(Maintaining) Meaningful Interaction in a Blended Learning Course

My online course prototype will supplement my in-person grade three classroom. Coming from an in-person environment, I already have a strong community of learners; learners who know each other well, who are (mostly) comfortable with each other in the classroom setting and who interact, in person, all day, everyday. Therefore, a strong classroom climate of interaction and collaboration is already well established, especially at this point of the school year (month six). My concern is  that with my online course prototype, I may lose this community if I don’t put the time and attention into (temporarily) converting my in-person community of learners to an engaged group of online learners. The last thing I want is for my students to move to isolated work on a computer, without any interaction or collaboration with their peers. 

My goal when introducing these online modules is to maintain a similar environment where students feel supported and celebrated for their efforts, both by myself and their peers. I hope to foster lots of student-teacher and peer-peer interaction throughout my two blended learning modules, using similar strategies online as I do in class. Students are used to frequently sharing their ideas, discussing class content in pairs, small groups and whole groups, and receiving lots of feedback while they are working – I will strive to maintain these key interactive pieces of my classroom climate as students work through my online learning prototype. 

The blog post, Building Community in an Online Course, offers four key suggestions for online course community: allow students to get to know me and me them, allow students to get to know each other, create a safe and incusing environment and be present/responsive in the course; these four areas are priorities in my face-to-face practice and this blog offers valuable options for continuing to prioritize them in an online setting. I explore some of these in my examples below.

The following quote from the blog, 6 Strategies for Building Community in Online Courses, is at the forefront of my online community planning: “Community is more than participation; it requires moving from participation to engagement, involvement, and action.” I will be trying to push my young learners beyond simply participating when we complete our online modules. Authentic engagement is something I am always attempting to foster in-class as well!

Luckily, the primary program I am utilizing (Seesaw) has diverse options for communication within it. Interactions will primarily be taking place on this platform. Although not a traditional LMS, Seesaw allows for various forms of communication, including liking work, commenting on work and private or group messaging. As well, it can host photos, voice recordings and videos of myself (providing instruction or feedback) and students (sharing ideas and work).

  • Likes & Commenting: Similar to a social media platform, Seesaw allows for classmates to like and comment on others’ work. Students will like and comment on their peers’ work on the Seesaw portfolio page, throughout the modules. When students post work, their peers will be able to see it and either ‘like’ it or give their feedback via a written or oral comment. I will provide explicit expectations for liking and commenting so the students understand the importance of this interactive piece. Commenting will serve as an ongoing peer review exercise, further supporting student-student interaction: “design activities that require student interaction: group work, peer review, etc.

*To begin, I will require posts and comments to be approved by me before they are live on the Seesaw platform. This way, I can help ensure students are submitting their best work for peers to see and to promote respectful and useful commenting on others’ work. Pre-learning and practice on commenting expectations will be required as we have not accessed this tool on Seesaw yet. Comments will be visible to peers, myself and connected families which should help enforce respectful commenting. In addition, I will regularly comment on students’ work with celebratory messages and thoughtful feedback to model this; this will help mimic the in-person support students are used to receiving in class.

To help facilitate valuable comments, I will offer grade-level appropriate prompts for students to start with (such as: I like how you…/You did a good job on…/This reminds me of…/Did you think about…). As well, explicit instructions on netiquette will be necessary; this term was first introduced to me last week during the class readings: “remind students of the basic principles of netiquette when communicating online.”

Seesaw offers many resources to help support student’s acquire and practice digital citizenship skills that will be necessary as we use these communication tools: https://app.seesaw.me/activities?subject=DigitalCitizenship

  • Messaging: As well as public commenting, students are able to private message me. During these online modules, I will encourage students to message me with questions, as they typically would ask a question in our classroom. I will be actively checking and responding to messages so students feel supported during their online work. As well, I will be reaching out to students to check in with their learning and progress of the modules.

*This messaging feature allows me to fully “Communicate regularly/Be Present in the Course” with constant communication both on a whole group level (instructions, reminders, advice, check-ins) and one -on-one (more personal check in, aid).

  • Photos, videos and recordings: The use of these three mediums, will allow for further interaction throughout these modules. Through our main Seesaw platform, students will be sharing work and ideas using photos (camera tool), recordings (microphone tool) and videos (recording tool). By collecting evidence of learning in these mediums, students will be more engaged in their own learning and the learning of their peers. Seeing and hearing themselves and their peers, instead of just reading typed words, will foster a stronger level of interaction and interest. I will also be using photos, videos and recordings to interact with the class, throughout the modules.

