Trying to Define Blended Education

I attended the BlendEd symposium on Oct. 25&26, 2015 in Edmonton, Alberta. It was great to see people from all across the country meeting to talk about what Blended Education means and what it looks like in our schools. The term gets used a lot with distance education and with High School Redesign, and although the term has been around as long time, there is no definitive definition that everyone can agree on.

Here is my attempt at defining Blended Education. This is just my first thoughts on the matter, however. I look forward to thoughts and opinions that challenge my assumptions and I hold the right to change my position as I learn more about it.

Blended Education occurs when a professional educators use technology to reduce the barriers created by time and space in order to apply effective pedagogical practices that meet the needs of a wide range of learners.

We know that the Carnegie Unit does not ensure learning. We know that students do not need to be in a classroom to learn, and that learning doesn’t only occur between 8:30am and 3pm. We know that just because a teacher has said it, the students are not necessarily going to understand it and remember it. We also know that the digital world can produce all kinds of Analytics and metrics that teachers (not algorithms) can use to make teaching and learning more efficient. We have discovered how to use game theory, inquiry, experience and authenticity to improve learning. BUT, our current paradigm of education prevents us from applying what we know. Our education system is locked in an 8.5″ x 11″/.pdf world, unable capitalizing on our knowledge of teaching and learning.

Blended Education is an attempt to change that. It is using new technologies in ways that transform teaching. Most importantly, it utilizes the social components of new media to foster the relationships between students and teachers. Blended Education is not computers and Apps teaching students. Rather, it is teachers using technology to build relationships, discover their students’ learning needs, and then breaking down the constraints of a thirty-seven minute, four-walls-and-a-door, 9:48am class to meet those needs.
I would love to hear your thoughts…

You Too Can Use YouTube

Remember when we used to block YouTube because we did not see the educational value of it? YouTube, and our understanding of it, have changed significantly in the last few years. There is a lot of educational power in creating and sharing playlist, uploading and editing in YouTube, and managing a channel, as well as utilizing the YouTube Options extension in Chrome. Tap into YouTube to create multiple means of engagement, expression, and representation for your students.

A great way to add another means of representation for your students is to create a playlist. You can organize your playlist by concept or subject and link or embed the playlists on whatever web properties you teach with. It is a good way to provide another voice or another way of explaining a concept. It can also be accessed by students for review or extending their knowledge. There are quite a few documentaries have been legally put on Youtbe. I have created a play list of The Corperation for my Social 30-1 class and put a link to it on the class website. I was then able to show only the sections I wanted to focus on in class. If students were interested, they could watch the whole film at home from my playlist. However, sometimes you can find whole movies on Youtube that you think are being hosted legally, only to find that they dissappear. Be sure to check and update your playlists every now and then.

A feature I found very slick was the ability to upload to YouTube directly from a webcam. This makes it really easy for students to upload interviews, self-reflections, oral stories, etc. as an alternate means of expression. The editor is quite basic, but WeVideo is a Chrome App that will work within the YouTube editor and add some cool editing tools. The nice part is that no software is required and you can shoot, edit and share a video all from a Chromebook. The caution here is that parents should know that you are using YouTube in your class as a way to acheive multiple means of expression and students should be gettign used to changing their privacy settings to “unlisted.”

There are some very well done educational videos, such as those made by Crash Course, that students find very engaging. And YouTube is full of great, short clips that can prompt a conversation or activate prior knowlegde and provide another means to engage your students. it is also great to have students tell their story on video before they write it as another way to engage them in the writing process.

The statics about YouTube are stagering. YoutTube recieves four billion view each day and is the 3rd largest website on the internet. We should be using YouTube not just because it gives us more pedogoical options, but because it is important for us to help our students understand and harness its power.

Edit: To really understand the scope of Youtube, check out Mashable’s article on “Gangnam Style.”

Coding and Project Based Learning

A few months ago I got this email from my brother who was attending a web developers conference:

I am sitting at this conference …and there are people from all over the world who ALL are complaining about the shortage of good software developers. I’m wondering what programs there are at Edmonton public that are directing kids toward careers in software. Is there anything?

