The Community of Educational Technology Support works to improve teaching and learning on campus through networking, collaboration, sharing expertise and resources, and advocacy.

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johnmartin's picture

OK, Blended Learning — How about Blended Teaching?

I'm a conscientious teacher. I work pretty hard to ensure that learning activities are driven foremost by learning goals, and I work pretty hard to avoid "easy-for-me; crappy-for-student" learning activities, where they spit back content in multiple choice tests. But there's no denying that I get really tired doing it this way. And there's no denying that I mess up from time to time. And sometimes I really long for the simplicity and clarity that quantitative, multiple-choice assessment offers in spades.

Because good pedagogy is often a pain in the butt, and doing "blended learning" without falling back on often pedagogically-light teaching methods promises to be much more work, I'm very interested in collecting, developing, and sharing the best of the best tips and tricks for doing blended learning easily.

How do we maximize the best aspects of technological integration — not only to increase learning, but to keep the administrative aspects of teaching reasonable!?

Failure Story

This semester, I had my students do peer reviews of each others' final presentations. My thoughts were: 

  • learning to give good feedback takes practice, and some prodding. I asked them to note that the required points were covered (checklist), and add one positive and one "could improve" thing about each presentation.
  • I said I'd grade the feedback, hoping this would deepen the thoughtfulness of the comments.
  • this would also, I figured, encourage them to pay attention to each others' presentations, so they could learn from each other.
  • and I said I'd share the comments their peers made for their presentations with them, so they didn't just have my comments, but had each others'.

A terrible, terrible idea.

What I didn't recognize at the time was that this tremendously increased the administrative element of the assignment for me.

  1. I  stapled the peer review sheets together, so they could fold over each review after they were done and have some sense of privacy about what they were saying, without worrying about their neighbors seeing everything. But that meant that I got back 20 packets of 20 review sheets.
  2. Collating them involved putting 4 on a copier at a time folded open to the same student, and stapling the legal sheets together.
  3. I then read through the comments for each presentation, highlighted common themes that the students noticed, and added my own thoughts and grade.
  4. To share them back with the students, I scanned each set of 5 sheets, and emailed the scans back to the students.
  5. Then I went through each of the Peer Reviewers' packets and graded them for writing two comments (+,–). 2 points each slip, 2 points for the checklist, 40 points total. I didn't give back the feedback slips they filled out.

So, it was a nice idea, but an awful one as far as end-of-semester workload went. A terrible idea.

Next time

computer browser versionWe are lucky to have Google Apps here on campus. One of the apps is Google Forms. Had I used Google forms instead of packets of paper, my students could have filled out a form like this on their laptop (right), and if they didn't bring a laptop, it would look like this on their mobile device (below).

mobile browser viewmobile browser view

And instead of collating the forms by hand, I could easily sort them in Google Spreadsheets, or send them to Excel if I preferred, and manipulate them there. 

And instead of sending the students emails of pics of photocopies of the feedback they got, I could have copy/pasted the data.

Lesson Learned

The lesson here is that technology can help us include good teaching practices that might otherwise be cumbersome — such as student peer review of presentations. And sometimes we have to fail miserably in able to figure out a better way. It wasn't until I was hunched over the copier, holding folded packets straight that it occurred to me that Google Forms would have worked better. Now I know.

Granted, as an Education PhD, I like to try new pedagogical approaches, and sometimes I suffer in my failed attempts. And I'm okay with that because teaching, for me, is more than half about my own learning and research. As long as the students keep learning (and they seem to roll with it, for the most part, I'll probably keep experimenting, and failing, and iterating to improve.

And I'll keep you posted.

johnmartin's picture

Yammer with your email!

Hi ComETS, 
Have you been interested in the potential of social media in teaching, learning, and ComETS — but don't really want to read all my Facebook dog posts?
Consider hopping on the ComETS Yammer group with your email account and joining the conversations that we're having on how to use it!
Yammer Fact #1: Did you know that Yammer allows collaborative annotation on PDFs, pictures, and Word documents? It's true! You can post ideas, agendas, and drafts, and other items on Yammer and those who you share with can highlight, comment, strikeout, and draw on them. How could this be useful in your work day?
yammer annotation
Share your own Yammer ideas with us in the ComETS Yammer group!


2014 Winter Retreat on January 17:
Rethinking Effective Learning and Teaching Engagement (RELATE)

Register here.

Campus conversation is building around engaging and improving effective teaching on campus. Be a part of the conversation! Join us for our annual winter retreat! 

Friday, January 17, 2014, from 8:30–12:30 in Varsity Hall II, Union South

Over the course of the morning, we will RELATE our successes and failures around improving teaching, and discuss learning, reshaping and promoting effective teaching on campus.

