Posts Tagged 'teaching'

#Blendedlearning implementation: Teachers are the key!

This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning that I helped develop for iNACOL.

elementgraphic2The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:

  * Leadership
  * Professional Development
  * Teaching / Instructional Practice
  * Operations, Systems and Policies
  * Content
  * Technology 

I have talked about the importance of leadership and professional development. Today the focus is on teaching and instructional practice.

In any educational implementation, the teacher is the key. The teacher is the one who is interacting with students day in and day out. In a blended learning environment, this interaction occurs face-to-face and online. When teachers are truly implementing blended learning, their teaching practice changes. This change includes pedagogy, more personalization of for each student, classroom organization, how curriculum is delivered and the ongoing communications between teacher and students. As one professional commented, “If you walk into a classroom and all the desks are in the traditional formation with students facing the front of the room, you’re probably not in a blended learning classroom.”

The key questions to ask regarding teaching and instructional practice are:

  • What is the school’s pedagogical philosophy?
  • How will teaching change?
  • How will the role of the teacher change?
  • How will best teaching practices be modeled and shared?
  • How will the classroom setup change to support the blended learning models?
  • What tools, professional development, and resources will teachers need to support this new model of teaching?
  • How will student learning change?
  • How will teachers analyze real-time data to personalize instruction?
  • How will blended teaching be observed and evaluated?

Ongoing support for teachers implementing blended learning is critical for sustainability. This support should come in a variety of ways. It should be recognized that each teacher is on his or her own journey in the implementation of blended learning. Different teachers have developed different skills and have different needs. Although general professional development is important that provides for all teachers to come together for common learning, individualized and ongoing professional development should be encouraged. One size does not fit all. As teachers learn new strategies in teaching with online tools and content, there should be a mechanism by which they share these ideas with colleagues. This can occur in staff meetings or department meetings or in an online discussion board. Regardless of how it is shared, it is critical for the successes and challenges to be communicated with one another to improve the overall blended learning system.

Promising practices for blended learning teachers include:

  • Change in classroom organization. There should be flexible classroom space with desks in groups that should change depending on the needs of the students.
  • Student engagement increases. Teachers who are implementing blended learning report there is more time to interact with students, more collaboration occurs between students, and students are more engaged when each student has a computer and is focused on a specific blended learning lesson.
  • Ongoing data analysis. Teachers should have access to reports from the course management system or content vendor that provides just-in-time information about each student. With this information, teachers should be changing instruction based on the needs of each student.
  • Individualized instruction. Both teachers and students should be involved in identifying daily learning goals for each student. Starting as young as second grade, students can be involved in setting and meeting daily goals based on data. Each student should have a voice in their learning path and have some choice in how they learn various concepts.
  • Digital content is continuously updated. Teachers who are immersed in blended learning discover that no one content provider can provide all the content needed for each student. Therefore, teachers are continually adding content and lessons that better meet the individual needs of students in their respective classrooms. Teachers also become adept at recording small group lessons that can be put online for students to listen to over and over.

Overall, teachers are the key in a successful blended learning implementation. To learn more about a day in the life of a blended learning teacher, listen to this 60-minute webinar or view the accompanying slide deck. Through ongoing and personalized professional development, teachers transform into providing more customized learning for all of their students in blended learning initiative.

Research Based Best Practices – Discussion Boards

Yesterday I wrote about some of the personal experiences I have had in working with online teachers regarding “best practices” that were developed as a result of students not being successful in online courses.  There are a number of research studies that have appeared in a variety of publications discussing best practices as well.  It is important to realize that all of the “best practices” listed here focus on online teaching.  However, all of these best practices can also be utilized in blended learning teaching as well. In addition, even though the studies below may be for college or for adult learners, effective online teaching practices work equally well at every level of teaching.

Overall, establishing an engaging and interactive online course environment is important.  Garrison, Anderson, & Archer (2001) have identified the Community of Inquiry model which involves social presence (ability to connect with learners), cognitive presence (process of constructing meaning with the subject), and teaching presence (design, facilitation and direction towards educational learning outcomes). Everything a teacher does in an online course can fit in one of these broad categories whether in K-12 or in higher education or for adults.

Regarding the use of online discussion boards, a brief overview of effective online discussion boards with citations was written by Hannon (2008) at Latrobe University.  Based on his research, he says that the purpose of discussion boards should be to engage students in approaches to deep learning, achieve a high level of effective student participation and be sustainable and workload friendly.  Furthermore, designing a discussion board should be group centered and promotes a collaborative model of instruction.  He also shares several tips in designing effective online discussion boards and the first tip is to define the overall purpose.

Akin and Neal (2007) in the article, “CREST+ Model: Writing effective online discussion questions” explain the steps in asking the right questions. “The CREST+ model covers the cognitive nature of the question [C], the reading basis [R], any experiential [E] possibility, style and type of question [ST] , and finally ways to structure a good question [+].”