The short answer to that question is “No.” We have some Career and Technology Studies courses that could teach kids how to code. We also have a smattering teachers who have their students build apps. I would say that the biggest course in the district that teaches kids how to code is Robotics. However, software development (or coding) is no where in our curriculum and there is very little likelihood that it will be in the future.

However, I would like to propose that even a rudimentary understanding of coding is important as a 21st Century Literacy skill. With the ubiquitousness of the internet and the internet of things, he amount of data being generated is exponential as the future unfolds. In order for us to capitalize on that data stream, we will rely on programs to aggregate and process the information for us. In an ideal world, people will have the skills required to write code that will pull the data they need in order to make wise decisions. For more about this concept, see Rushkoff’s “Program or be Programmed“.

So were does software development fit in our schools? I think project based learning is a good place to start. By giving students a problem that can be solved with software or an app is a great way introduce students to coding, particularly if that app provides a solution to a real world problem. If you have ever written any code, no matter how big or small, you can attest the amount of critical thinking is required in order for your code to work. Also, there is a lot of reflection and revision that goes into coding, and students receive immediate feedback on whether or not their code works. These projects could be cross-curricular or a unit in a subject area.

I would love to hear from anyone who is allowing students the option to develop apps and software as a major class project. It would be interesting to hear how you assessed students and how they responded to your project.

Changing the iPads in Education Discussion

I was fortunate to attend the Alberta Education symposium titled iPads: What are We Learning? It was an excellent day with educators from districts all around Alberta sharing the advantages and challenges of using iPad in education. I think this is a timely discussion, and one that needs to be elevated and accelerated in education circles around the Province. Particularly considering the recent news that Best Buy and FutureShop are hiring a combined 6,000 employees to deal with their predicted Christmas rush for mobile devices. I am sure we will see more of them make their way into our classrooms whether we are prepared for them or not.

One of the issues raised during the discussions was framed around laptops vs. iPads. I am not convinced this is the proper arguement. When we apply the ways we use laptops in the classroom to tablets, we greatly limit our options and undervalue the potential of the device. Perhaps we could alter the discussion into two different arguments – laptop vs. desktop and tablet vs. binder/textbook/library. I realize that adding library to the list could be seen as a heresy. I am in no way devaluing books. Rather, I am questioning the medium of the paperback. We can do so much more for our students with text that is not bound to type on paper. Textbooks could link to current and updated information. Notes could be stored in the cloud and easily shared and accessed from a variety of devices.

It is conceivable that we will one day look back at the laptop with the same regard we had for the cell phones of the 1980s; clunky, limited function, and awkward to use. When that happens, I hope that students aren’t coming to school to use devices they know are outdated and inapplicable for the world they will grow up in. Rather, my hope is that we have thoughtfully explored how tablets/iPads can enhance our teaching practice and foster inquiry in our classes.

For more information from the Alberta Education symposium, check out the Resource List and the twitter hashtag #abedipad.

Is Technology Part of the Answer?

Dr. Stephen Murgatyrod posed the following question in ATA’s  Challenge Dialogue Technology and Learning Forum:

The key to this question is not technology, but pedagogy and curriculum – while we persist in demanding so many curriculum outcomes technology will be an “and also..” feature of the classroom. If we moved to a problem based approach to curriculum, then we could do much more with technology. Technology is part of the answer, but what isthe question?

I think one obvious questions is “What characteristics do we want our students to have when they become adults?”  Alberta Learning’s Inspiring Action on Education nicely lays out the characteristics of an educated Albertan, which I agree with and believe to be very forward thinking. However, not all believe that technology is part of the answer. A generic question such as the one I posed allows people to respond from their own particular worldview and does not challenge them to engage deeply in the profound societal changes occurring subtly and quickly around us.

