The topic of quality has reared its head several times this week so I thought I would share some thoughts. While working on my newly created online course, Google Tools Workshop, which is nearly finished, I learned a great deal about what makes an online course “good”. In his 2015 book, Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning, which I consulted often, Bates offers multiple resources that include research and guidance about building online courses that are worthy of one’s time. The free, online book is a valuable resource. It’s helped me refocus on quality as I guide others everyday.
Quality in the Classroom
Unintentionally Blending Learning
While developing an online class, I’ve also been working with teachers to evaluate the impact technology is having on student learning in their classrooms. In elementary classrooms, teachers have become fond of using reading and math apps on the iPad. My role, among others is to ensure technology products help students and teachers achieve the learning standards set by our state (at the least) and to understand how, if at all, teachers can provide evidence of improved learning when technology is used.
The two topics of online and in class courses may seem unrelated, however, when a teacher uses technology to present, re-teach, or extend a student’s understanding, she has, in essence created a blended learning environment – which is exactly what the Google Tools Workshop is. In both cases, an instructor uses devices and digital materials to establish or reinforce a new skill or knowledge. It’s important to occasionally talk about evidence that supports the school’s continued investment in these and other technology resources.
I have been frustrated by this issues for years. It really isn’t enough to provide access to information by handing a child (or a teacher for that matter) a tool and telling him or her to play with it. At best, teachers are vetting the apps and staging their use to coincide with students’ development. Blooms Digital taxonomy is useful in that way, as are many visual aids for teachers as handy references. At worst the technology is a reward for a good day, or an alternative when all else has failed to help a student learn.
So how do we start this conversation? Teachers still lack basic computer skills. Based on expectations from over ten years ago, it’s safe to say many teachers are behind the times in their technology knowledge. These teachers are resistant to learning anything new, while others know all about the devices and carry false confidence about the academic value the devices bring to learning. The conversation begins when teachers connect the purpose of using technology with the goals of each lesson, both which come from standards in education. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Here, the rubber meets the road, so the speak.
As with my online course, I rely on ISTE Standards as a general expectation for performance by learners who take the course. In my school I use the same standards to set the expectations for both teachers and students. Teachers who meet them are possibly the same teachers who vet the apps before handing the iPad to a student. My goal and focus this year is on developing the skills of teachers so they can do the best job possible to know and choose technology that will truly impact student success in the classroom.
Intentionally Blending Leaning
Although teachers in the early grades have inadvertently created blending learning classrooms, those in the upper grades are purposely relying on technology for teaching. My own coding course is an example. Students log into an online program to read, watch, and learn about coding with Java. My role as teacher is really just to facilitate and help students think through problems. I see great potential in other subjects as well. Every math level in middle school can be offered as an online or blended learning class with the use of online resources like Carnegie Learning and Khan Academy. Technology in the classroom allows students to watch, listen, and practice while the teacher waits to be needed.
A learning management system like Schoology.com could be used to support advanced math students who are ready for course work that is not taught in the middle school curriculum, such as geometry and advanced algebra. By bringing resources from Carnegie and Khan into the LMS, students could work at their own pace and academic level while remaining in the classroom with their peers.
Information is so available it’s hard to know where teaching and learning intersect. Science classes that rely on historical data and even scientific experiments also have good bones for becoming blended learning or even online courses. These include earth, natural, and physical science curriculum.
An example of the potential of online education in science is evident in a recent encounter between a middle school student and his science teacher. The student was speaking to the science teacher about making up class work after being out sick. The teacher explained he (the student) wouldn’t have to take the pending quiz because he had missed the in class video. Upon hearing of the video source, the student asked to take the quiz anyway. The teacher looked puzzled. The student explained that while sick, he passed the time watching YouTube videos about the very content the class was studying. He watched the same series of science videos out of curiosity, not obligation.
Isn’t that exactly what teachers are trying to incite in students? A desire to know. Science knowledge is prolific online and could easily be made into an online or blended learning course at Prince of Peace by importing videos, Google forms, and creating project work for students who are ready for advancement. Or, through LMS platforms like Schoology or Google Classroom, students who need extra exposure to topics for better understanding or remediation could remain in regular classrooms, work at their own pace, and still benefit from the positive social interactions that middle school provides.
Our school, like many Catholic schools struggle to find qualified teachers willing to work for less and minister faith in education. Catholic virtual schools such as ADOM-VCS are filling the gaps by offering fully online courses that otherwise would not be available. I am not an advocate of entirely online learning for k-12 students. They lack the face to face social element young people need, and require self-discipline, which most are too young to have developed. However, changing courses to include a combination of learning online and having personal support in the classroom is certainly a win-win in Catholic education.
Bates, A.W. (2015) Teaching in a Digital Age: Guidelines for designing teaching and learning. Retrieved from https://opentextbc.ca/teachinginadigitalage/