Lowes, Lin and Yang (2007) in the article “Studying the effectiveness of the discussion forum in online professional development courses”  have done considerable research regarding the strategies that enhance an online discussion board conversation – teacher to student and student to student.  They looked at the nature of online interactions.  They refined the teacher role in an online discussion and characterized these roles as cheerleading/affirming (offering praise and encouragement), new information (introduce new ideas or information) and questioning/challenging (raise questions that expand on previous posts).

These are but a few of the best practices that have emerged in the utilization of teaching online with online discussion boards.


Best Practices in Online Teaching

When I began working in online learning in 2000, there were few examples of best practices in online learning and there were few research studies that existed.  The only reports that existed were reports that were suggesting that online learning may increase at the college level and at K-12.  The past 10 years have seen effective online teaching practices emerge and many more studies that suggest the types of best practices that work.

When I worked in the Clovis Unified School District we began offering part time online courses to high school students in 2000.  The four teachers I hired to teach Algebra I, Biology, English 9 and Economics were pioneers in the world of online learning, as were others at every level of education who were teaching online.  We learned quickly that effective online teaching was more than posting a PowerPoint on the web or linking daily homework assignments.  When I became principal of the Clovis Online School, a full time online charter school, there was again a learning curve that occurred for all of the teachers – each one who taught one section of their subject to students almost completely online. Very few teachers – whether face-to-face or online – are as successful in their first year as they are in their third or fifth year of teaching.   From my own experience in coordinating both part time and full time online schools and working with teachers, I am listing what I would consider to be “best practices”, and where possible, point to the research that supports that.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the things that worked for us.

  • Problem, Student Dropouts:  In the first summer, close to 40% of the students who signed up dropped out of the online courses in the first week of courses.
    Solution: When I interviewed the students who dropped out, a majority of them replied, “I couldn’t figure out how to log in.”  In the next semester, we instituted face-to-face training to teach students how to work online.  We now know that students may be on the web for Facebook and looking up their favorite entertainer or sports team, but they need to be taught how to use the web for learning and research.  Eventually, our online courses included lessons that taught these skills.  Before a student could ever enter our online school, they would complete a series of online lessons to teach them what learning was like online so they were better prepared.  Once enrolled, students participated in further training to equip the with the skills needed to be successful online.  We developed a checklist that students needed to complete that included signatures by parents.  An increased percentage of students were then more successful in the online programs because of the training.
  • Problem, Time Management: We thought that students could manage their own time and do their courses when it worked into their schedules.  Turns out that most teenagers are not good managers of time and need to be taught how to do this.
    Solution: As part of the enrollment process and training, we required students to have an organized binder and to write down when they would do their online work and we encouraged parents to check in with their students daily.  There is a myth that many parents believe that when students reach high school, that students are on their own.  The myth increases online when parents think that because they don’t understand the Internet that they can’t check on their child’s work.
  • Problem, Email:  We assumed that students would check their email daily for notes from their teachers and knew how to respond.  I will never forget when I asked one of the more capable seniors in the full time online school to “cc” me in an email and she asked, “What does cc mean?”
    Solution: Email is an adult thing, not a student thing.  It is important to set expectations and to show students how to use email if it will be a communication device in your online program.  Incidentally, knowing how to use email is an important skill for the business world.
  • Problem, Student Work Deadlines: Initially, we had lose deadlines for when student assignments were due.  We would tell students that they had an 8-week period within which they could turn in their assignments.  The problem was that many students would not do any work for several weeks and then try to turn in all the work during the final week.
    Solution:  Students liked having weekly deadlines and became more successful with weekly deadlines.  Many teachers also started to use what we called “dailies” which were short 5-10 minute assignments that were assigned every day to get students engaged each day.  Dailies might be discussing a different piece of art for an art history course or doing a vocabulary game at for an English course or doing a math problem of the week in a math course.
  • Problem, Students Would Not Communicate via Email: Teachers became frustrated when students would not respond on email or complete their work.
    Solution: Teachers began emailing a weekly update to all students at the beginning of every week.  When students replied to the email, they received points toward their overall grade.

The ideas listed above are just a few examples of “best practices” or strategies for teaching online.  There are a number of online resources the better organize and share best practices.  The Faculty Focus people provide guidance to mostly online college teachers.  Michael Barbour in this blog post points K-12 online educators to some excellent research based best practices.

What DOES an online teacher do?

In my posts last week, I provided a continuum of teaching and learning that ranges from textbook enhanced to technology enhanced to web enhanced to blended and then, online.  I maintain that it is difficult to be an effective blended learning teacher if one has not first been an online teacher because online teaching and learning is different than face-to-face teaching and learning.  Today, here are some excellent “day in the life” and narratives from online teachers.

First, Kristin Kipp was the 2011 Online Teacher of the Year.  She writes an ongoing blog about her experiences as an online teacher.  In one recent blogpost, she addressed how those unfamiliar with online teaching think that online teaching is all about “busy work“.  Another post discussed how “synchronous online sessions” are similar and different from face-to-face teaching.  Her video about being an online teacher is one of the best ways to understand the work of an online teacher.

Many articles have been written by online teachers about their typical day.  Here are a few:

Flickr Photos