Perhaps some more direct questions would be better to begin the conversation. Here are a few examples:

  1. Looking at the rapid increase in the way people and businesses engage and connect in the digital environments of social media, what will Social Responsibility mean in 21st century?
  2. Considering the read/write web is quickly evolving into web 3.0, what does Critical Thinking look like in the 21st Century?
  3. The virtual world is increasingly becoming a public space, so how does one create an authentic identity online?
  4. With the creative commons and a growing recognition of collective intelligence, how does one become creative and innovative in the 21st Century?

By framing questions in a manner that forces people to look outside their comfort zone and address the changes occurring in society, the necessity for tech in education becomes clearer. Once we have addressed questions like these, we can give better answers to “What characteristics do we want our students to have when they become adults?”

PS – A colleague of mine asked what I thought to be a very profound question – “Can you teach 21st Century Literacy without electricity?” If you want to see where people stand on the role of technology in education, ask them that question.

I Can Teach Without a Computer

For those that have heard me speak this may be hard to believe, but one of the foundations of my beliefs is that if you can do something better without technology, don’t use technology. However, this assumption is predicated on the premis that one can effectively use technology. Technology is supposed to make our lives easier/better. Its misuse tends to drain our energy, increase our stress levels and make us work more, not less.

Look at the teaching technologies from the end of the last century – the overhead projector and the VCR. Would anyone argue that those devices were a drain on our time and energy? Sure the VCR didn’t work all the time and the bulb blew on the overhead, but those teaching tools were so integrated into daily practice that they became seamless. Could teachers have taught without them? Absolutely. But why would they? The VCR added visual learning and story telling in a much more effective, engaging and convient way than its predecessors. The overhead ment you could face the class when you taught, and save your notes for the next lesson. I have taught for quite a few years, but I have never seen a Level One overhead projector course.

When we talk about the role of technology for the 21st Century teacher, I think we often frame our questions wrong. Until technologies like interactive white boards, cloud computing, mobile devices, and social media become as seamless in the class as the overhead projector, we will continue to miss the point about teaching 21st century skills. It’s not about the technology – it’s about teaching communication, social responsibility, creativity, critical thinking and collaboration in a way that its relevant for the world of our students. And how can those skills and attitudes be relevant for them if they aren’t using the tools that are shaping their world?

Perhaps the argument shouldn’t be “if you can do something better with out technology, don’t use technology.” Instead we should probably ask ourselves “Which Century’s tools should we use?”

Should Kids Be Driving Alone? – Response

I so often hear “teachers should…” when it comes to digital citizenship and 21stC literacy, and yet are not given the tools/resources/permission to actually implement the desired change. If we truly want our students to have the competencies of an educated Albertan, we must advocate for systemic change.

I taught Social 30-1 at a local high school this summer and it took every ounce of tech skill I had to get my students tweeting, blogging and using Google Docs… and I am an Emerging Technology Consultant. Unless we commit to making it easier for students and teachers to use technology, both at the local and provincial leadership levels, I think many of our efforts will be counter productive. I’m not just talking about hardware, its re-framing what we assess and the data we collect, re-structuring timetables and subjects, re-evaluating teaching contracts and professional collaboration, and removing the legal and technical barriers to online access.

For the Albertans reading this, does anyone know if the new School Act and TQS will make it easier for teachers to enter the digital world with our students, or will it create more barriers so our students will have to drive it alone?

— taken from a comment I made on the ERLC Social Media Group

How Do We Assess 21stC Literacy?

I spent the better part of the last two days listening in on schools discuss the results of their standardized tests – PATs, HLATs, GLAs, Diplomas. There were some excellent conversations around the room. The Assessment Team did a great job organizing the day and leading Literacy Leadership Teams through copious amounts of charts and tables. They made it easy to understand the data we were looking at and gave the teams time to work with the information they had before them. What was interesting to me was that, as the District focuses on 21st Century Literacy, we still put a lot of emphasis on tests that measure 20th Century skills.

I support the Data Days, and I believe teachers and students should be looking at data to inform instruction and learning. If we truly value the competencies of and educated Albertan, as presented by Alberta Education, then lets be sure to include tools to measure these competencies when we look at data. Having said that, I don’t claim to know what tools would be effective to measure these things. I think we have a lot of work to do to find some really good assessment strategies for these skills. I would love to hear how others are assessing 21st Century Literacy in their classes.