Retreat activities include:

  • Keynote address: Dr. Anthony Ciccone, Director of the Center for Instruction and Professional Dr. Anthony CicconeDevelopment, UW-Milwaukee: “Learning Matters: Reflections on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and the Value of Inquiry”
  • Conversations with fellow attendees to strengthen our learning communities and move toward collaborative improvement of our teaching

The retreat is open to the whole UW-Madison community, and we hope you'll be part of the conversation. Continental breakfast, coffee, and boxed lunches will be provided. More information will be posted soon. Space is limited to 120, so register soon! Register here.

This event is co-sponsored by the UW-Madison Teaching Academy, the Vice-Provost Office for Teaching and Learning, the Office of Professional & Instructional Development, the Madison Teaching and Learning Excellence Program, and DoIT Academic Technology.

johnmartin's picture

Let's De-Disney-ify Education


Let me just be clear on a few things:

  • I love Disney and its ability to create incredibly immersive experiences.
  • I am a HUGE proponent the power of designed, built environments for learning (Ellworth 2005, etc.). Experiences that situate learners' experiences in embodied contexts that touch multiple senses are experiences that "last a lifetime".
  • They've created top-notch, heavily-designed multimodal learning (and entertainment) environments that hold consumers' attention throughout a learning experience.
  • If all (or even 1%) of my public education experience had been "Disneyfied" I'd not only not complain, but would probably have gone off and done amazing things in exotic places instead of being a trouble-making advocate for participatory education at a public land-grant university.

That said, I think you and I, as [talented as we may be] run-of-the-mill educators should stop trying to create high-production learning activities — (metaphorically: "educational rides")  for students.

Here's why:

  • school architects (and budgets) can't compete with Disney
  • instructional game developers (and budgets) can't compete with video games
  • instructional multimedia designers (and budgets) can't compete with Hollywood

But western educators have been trying so hard, since the Industrial Revolution, to crack this nut. They've created classroom structures that try to center students' focus on the teacher; curriculum that carefully pulls "tour groups" of students along a intricately-scaffolded path from lesson to lesson, so that most can successfully retain the content they have absorbed until the end of the tour, and demonstrate that level of absorption by squeezing it out into a machine-scored bubble test sheet.

The axiom that we've been following is: standardization is economical and effective.

But humans are not standardized. We have unique physical, mental, and emotional makeups shaped by our genetics and our environments. What is exciting to you may bore me silly, and vice-versa. But we're stuck together following the same curriculum, doing the same carefully designed-for-the-average-learner activities because we're the same age. That's stupid. It was an idea that needed to be tried in education because it worked for the Model-T at a time when schools had to deal with thousands of under-educated, previously-working kids showed up in classrooms that were ill-prepared to scale up what little individualized learning they could still do. We have better options now. We can go back to personalized learning.

Co-Creation of Experience

While many of the Disney rides, like Splash Mountain, are AMAZING — for a ride where riders pretty passively just sit there and literally absorb the splashes — Disney is beginning to realize the power of co-created experiences by harnessing what good games have been doing forever: creating unique experiences that emerge through interactions. Toy Story's Midway Mania is a good example of an early attempt at this.

Disney MidwayMania

The movement and spinning of the car is still very factory-model — one can imagine oneself as a widget on a conveyor belt moving along a factory floor — and that is half of the creation of the experience. It is the role of the pedagogue (designer) to usher learners along a path. But rather than sit passively and absorb as content is displayed for them, the widget/learner has agency and can toss virtual rings at a screen, and has peer-driven motivation to out-toss your fellow rider.

Granted, we're still in Disneyland mode, and I said above that educational designers need to get out of Disneyland mode. We can't operate there. We don't have the money or the chops to do it. But, what can we do?

We can let go of some of our need to control content — starting with some activities, or for parts of some activities — and design openings for learners to personalize and co-create the content themselves.

Isn't this dangerous? How can we trust that they will get it right? We don't want them to learn the wrong things!

Yes. We can't. Sure we do.

Novices get things wrong. They make mistakes. So do experts. Experts learn from mistakes. So do novices. Experts learn from each other, and from novices, and from the "happy accidents" that occur when they're making mistakes. This is how knowledge is created. This is how good learning is done. It's how we learn to learn on our own. Instead of being spoon-fed content by an expert, we co-create it, and thus make a deeply personal, deeply embodied connection to both the content and the learning!

And, again, we can start small. Because when we create our own experiences, the bar is low. It is low because we learn so quickly how hard it is to create anything close to Disney's level of production. And in realizing that, we immediately lower our expectations of, and increase our respect for, the teachers who help us learn, and their efforts at it.

But they won't learn that unless we challenge them to co-create their knowledge; to be participatory learners; to work together with their peers on the really difficult processes behind teaching and learning. Invite them in.

lrosen's picture

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