Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Blending or Flipping?

The rise of technology in the classroom has given impetus to two major trends in the average or above average (depending on your point of view) classroom or lesson.

The question is how to make this change effective?

At a recent conference I (briefly) presented a talk on flipping and blending the classroom, during the preparation for that talk I did a bit of research on the exact definitions of the two models. The conclusion of most of the sites that I visited was that the change must happen and is happening in many schools and tertiary institutions but that there is not really a common consensus on what both models are or how best to use them.
Picture from Wikipedia

Lets start by looking at the blended classroom:

This type of classroom combines 3 types of learning to try and achieve a model of learning that allows different types of learners to access information in a way that they are comfortable with. In other words, "The goal of a blended approach is to join the best aspects of both face to face and online instruction. Classroom time can be used to engage students in advanced interactive experiences."(http://weblearning.psu.edu). It further allows students to access information at their own convenience and at their own pace.

To help explain I found a great little video.

I, personally, love the idea of a blended learning model and see many benefits for students in an institution that has the scope to provide the material in various ways. The video describes it as a cheaper way to educate people but that, i would guess, depends on the quantity of people who access the material (UNISA are you reading this!)

And then the Flipped classroom:

I love this explanation! Watch it and you will understand why I am not going to say any more. PS I don't just use video's to explain things in my classroom.

The flipped classroom lets the students gain 'content' at home and then arrive at school to develop that knowledge through teacher facilitation.

In other words we take the cognitive development aspect of learning out of the parents hands and put it back in the hands of the people who are trained to do it. This might also, hopefully, lead to a recognition of the true skill of an educator. Their ability to engage a disparate group of kids and make them want to learn.

Finally the question must be: How do we use these models to enhance learning in our own classrooms?

Some teachers who have been doing this longer than me gave the following tips (Commentary by me):


1) Use existing technology to ease faculty and students into a flipped mindset.

Don't expect every teacher to be immediately comfortable with using either of the models. Encourage then to try it in a controlled way. Baby steps...

2) Be up front with your expectations.

The more honest you are  the more successful the change will be. Use examples to show how it works and, maybe most importantly, let them know that it won't work properly every time!

3) Step aside and allow students to learn from each other.

Probably the toughest part of the process for the 'traditional' teacher. We need to step back and allow the learners develop their own knowledge through debate, discussion and reflection with their peers. There are great examples of teachers who have managed this and seen incredible success in transforming the way the kids approach their lessons. We, as teachers, need to step aside and allow the students to make the decision on how to approach the application parts of learning.

4) Assess students' understanding of pre-class assignments to make the best use of class time.

Use quizzes that are completed at home (we use Edmodo at our school) to lead you in how to approach the content in the classroom. There is still space for a lecture now and again, especially for more complicated idea's, however don't expect the parents to have to develop the understanding of a topic. That is the teachers job.

5) Set a specific target for the flip.

Make sure the pedagogy is in place to enhance the learning experience, use the correct technology to support that pedagogy and finally, let the student decide which part of that technology suits them best.

Use critical thinking along with Blooms taxonomy to help plan a 'flipping' route for your own classroom.

6) Build assessments that complement the flipped model. 

The traditional assessments have their place but it is important to allow other, more cooperative ways of assessing the development of knowledge. Use sets of questions that can be answered in pairs or groups. Use   online quizzes and allow Google (research skills are vital). Use a debate. Make something up that suits you.

The most important thing is to use the technology available to enhance and drive your teaching. Do not use the technology for technologies sake but rather use it to transform the way you teach!

Good luck.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Discipline in the Tablet classroom.

Over the past few days teachers at my school have been debating the methods of maintaining discipline in a classroom where every pupil has access to a device and/or the internet and/or a whole variety of brilliant distractions!

One of the most popular suggestions was the removal of the device from the student and, while that is effective, I am not sure if it the way to go if, as a school, we are promoting of these devices as an alternative to a workbook or textbook. Would we confiscate a textbook as punishment?

If this is not the way, what can we do to promote a respectful and disciplined atmosphere while using these devices?

To answer this I went online and found the blog http://educationelements.com/tag/blended-classrooms. In this blog the following advice was given as a starting point for discipline in the blended classroom:

'1. Students need to be taught how to become online learners.
We often assume that since many students are “digital natives,” they will naturally know how to learn online. This is an incorrect assumption. We need to spend time at the beginning of the school year modeling online learning for students and developing accountability tools and procedures to help students take responsibility for, and ownership of, their own learning.'

