Online learning has become not only a common alternative to physical classes, but a well-regarded change maker in the education ecosystem. Not only does it eliminate the noise of who’s wearing what, disruptive students, and classes cancelled due to snow days, it is becoming the surest and easiest way to treat all students equally. The gregarious students no longer take over the class and the quiet ones are not ignored in their silence. The popular kid gets no more recognition than the wallflower.
If you teach online, you know what I mean. The ease with which it differentiates for student needs, focuses on what’s important (which rarely is a due date), and provides much-needed flexibility has changed the way many of us teach our physical classes. See if any of these traits sound familiar:
Model a Good Instructor
Good online instructors are what we always wished teaching would be. Here’s what Bobby Hobgood, online teacher since 1998, says about what he’s learned about teaching through the online modality:
“…the instructional design and instruction of my courses reflect a Community of Inquiry approach whereby engagement is fostered through thoughtful attention given to how I manifest myself throughout the course (teaching presence), how students engage in the content of the course (cognitive presence) and how, together, we interact to form a dynamic learning community (social presence).”
Ignore Innocent Mistakes
We all know the type of “innocent mistakes” students make in class. They use the wrong word or giggle at the wrong time which distracts everyone from the goals of the class. That doesn’t happen in online courses. Since most input is done prior to submittal, students have time to provide measured responses that they’ve edited to say what they want.
Constructivism is a student-centered philosophy that emphasizes hands-on learning and active participation in lessons. Constructivists believe that learning is an active process so the most effective way to learn is through discovery. With hands-on activities, learners actively create their own subjective representation of objective reality. Because new information is blended into prior knowledge, the result is – of course – subjective, heavily dependent upon the personal lens of each learner. That, in turn, is dependent upon their society, culture, past knowledge, personal experiences, and more.
Learning is constructed, not acquired, and is based on the fullness of a person’s individual lifetime of learning. It is continuously tested as new ideas are added, either causing long-held beliefs to evolve or be replaced.
Constructivism is not a pedagogy or a theory. It is a mindset — a way of thinking used to guide learners.
Here are the most-read posts for the month of September:
- 21 Websites and 5 Posters to Teach Mouse Skills
- Teacher-Author? Me too! Let’s talk
- College Credit Classes in Blended Learning
- Great Activities for the First Week of School
- 20 Back-to-School Articles
- 12 Favorite PC Shortkeys
- Tech Ed Resources for your Class–Digital Citizenship
Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-18 technology for 30 years. She is the editor/author of over a hundred tech ed resources including a K-12 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum. She is an adjunct professor in tech ed, Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a weekly contributor NEA Today, and author of the tech thrillers, To Hunt a Sub and Twenty-four Days. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.
If you missed this article over at ReadiLearn, here are my thoughts about teaching technology in kindergarten:
Why Kindergartners Must Learn Technology
When I started teaching technology almost twenty years ago, I taught K-8, three classes in each grade every week. I was buried under lesson plans, grades, and parent meetings. I remember suggesting to my principal that he ease my schedule by eliminating tech for kindergartners. They wouldn’t miss anything if I started them in first or second grade.
And back then, that was true. Even a decade ago, technology was an extra class in student schedules where now, it is a life skill. Today, my teacher colleagues tell me kids arrive at school already comfortable in the use of iPads and smartphones, doing movements like swipe, squeeze, and flick better than most adults. Many teachers, even administrators, use that as the reason why technology training isn’t needed for them, arguing, “They’re digital natives.”
In fact, because they arrive at school thinking they know what they’re doing on a digital device is exactly why teaching them technology, starting in kindergarten, is critical.
I see a few of you shaking your heads. Does your school think kindergartners don’t need tech classes? Let me give you four good reasons why they do, to arm you for the next time you have to defend it.
They arrive with bad habits
Parents love encouraging their kids to play with iPads and iPhones but it’s not their job to teach them how to do it right. And I’m fine with that. I’ll do it but I need to warn everyone: Bad tech habits are much (much) easier to break if I catch them in kindergarten than third grade. Here are a few that these digital natives arrive to my kindergarten classes with:
I first ran into Behaviorism in child psychology classes I took for my Early Childhood Education credential (ECE). It was developed by a renowned psychologist named John B. Watson and formed into the Theory of Behaviorism by another famous psychologist, B.F. Skinner. The technical definition they provide is:
“…scientific and objective methods of investigation concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviors; all behaviors are learned through interaction with the environment.”