*Students are already familiar with these tools and are comfortable with submitting work via photo, recording and video response.

  • Instructional Strategies: With inspiration from Michael Wesch, I will be using suggested techniques to better engage learners during online instruction. For my lessons, I plan to use POV and screen recording of methods of engagement without showing my face on the video. To demonstrate what we are learning/doing, I will use the POV technique: showing the viewer my point of view as I am completing a task. As well, instead of solely explaining steps verbally, I will screen record to demonstrate steps. Does anyone have a favorite screen recording and editing program that they can recommend? As well, I will use Wesch’s storytelling advice. Storytelling compliments our ELA Fairy tale unit theme well, so I will use the power of storytelling to further interest students when delivering course content via online videos. My young learners especially will benefit from these engagement strategies. 

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Thanks for reading! As always, I would love any feedback and/or other ideas to foster online interaction. Specifically, if you are Seesaw-savvy and have any tips and tricks for using it’s communication features, that would be appreciated! Looking forward to reading what you are doing to build community in your online courses!

-Teagan

Once Upon A…Blended Learning Course?

Once upon a time, there was a brave and noble educator (ha – that’s me!) who set out on the adventure of a lifetime: developing two enchanting online modules for her English Language Arts class. This teacher worked tirelessly – climbing beanstalks, granting wishes, kissing frogs – all in an effort to create both an ADDIE template and basic course overview to please all of her fellow queens and kings of technology (that’s you all!).

Charming Characters:

These blending learning modules feature a group of 22 hardworking princes and princesses. This royal family greatly varies in their English reading and writing abilities, but all share a love of ELA and an overall enthusiasm to learn. 

Spectacular Setting:

These modules will be blended, featuring both in-castle addresses and lessons pre-recorded in a land far far away. Students will have access to the pre-recorded instruction to view at their own pace, as many times as they need. Learning activities and assessments will also be blended, taking place both in-castle and far far away, using a variety of teaching strategies and online programs, including: Seesaw, Kahoot and Storyboard That

This magical unit duration is four to six weeks, and for the purposes of this project, I will be creating and sharing with you two online learning modules (out of the larger course context) featuring two main, magnificent learning goals of reading and writing.

Exciting Events

MODULE ONE will focus on reading ability and reading comprehension. Students will review their knowledge of fictional story elements and, more specifically, focus on characteristics of fairy tale. They will demonstrate their abilities through an incredible Seesaw quest (Seesaw activity).

MODULE TWO will focus on English writing, with an art component. After workshopping an original fairy tale, students will ‘publish’ their story, for the entire village to see, using a program called Storyboard That. This allows for them to read their creative tale aloud and design pictures (storyboard format) that go with the events in their work.

 

I welcome all interested to take a peak at my course profile and/or my ADDIE model to see more about my gallant quests!

…and they all learned happily ever after.

THE END

 

Hear ye, hear ye, calling all tech queens and kings. I kindly request any fantastic feedback you may have on my module ideas and development so far. Thanks!

To technology or not to technology – that is the question.

At least for me, tech or no tech remains an ongoing, internal debate in my professional context. Even in my seventh year as an educator, I continually flip between feeling either excited or obligated to incorporate technology into my practice. Although my comfort levels vary, I believe technology has a crucial place in today’s classroom and I know I need to find my comfortability with that. READY OR NOT – technology in the classroom is here to stay and forms of blended learning options naturally follow.

I often blame my tech uncertainty on my current position – a grade three French Immersion teacher – as students of this age are still mastering the skills of reading, writing and, well, being a functioning member of a classroom. Independence levels are (understandably) low, emotions are (always) high, and the addition of anything, beyond the already long list of requirements of me as their teacher (ie. teach SK outcomes, communicate with families, administer division assessments, attend assemblies, provide MANY brain breaks…I could go on), that I need to add into that mix feels unmanageable, or at least hard.

I do realize that technology integration, done right, could mean making my life, or at least my job, easier (in the long run anyway) and would enhance the teaching and learning already taking place. I am aware that the use of computers should be for meaningful, purposeful, educational technology use, not just a free period of Math games on Mathletics or free period of reading on RazKids – as lovely as that can be during the last hour of the day. Come on, everyone knows what I am talking about. I do acknowledge and appreciate the benefits of tech integration and I continue to find ways, manageable for me, to do this with my students. Technology is important. Digital literacy is important. Flexibility in learning is important. Engaging and relevant teaching methods are important. In 2024, students need to teachers to help introduce and educate them about the world of tech as it will, if not already does, dominate their life. 