The Social Relationships of Our Vision 2020 Students

Recently, the PEW Institute asked a variety of Internet Stakeholders to look ahead to the year 2020 and predict if the internet will have had a positive or negative impact on their social relationships. I was intrigued by this notion because there has been a lot of discussion in the district around Edmonton Public Schools’ Vision 2020. It is important that we consider the completion of high school not as a “finish line” but the start of the rest of their lives.

The results of The Future of Social Relationships survey showed that 84% of respondants agreed that the internet will be a “mostly positive force on [thier] social world.” The highlight of the study for me, however, were the comments that took a realist approach. Here are some examples:

“Certainly both good things and bad have happened to relationships because of the internet. I believe, though, that overall, the increasing ease of connection with people at a distance is improving social relations much more than the occasional gaffe or thoughtless act is harming them. Some discretion about what to do and say online is necessary, but that’s simply a social more that needs to be worked out and understood – the tools are advancing quicker than the social etiquette around them. There will always be people who damage their relationships spectacularly, and if the internet were not available to them, they would do it another way. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.”—Rachel S. Smith, vice president, NMC Services, New Media Consortium

“Context matters. It’s not just the internet. It’s the pace of change, the pace of life, the pace of work – all of which are accelerating, in part because of the net. But norms take longer to develop than technologies. And where you stand depends on your circumstances. For me, the net is a wonderful learning network and for some it is alifeline and for others it is a tether to their boss or a source of harmful misinformation, disinformation, and distraction. Since when is the world starkly divided into either-or alternatives? For many, life will be alienated, rushed, and confusing because of theirinvolvement online. Others will choose or will learn or be trained to cope with dangers of an always-on lifestyle.”—Howard Rheingold, visiting lecturer, Stanford University, lecturer,Tools forand Smart Mobs

It would be interesting to see what the results would be if we polled teachers and administrators in Edmonton Public. It would be an important question because as we consider using Social Networking in our classrooms, we should know how we feel about it’s impact on our lives. Your response will determine your approach to social networking. You may want to teach kids online social skills to protect them, or you may want to harness Social Media to empower them. Either approach is good for our students.

The Future of Social Relations: PDF Full Version / Short Overview

Re-defining Literacy

How would you define literacy? It may seem simple at first – the ability to read and write – but given the complexities of the modern world, this definition has become antiquated. New skill sets and new forms of expression mixed with the freedom of ease of publication has changed what it means to be literate.  A variety of web searches have produced an entire spectrum of interpretations, but I have yet to find a satisfactory definition. I’m going to add my understanding of literacy to the milieu. Now I don’t have a PhD in English, but the very fact that I can post this without anyone vetting it is one of the reasons for the re-definition. This is what I have come up with so far:

Literacy involves the integration of a broad set of constantly evolving skills integrated across a range of contexts and the cultural knowledge that enables a person to recognize and use a variety of forms of language appropriate to different social situations. Literate people will be able to use language and numeracy to enhance their capacity to think, create and question in order to participate and communicate effectively in a technologically advanced, democratic society.

Literacy has evolved over time, adding new elements and skills along the way. Modern literacy  has the fundamental, original 3Rs at its core (reading, writing and arithmetic). However, with the explosion of Multimedia and graphic interfaces, a fourth R, Fine Art, is also  a core element of literacy. As well, with the accessibility and global connectedness achieved by the world wide web, these core elements are not sufficient for a person to be considered literate. Modern Literacy requires the extension of these 4Rs with 4Es: Expose the truth, Employ information, Express ideas compellingly (Kairos, in rhetoric), and the Ethics of usage (digital citizenship).

My interpretation borrows heavily from the definition of  the Edmonton Public Literacy Plan, the New South Wales Library, David Warlick and Clive Thompson.I am open to suggestions and welcome criticism. I would like to see a definition that is enduring enough to last through whatever tech changes the future holds.