for the COETAIL program is a <10 minute video documenting your experiences implementing technology in practice. Rather than opting for a screencast or digital story foramt, I chose to make an infomercial as a kind of tribute to Billy Mays:
I probably put too much work into it, and a lot of that was a function of my inexperience and lack of equipment. Here are a few lessons I learned:
Proper planning will save you editing time. I didn’t have a separate mic for my camcorder (and the built-in mic was too noisy), so I recorded sound separately using an iPhone headset mic with my Galaxy Note 2 phone. This resulted in a separate audio and video track that I had to sync up manually in Final Cut Pro X. It was time-consuming and a PITA. Had I planned ahead and borrowed a mic with fully charged batteries from Sound and Lights Club, I would have saved myself a lot of editing time.
Hardware counts. Entry-level hardware is fine for simple videos, but my Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro from 2009 struggled to keep up with scrolling and moving clips once I had multiple pictures, videos, and titles in the project – even with 8GB of RAM and an SSD. The 13″ screen wasn’t big enough for the FCPX interface, either. Consider reserving space in a lab with iMacs or other workstations.
Acting is hard. This should be apparent enough from my awkward performance. When people think of making a video they often think of shooting your own footage, but I would try to shy away from this. Without training (which I indeed lack) it results in lackluster results.
Clear your schedule. It took me hours and hours to do this – probably between 1.5 and 2 hours of work for every minute of video you see.
My COETAIL Course 5 project proceeds apace, as I use the course principles to reorganize the process of my classes, if not the product.
To recap my initiative: I decided to incorporate some elements of the flipped classroom, with goals of 1) making history more vivid for the students, and 2) bringing in more critical thinking and processing activities into the course, especially the in-class time. However, I tempered the model of flipping by retaining about 20 minutes of direct instruction in my 85-minute blocks to highlight critical concepts and interesting stories, and to make connection that my documentaries didn’t. The homework I’ve assigned has been 15-30 minutes’ worth of videos and documentaries, often times incorporating the Crash Course World History series. To ensure accountability, these videos are paired with Moodle forum discussions where students are expected to respond to an open-ended question that I’ve posted, respond to another student’s comments, or pose a question of their own. Previously, students were expected to use Google Docs to complete collaborative study notes inspired by the “lit circle” model in English.
My observations serve to illustrate the human, democratic character of modern education. Some students have taken the opportunity to explore the topics in a way that just isn’t possible in a class, or even a small group, discussion. Take the threads below:
The first one shows a student posing her own evaluative question. The second one shows a student conducting outside research to support her points, making modern connections to historical concepts. The third is an evaluative, analytical discussion that cites evidence to back up the participants’ claims – it illustrates the core skills we want to develop in history class. Furthermore, I’ve had students bring in examples from the videos during our class discussions and direct instruction time. These all point to how the new format fulfills the rationale for the flipped classroom: leading to more time for meaningful, student-driven learning and teacher feedback.
At the same time, I’ve had students complain that I’m moving away from my former, very traditional homework assignments. These don’t really require much thinking, but they’re an example of the very concrete assignments and activities that many of the students find helpful (along with direct instruction, which is why I haven’t completely abandoned it in my current integration initiative). So with at least two competing blocs in my classes, it begs the question:
How do we as teachers find the right balance?
This is one of the qualities that make a master teacher, and why I call education a human endeavor. Reading the mix of personalities and balancing your pedagogy is really the hard part – not learning how to do discussion activity X or design technology assignment Y. So I learned that the flipped classroom can work for some students, but frankly, that realization isn’t very useful, because it doesn’t tell me whether I’ve maximized my students’ learning. I think I need to accept that I’m just not going to make everyone happy all of the time, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could?
As I prepare to start my experiment in flipping my classroom next week, I’m still grappling with the suitability of my model for the history classroom.
Here’s why I’m excited about flipping:
It is more engaging. I’m always looking for ways to make history more vivid, and showing videos at home will allow me to do this without sacrificing instructional time. I already do a lot of critical thinking and application in class, and students should be able to apply facts from the video to my existing activities.
It may be more useful than my existing homework assignments. Why? The homework I give right now isn’t terribly exciting, but it is valuable as a study tool and reinforcing mechanism. However, the students do a fairly middling job on it, and the threat of point deductions isn’t an incentive to complete it. So if I assess the students more on in-class assignments while having them absorb content at home, it may help them overall.
It’s something different. I do think that good teaching always has a bit of a “wow” factor – whether it’s a passionate lecturer or a nurturing facilitator, your classes need to stand out. This will accomplish that.
And here are my concerns:
Can videos really stand alone as direct instruction? I know my kids, and I think they will need reinforcement in the classroom; asking them to go directly into application and synthesis won’t work.
How do I ensure accountability? My kids are great, but they can also be lazy. If they aren’t willing to complete the homework I’m assigning now and grading, how will I verify that they’ve watched the videos? And how will I accommodate (do I need to accommodate) the kids who don’t watch the videos and thus aren’t able to participate effectively?