For me, tech integration in my classroom has always come down to time. Do I have time to research, learn, figure out logistics, and prep content for online learning, or not? Do we have time to review the basics of logging on, adding photos, signing into a program, and the list continues. If not, I will be cancelling the my laptop cart booking and rushing down to the photocopy room. If I have the time, and really, the energy and the patience, I do feel excited try out something new with my class involving an aspect of tech. The technology is available, the digital learning tools are endless, the students are already engaged by technology – it seems like an easy decision. Educators know it’s more complicated than that. In an ideal world, I would LOVE to facilitate a blended classroom. Perhaps this course will help me see that as a reality.

Teachers should be learners too and finding the space in my profession to explore the world of tech and blending learning is always fun, just not always manageable. It’s easy to resort to my traditional instructional methods, but am I doing students a disservice by shying away from tech? Yes. I am. Balancing work and life, a tale as old as time one might say – especially for educators – rings true for me as I often prioritize this balance to spending extra hours investigating exciting new blended learning options. Can you blame me?

One program that I DO use frequently is Seesaw. Seesaw is essentially an online portfolio but has many other features and has allowed me to use technology in an authentic and seamless way with my younger kiddos. Extremely easy to navigate, I utilize this program primarily to connect with parents and share student work, but it also lets me dip my toes into the world of blended learning. I am able to create content, whether that be recorded lessons, links to online resources or assessment activities for the class, and Seesaw can be accessed at school or at home.

I often rely on Seesaw to help my students who are absent for periods of time (I am easily able to push work home for them and provide quick instruction notes or feedback) or I will sometimes assign supplementary activities for students to complete as homework, complementary to class instruction. As well, the activity tool, allows me to create activities for students to engage in, whether it be a writing task, Math review questions, recording their reading, etc. It is a primary friendly platform with a lot of potential in the realm of blending learning opportunities. Have you used Seesaw? It’s a nice and, dare I say, EASY way to begin in blended learning and create an online classroom environment. In fact, I, almost solely, relied on Seesaw during my brief stint as an impromptu blended learning teacher from 2020-2021.

My only professional experience with (a form of) blended learning, was during the pandemic. I remember those years with mixed sentiments as I thoroughly enjoyed some aspects of my, very new, role as an online educator, but also faced many unanticipated challenges. A primary challenge was navigating the delivery of recorded content (vs. the in person experience I was used to). It just was not the same teaching to a screen. That being said, if “[t]he main advantage of lecture capture is increased access”, I wonder why I would not continue with recorded lessons to continue offering this increased access. The chapter – Old wine in new bottles: classroom-type online learning– helps me envision a starting place for blended learning. Instead of recreating the wheel, I can first focus on the same content and delivery (wine) but offer it in a new mode (bottle).

I could create an extremely vast pros and cons list re: my time as a blended learning teacher, but for now I will just share a few highlights. I always say to start with the bad news first, so here are some of the challenges I experienced: a lack of engagement from my eight year old audience, frequent technology issues (on both my end and from students and caregivers) which took up ample work time to navigate, feelings of self doubt and constant indecisiveness in this new teaching space, and hours of (extra) work to prepare content for online delivery and/or at home work completion. Now that’s just to name a few – I imagine I could triple or quadruple that list but that’s enough negative for now. Positive opportunities within my time in blending learning include: realizing student potential that otherwise went unnoticed (some students excelled in this new mode!), ability to be a learner myself by engaging in ongoing PD, valuable (and fun) collaboration with colleagues, creating content I was proud of and that I can continue using with my classes, and the natural partnership that immerged with caregivers supporting their learners at home. Again, I could go on.

I would love to hear about your positive and negative experiences with blending learning, especially in the time of COVID, as many educators experienced the same quick and unexpected transition as me. Did you thrive with this change? What aspects of blended learning did you enjoy or detest? Have you been able to maintain any of the tech integration used during blended learning in your current face-to-face environment?

In conclusion, blending learning, hybrid learning, tech integration, or whatever other terms you prefer, remains an ongoing journey in my professional life. I appreciated my confusion with these different terms and types of tech learning being validated in Valerie Irvine’s work The Landscape of Merging Modalities: “[w]hat used to be a simple binary of face-to-face or online has now become so extremely complex that our ability to understand each other is impaired.” I appreciated this article’s ongoing explanation, or rather attempt to clearly explain the various terms, along with the author’s direct acceptance that blended, hybrid, flex, etc. are terms that will remain muddled in the world of tech-integrated education. 

Thanks for reading!

Teagan