(Posted by Abbey Goldstein on February 14, 2013)

Although this blog refers to the blended classroom too often teachers and parents 'assume' that the children know more about the technology than they do and in cases of the use of and ability to manipulate the hardware and software this could be true, however I believe it is vital to teach them how to use the tools in a responsible way. 

In order for this to be successful a school has to have a consistent way of dealing with inappropriate on-line and on-device behaviour that does not involve confiscating the device. This has to start with a policy that lets the pupils know what is expected of them and describes the consequences of not following the rules.


1) Make the pupil aware of the responsibility they have to operate the device in a proper manner.

2) Make the teacher aware that it is still a classroom and that they need to be active and aware teachers. Things will go wrong if you sit behind a desk and allow access.

3) Have an active parent awareness campaign. The parents are your partners in this and need to be active users of the device.

4) When there are consequences for misuse in place they must be acted on at the correct time and by all the teachers consistently.

5) Recognise that things will go wrong and be adaptable, teaching a pupil that things change fast on the net is part of the process.

That's it for now!

Friday, 1 March 2013

An afternoon with @abdulchohan

Hello all,

Sorry about the lag between posts but school tours hit the itinerary recently and I was pretty disconnected.

On my return I was invited to a talk by Abdul Chohan (@Abdulchohan) from the ESSA Academy in Bradford, England. Thank you Apple and Core for the invite.

Abdul was in SA to share his experiences of a one to one roll-out with us and to talk about the ecosystem his school has built to support both staff and students academically and technologically.

A few things he shared really stuck out:

1). The roll-out was not about having the device but rather about connecting student and teachers! He wanted both to be able to answer questions immediately  the device was and is regarded as a tool that the students have access to and not as a reason for the lesson.

2). The schools pedagogy (The method and practice of teaching, esp. as an academic subject or theoretical concept) needs to support the use of a device but should NOT be based on the use of that device. His teachers are encouraged to make materials available as homework and use the time in class to concentrate on cognition and not information delivery. The idea is to allow proper understanding of new material, in any way, before putting pen to paper in a 'test'.

3).As a school ESSA are 'are asking teachers to have faith, to embrace change and therefore transform their teaching'. Abdul made the point that teachers are good at doing the same thing in new ways, ie chalkboard - whiteboard - interactive whiteboard, but not really transforming the way we teach. He defines transformation as technology allowing you to do something you could not do before.

4). And probably most vitally in my opinion he described how the schools technology ecosystem needs to support the device use. His school chose Apple products but that isn't the point, whatever you choose you need to make sure that the systems work to support the devices.

ESSA use iTunesU to make material available as courses, they use Google Apps for mail, they use Edmodo for communication and they use email for submission of work and, thankfully, so does my school (Except for iTunesU, not available in SA yet).

The amazing thing to me is that they decided to start this program and were able to run it fully within 6 months. Teachers were brought on board by allowing them to use the technology and not with hours and hours of professional development. In fact, the ESSA Academy doesn't run professional development days but has rather built them into the school timetable (every week on a Friday).

It was an amazing insight on how to progress with a BYOD/T roll-out.

The issue now is how do South African schools adopt/adapt this model to work for us?

1). INTERNET: When I asked about internet speed issues Abdul pointed out that his school, rather than connecting to the internet, built a robust and functioning intranet that allowed the devices to connect through wireless. The first step was to allow the students access to the schools servers to download worksheets  videos and any other 'storable' material.

Maybe in SA we should rather focus on upgrading school networks? Once the savings on textbooks, paper, printing etc. start to feed through we can use those funds to upgrade or connect to the internet.

2). DEVICES: These are expensive but they could provide savings in other area's.

Maybe the school/district/government/country needs to look at available funds and how they could be re-used to provide this sort of program.

3). THE ECOSYSTEM: Computer software is expensive and short-lived. The ongoing running costs add to the burden a school has to carry.

Not true according to Abdul. Apps are once of payments and never need to be purchased again and, more importantly, there are thousands of free applications that do as good a job as a paid one.

4). WILLPOWER: Probably the most important part of the equation. Without acceptance and investment in a program it will never work. To many have failed due to a lack of foresight or investment.

In my opinion the decision to run a program like this is up to the willpower of the relevant stakeholders in education. Parents, children  teachers and officials need to see this as a powerful and exciting way forward and not as a scary and uncharted territory.

There are so many questions to ask around a program like this however we need to start asking and answering them in order to provide an education that is relevant and future-proof, can we afford to wait?