How do I maintain alignment when I’m supposed to be aligned with the other world history teacher? I can’t find videos that match exactly our existing pacing, and I need to use the same major assessments as him. This means that I’m going to have the supplement the videos I find with the content from our existing curriculum.
I’ve come to modify my plan to be a kind of “half-flip.” This means that I still assign videos for homework, but I’ll supplement them with direct instruction, which will be modeled after Presentation Zen principles. I’ll reserve most of the class for the higher-level thinking and feedback-heavy activities that reverse instruction demands, while adapting the model for my particular student body.
I’d like to flip my either my World History I or II classrooms in quarter four. History is one of those courses where the same skills are simply applied across different content areas, so my choice of unit isn’t that important, although I suspect these two units (Medieval Europe and the Cold War, respectively) are somewhat better suited than others since there will be more video content available than that for a topic like Tang China.
Here’s a list of things I’ll need to consider:
Where will I find video sources? How will intellectual property considerations affect my choice of materials?
How will I hold students accountable for watching and understanding the videos?
How will I check for that understanding in class?
How will balance the removal of reading time from homework and keep exposing students to a variety of interesting and challenging text?
Which of my assessments and activities will need to be removed/replaced?
How can I create larger, more in-depth, and/or more authentic activities and assessments from that class time I’ve freed up?
How will I hold students accountable for using the class time effectively?
How can I maximize technology integration in my in-class assessments when we’re not on a 1:1 program?
Do I NEED to maximize technology integration for maximum learning?
How will I scaffold and teach the habits and skills that students will need to get the most from this new approach?
Here’s a very preliminary list of what I think this would entail:
~30 minute of nightly video
Collaborative notes or viewing guide on Google Docs
iClicker quizzes the next day
Students’ choice of several tech assignments, with class time given to work on them in the labs:
My first reaction to reading about the flipped classroom was:
How is this new, exactly?
After all, the definition of the flipped classroom appears to be as follows:
Teacher finds video.
Students watch video at home.
Teacher and students analyze, synthesize, evaluate…problem solve in class.
This is the opposite of what many appear to see as the ‘traditional’ model of lecturing in class and assigning problems to reinforce the concepts (a method recommended by the ASCD).
And, like, wow. It’s not like teacher have ever, like, assigned students a chapter to read, and then, like, asked them to be ready to talk about it the next class.
But whether it’s a new phenomenon is beside the point. The fact is that teachers should continuously question how they could use their students’ time more effectively, and flipped instruction is a way – not the only way, but certainly a valid one – to do that.
So let’s get some things straight. The Flipped Learning Blog tells us it’s a myth that flipped learning is all about the videos. Certainly, “kids can get the lectures, can get the content delivery and skill modeling as well (or often better) by computer lecture than in person.” But this is not the exclusive province of videos. While videos can be more engaging, this doesn’t mean that a reading assignment wouldn’t be just as – or more – effective, especially in a highly literate student population.
Furthermore, in-class lecture has its advantages, like engaging with the audience: allowing students to ask questions to a living, breathing person. They’re simply more interactive than videos.
In any event, as the Flipped Learning Blog reminds us, it’s not all about the videos. Rather, once “you’ve freed up class time, you need to use it productively” (Reverse Instruction). It’s all about what you do with your class time to challenge your students to move up Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is what the flipped classroom doesn’t specifically address, because it’s an ideology, not a teaching strategy. The freed up class time is where your university pedagogy classes come in.
This is a good thing! No, it’s not novel. Nothing is original. It’s a repackaging of the same principles that we’ve always known comprise good teaching, with a bit of 90s tech thrown in. It’s a philosophical mashup/remix. It’s marketing. But it’s still a good reminder for us as teachers to focus on the intellectual habits that we need to be teaching our kids. If the flipped classroom does that, then it’s alright by me.
And by the way, I think you could easily do this in the humanities, at least in social studies. History documentaries and a few movie clips? Solid gold. The only strong objection I have is: WHAT DO YOU DO IF THE STUDENTS HAVEN’T DONE THE WORK? Sure, you can hold them accountable, but I teach a population where 10-20% of the kids aren’t motivated by adverse academic consequences. It’s really more an issue of motivation and management rather than the flipped classroom ideology, but it’s still something to think about.
I’ll get to my response to the flipped classroom this weekend, but I came across the topic of “Massively Open Online Courses” on Slashdot and had to share. Basically, where the flipped classroom is about taking direct instruction out of the primary and secondary classroom and replacing it with higher-level thinking activities and an increased role of the teacher, MOOCs are about replacing and/or supplementing higher ed with independent courses open to anyone with an internet-connected device. They’re distinct visions of technology integration, but they both reimagine the role of the teacher and student:
If you were asked to name the most important innovation in transportation over the last 200 years, you might say the combustion engine, air travel, Henry Ford’s Model-T production line, or even the bicycle. The list goes on.
Now answer this one: what’s been the single biggest innovation in education?
Don’t worry if you come up blank. You’re supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it’s rare to see major technological advances in how people learn. (Regalado)
I’ll come back to this about a later, but think about this: in an era of democratized information where finances and student visas are huge obstacles to higher education, are MOOCs the future?