I’m Excited About Blended Learning

There’s a trend in public schools right now.  It goes by many names, but the idea is essentially that students have individual computers in the classroom.  I’m a high school English teacher, and my school is implementing this adventurous endeavor in August.  I couldn’t be more excited about what we’ll call blended learning for the duration of this writing.

Before I go any further, my workplace is actually calling this movement “One To One,” but I’m reading a book at the moment recommended by the folks at Edmentum called Blended.  The authors, Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker,  use the term blended learning because the concept is that educators will blend online learning with brick and mortar education facilities.

I’m so excited about our school implementing this new style because, let’s face it, everything we do as a society anymore occurs online.  When I need information, I go find it on the Internet — I’m talking literally any kind of information.  It seems so odd to me that we don’t use the single greatest information tool available in those buildings dedicated to educating the leaders of tomorrow.

I also believe this will be a great opportunity for students to become active learners.  So often, students receive information from us as we deliver it.  We then see if they can regurgitate it back to us exactly as we gave it to them.  But when this occurs, I always question how much critical thinking is actually taking place.  I wonder if I am teaching more than content, am I also teaching the kinds of skills today’s world demands?  Sure, we infuse concepts like critical thinking, collaboration, deductive reasoning, and so on into the lessons, but I can’t wait to see a student independently synthesizing these skills in order to solve a problem of some sort and therefore reach a conclusion.  My hope is that with easy access to the Internet (and careful planning on the teacher’s part), each and every student can demonstrate these skills on a regular basis and improve with each attempt.

Make no mistake, however, I am a card-carrying book lover.  As an English teacher, I will NEVER abandon books in my classroom.  But just imagine — now, as we talk about Shakespeare, we can actually go find information about the man, the historical basis of his works, what Elizabethan England actually looked like, clips of the plays and poems in question … the possibilities are endless!  And every student can take a different path and investigate those things they personally find most interesting!  They can become active learners determining subsets of the content on their own.

Tomorrow’s world needs students able to gather information, assess and critique that information, and then produce a solution based upon that information.  I personally believe blended learning will help us hone those skills.  Furthermore, I’m excited because the interpersonal aspect of the brick and mortar facility remains.  Our students must still learn to collaborate, to communicate, and to coexist.  These are skills also necessary to the future.

Last but not least, I am ecstatic that they will still have me.  I don’t mean to sound arrogant, but I am an invaluable resource to my students.  I am their guide, their mentor, their facilitator, and their advocate.  Most importantly, though, I’m their role model.  I take this part of my job very seriously.  Young adults, even seniors in high school, need adults conducting themselves respectably, intelligently, and compassionately.  They can learn all the information there is online, but they still need to learn by watching their elders.  It is vital their elders are worthy of this incredible responsibility.  This fact has remained true throughout history.

Will this transition be easy?  Certainly not.  It will be incredibly difficult both due to the planning aspects as well as the actual technical troubleshooting.  It will be stressful for everyone involved.  However, we will never learn to teach in a blended school without actually doing it.  I mean, that’s the great truth of teaching, isn’t it?  Experience is the most effective way to learn.  I have no doubt we will figure this out, and I am personally glad to be teaching in a manner consistent with the 21st Century!

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My First Day Using Edmentum

As many of you know, I am a professional educator.  I specifically teach English Language Arts in secondary education.

This August my workplace is initiating an endeavor known as One To One.  The idea is that every student in our school will have a personal laptop.  As a result, we were recently given access to an educational software program called Edmentum.  We are encouraged to utilize it as much as we see fit in the coming school year.

However, this all came to pass at the end of last school year, so therefore we didn’t have much time to play with it.  We had a brief, though incredibly informational, overview of the product with the understanding more training and support would arrive with the new school year.

I’ve been waiting for years to go One To One and want to incorporate the laptops in my classroom immediately, so I started playing around with Edmentum yesterday.  I’d like to share my first experience with fellow educators (and anyone else who wants to read this).

First of all, I find the Plato Courseware, which is the specific educational software we’re using within Edmentum, extremely user-friendly and intuitive.  I’ve been using blogging software for over ten years, and Plato Courseware operates much the same.  It’s very intuitive and easy to navigate if you have a basic understanding of dragging and dropping.  There are hundreds of pre-installed curricula from which to choose, and you can adapt it as much as you like.

And while Plato Courseware has several units available that I already teach, there are some materials not available.  That’s where the fun started, and yes, I’m being serious.

I chose to employ the Custom Course Builder option and make my own unit centered around the graphic novel American Born Chinese.  It took some playing around, but I quickly discovered how to add Word documents and Microsoft power points from my own hard drive.  I also figured out how to add links from other websites.

Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a snag.  I wanted to view the actual unit I worked on designing.  I needed to see it as a student would.  As it stood, I could only view it as a list of items.  It seemed the only way to actually open the documents and sites involved publishing the unit.  Edmentum had a help box appear that said once you publish, you can’t edit the original unit.  This made me nervous, so I called them for help.

The customer service person was extremely courteous.  He didn’t exactly know if I could view my items without publishing the customized course, so he asked someone for advice.  They assured me I could go ahead and remove the unit if I didn’t like the way things looked.  This bolstered my confidence because, though I wasn’t done with the unit, I wanted to see what I had thus far.

I published it, everything looked the way I hoped it would, but then I couldn’t figure out how to remove the unit.

I called them back and got someone else, and they were equally pleasant.  I explained the situation to this person, and she said that while I couldn’t remove the unit, I could archive it.  There were a few glitches in trying to do this, probably because it’s the middle of summer and I don’t have an active profile just yet, so she archived the unit for me.  I was smart enough to copy everything I’d done previously, so I simply redesigned the custom course for American Born Chinese, which took all of five minutes.

I won’t pretend to completely understand Plato Courseware, nor should I expect to after only one day of playing with it.  I realize, like with blogging software, it’s going to take trial and error.  Fortunately, I think this sort of thing is fun, but only with software that is user-friendly and well-designed.  So far, Plato Courseware is both user-friendly and well-designed and functions similarly to other software I’ve used.

Best of all?  The customer service proved a nice experience that did not belittle me and remained patient and helpful the entire time.  I called twice in the span of twenty minutes and got right through to someone on both occasions.

My first time using Edmentum proved positive.  Between the software and the customer service, I have virtually no complaints.  My only issue is that I seemingly had to publish my course to view it as a student would, but there’s probably some trick I haven’t learned yet to get around that problem.

In my opinion, Edmentum is exactly what I wanted before I even knew I wanted it.  I believe it will help make One to One far more useful for students and teachers alike.  And because it’s so user-friendly, I’ll still have time to focus on the most important aspect of education – building positive relationships with my students.   I’ll keep you updated throughout the year as I work more with Edmentum.