They used the infamous example of Pavlov’s Dogs. No surprise, with this gobbledegook definition that used dog training as the example, I laughed, rejected it, and then forgot it.
Fast forward a decade, to a time when I was studying for my teaching credential. One of my classes reviewed education pedagogies such as Purpose-driven Learning, the Socratic Method, Depth of Knowledge, Unschooling, and Behaviorism. Applied to education, Behaviorism focuses on:
“… conditioning student behavior with various types of reinforcements and consequences…”
I still cringe at words like “conditioning” and “consequences”, but in the fullness of the class, I came to understand that whether teachers know it or not, they use Behaviorism as an effective, reliable teaching tool. I’ll get back to that later but first, I want to deconstruct how a theory that started with training dogs is now a cornerstone in education pedagogy.
I remember report card days as a child, me sitting outside on a brick wall, scared to death as my mother met with the teacher and received the (always bad) news about how I wasn’t doing. It never motivated me to try harder, didn’t make me like school better, and angered me at everyone involved.
Fast forward to me as a K-5 teacher. I love report card days now because this is when I get to meet parents. Often, it is the only time I see those who don’t drop in with questions or email me about concerns. Even before it became protocol, I invited students to join the conversation. I wanted to let parent and child know I considered the three of us a partnership in the student’s success.
Today, that inclusive approach is integral to student-led conferences.
What is a student-led conference?
A student–led conference is where students between kindergarten and 12th grade meet with parents (with the teacher quietly at the side) to share the work they completed during the grading period and their progress toward overall goals. Simply stated, student-led conferences are about process not product. Where traditional conferences seek to delineate how students rank academically at a point in time, student-led conferences revolve around the work students have produced. They are less about grading than measuring learning. In fact, the grades earned are secondary to how students understand what happened in the lesson.
The philosophy behind student-led conferences
If we were teaching writing skills, the philosophy would be called “show don’t tell”. In student-led conferences, this means that students demonstrate their acquired knowledge not by a grade but by communicating their progress. For student work to be relevant, students must be engaged, responsible for the learning and involved in reporting that to stakeholders.
Ask a Tech Teacher contributor, Jane Sandwood, has interesting ideas on blending tech with tradition:
Balancing Technology With Traditional Teaching To Enhance Performance In Class
California has recently increased state investment in school technology, focusing on better broadband connections and supporting further teaching of computer science. Although there is still some debate about the benefits of increasing use of technology in schools, there appears to be plenty of evidence to show that, if used effectively, it can greatly enhance learning. It isn’t as productive on its own, and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for good teachers. However, blended learning takes the positive aspects of technology and combines them with tried and tested teaching methods. Although children are naturally becoming citizens of the digital world, for them to integrate fully and in a positive way in this new society, they still need guidance from teachers.
Teaching A Mindful Approach
A balanced approach is particularly useful when dealing with the potential negative effects of digital use, and especially social media. Children are now intrinsically linked to the digital world, but they still need to be taught how to navigate through social media safely, and to ensure that their interactions are positive and useful. In some cases, even after guidance, children may still use social media in questionable ways, and this could indicate other underlying issues or vulnerabilities. However, for all children, it’s important to find ways to balance these adverse effects. Taking sessions in mediation and mindfulness can be a useful technique to manage or reduce the negative effects of social media. In addition, they may also help children concentrate and be more attentive in class.
Assessing student learning traditionally is accomplished with tests. The problem teachers have with this approach is managing them. If they’re short answer or essay — the preferred way to check understanding — grading takes a long time. And unless assessments are frequent, it’s easy to miss the student who is lost or just doesn’t get it. Even with the advances technology offers in responding directly to students, it can be too time-consuming for large classes.
A solution that has become popular is peer feedback. This isn’t new; in fact, it is prevalent in universities. What exactly is peer feedback and how is it being applied to lower grades?
What is peer feedback?
When used as an assessment strategy, peer feedback is much more than casual comments shared between classmates. It is the logical evaluation of one student’s work by another using predetermined characteristics and measures. Through the implementation of a prescribed rubric, a student’s classmate looks at their work and determines if it satisfies the goals of the lesson, the Essential Questions, and the Big Ideas.
One important difference from teacher evaluations is that students don’t grade each other.
Why peer feedback?
Peer feedback has become popular as teachers move to a “teacher-guide” model of education rather than a “teacher-lecturer”. When the time comes in a lesson to assess student learning, instead of a formal test in a quiet room with a clock ticking, teachers employ a system of peer feedback. For many, this is more effective, less stressful, and maintains the goal of encouraging lifelong learners. Sometimes, this is an excellent way to address school budget cuts, large classes, and the burden of too many pieces to be graded. Other times, teachers employ this method because not only the one being reviewed benefits but so too does the reviewer as they must know what the lesson is about to effectively review classmates. As a pedagogical strategy, it teaches critical thinking, one of those traits that is hard to teach but essential to being a productive adult.
Purpose Driven Learning (or PDL) is a concept coined by Michael Matera and Adam Moreno to summarize the philosophy that each learner’s inner strengths can be unlocked by focusing with purpose and drive. By following the guidelines for Purpose Driven Learning, teachers avoid the biggest pitfall in many lesson plans — that they are theoretic without meaning in the real world. With PDL, resources are relevant, lessons are personalized, and real-life connections are placed under a bright light. In the end, learning is changed from pedantic to powerful and students learn to reliably connect academic studies to the world outside the schoolhouse.
The Goal of PDL
In a phrase:
…the goal of Purpose Driven Learning is NOT about a curriculum that lasts a year. It’s about creating life-long learners who fuel their future passionately with knowledge.
This applies to both 1) education pursued with the goal of college or career, and 2) the critical preparation of students to succeed in life. Purpose Driven Learning, faithfully delivered with buy-in from students, will result in students willingly participating in even the boring lesson pieces (like worksheets or podcasts) as well as exciting applications like simulations and student-devised projects.
Problems implementing Purpose Driven Learning
Engaging PDL in your classroom is seen by some as teaching students what they want to learn at the expense of what they need to learn but this isn’t true. Done right, students come to understand that real knowledge relies on a solid foundation of data upon which they build their personal interests. For example, students who want to join America’s proposed Space Force must first be grounded in the basics of science and math.
Educators who wish to use PDL often run into three roadblocks:
School Standards. Because state and national standards are often devised to serve the majority of students, they may not well-serve your students. But they do provide a necessary foundation without which the goals of your particular group can’t be met. That means that standards are taught first and additional learning is scaffolded afterward. Standards are in fact the foundation that underpins your students’ ability to achieve their PDL goals.
Sheila Slawek teaches digital literacy & computer science. I’ve known Sheila a long time and am profoundly impressed by how she passionately and energetically blends technology authentically into the learning lives of her students. When she showed me the websites her 8th grade students put together–by themselves–I begged her to share with my AATT audience how this came about. When you read this, I think you’ll find her can-do attitude and never-quit approach infectious. Here’s her story:
I’m an inner city, level 4 middle school teacher that provides free daily breakfasts and lunches to a diverse student population. Every semester I receive new students for each grade level and I always wonder, what will we accomplish? I noticed that my eighth-grade class contained 16 students vs. the usual 24 students. The 8th grade just received their own profiled laptop since the school was deploying a blended learning/personalized learning initiative and the 1:1 student laptop was a key project. Of course, being the tech coordinator for this initiative, I was politely asked by a random number of teachers as they passed me in the hall, “so now that the students have laptops, how are they going to learn what they need to be able to use them in my class?” I quickly assessed that the teachers didn’t realize that they will provide instructions regarding the technology their students will use. I was perplexed since I thought to myself, the district has been deploying laptops to schools for 10 years! This initiative was just the next step of student ownership. Ownership of not only the assigned laptops, but ownership of their learning! With all of this going through my mind, I only had time to giggle as we passed each other while walking out students to their destination.