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5 Essential Effective Blended Learning Best Practices

Guest Blogger Vicki Davis, Cool Cat Teacher January 06, 2017

Tips and Tricks I’ve Learned from Experience

Online and face-to-face spaces blend to create a today’s classroom. Most schools have physical buildings. For purposes of this article, we’ll call these “the bricks.” Also, schools also have online spaces where students work and collaborate. We’ll call these, “the clicks.” When bricks and clicks combine into a powerful learning experience for students, we have an effective blended classroom.

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In the final analysis, don’t think that blending doesn’t apply to your classroom. As an illustration, this summer at ISTE, I facilitated a panel of blended learning experts.

As they presented, it became clear: most classrooms are already blended classrooms, whether they realize it or not. For this reason, let’s explore the essential elements of effective blended learning so we can all level up.

PowerSchool Learning is my classroom’s Learning Management System (LMS). This is the startup page for one of my classes.
PowerSchool Learning is my classroom’s Learning Management System (LMS). This is the startup page for one of my classes.

Blended Learning Tip #1: Use Videos to Supplement Face-to-Face Instruction

In flipped learning, students watch videos at home. Typically, these videos contain information that would be in a teacher’s lecture. Then, in the classroom, students do activities they typically would do for homework.

Why I Use In-Flip Teaching.

The in-flip method is similar except students watch the videos a during class. In this technique, I take the software tutorials and “point and click” instructions into videos. At the present time, I prefer the in-flip method for several reasons:

  • Help when they need it. Students can get help from me whether they are watching videos or doing work. (Just like some kids don’t listen in class, some will tune out videos too!)
  • Learning while watching tutorials. Students often pause software videos and work on the software. (I’ve found that for software, it is best to pause and learn at that moment.)
  • I become a better teacher. Students can give me feedback to improve the online classroom so other students won’t have the same problem.

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Video tutorials help students work at their own pace. They can back up or forward whatever I’ve shared. I post these tutorials on my YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/coolcatteacher if you wish to see some of the tutorials.

Personalize Learning and Save Time.

This method of teaching is like I’ve given a copy of myself to every single student.

There’s an old movie, “Click,” with Adam Sandler. The character played by Adam Sandler was able to rewind and replay important scenes of his life. Now, my students can replay me — their teacher — any time it suits them.

It’s a compelling method of learning. In addition, I can also go around the classroom and help everybody with what they’re doing.

Select a Simple Video Creation Tool.

I have found that videos and items created for student use, should have my voice in them. I like to use Office Mix, to create these quick videos but have used several tools with good results:

  • Screen-cast-o-matic – This tool runs in a web browser. As a free tool, it is the one my students use. (PC, Mac)
  • Explain Everything – This tool is perfect for iPads. Math teachers make quick “explainer” videos about how to work math problems. This tool is perfect when you want to hand write in your video. (iPad)
  • Screenflow – Tony Vincent shared this tool with me. I use it to capture my iPhone and iPad and more. (Mac)
  • Office Mix for Powerpoint  – Office Mix is a plugin that you add to PowerPoint 2013. This tool is the easiest video creation tool. I’m convinced any teacher can learn to make a quick video in minutes. (PC only)
  • My Simple Show – This tool makes a quick “explainer video” with nice graphics. All you need is a simple script, this easy, free tool does the rest. (Runs in a web browser.)

Blended Learning Tip #2: Select a Flexible Learning Management System

I could not teach without my learning management system any more than I could teach without my physical classroom. I need both of them to nurture and create a successful learning environment for my students. Understanding how to use them both successfully is part of being a great teacher, in my opinion.

Why I Chose an LMS.

A Learning Management System (LMS) is not required. However, several years ago I moved to an LMS for several reasons:

  • We use lots of apps and tools and needed one place for the links and assignments.
  • Students needed one place to turn in work.
  • We needed a simple system to assess student work including built-in rubrics.
  • College and virtual high schools use learning management systems. My students need to be ready.
  • We needed a streamlined place to hold videos and their accompanying essential questions.
  • Class discussion boards needed to be easier to find.
  • We just needed to make it all simple!

We assembled a team to evaluate a variety of websites. Haiku Learning was our highest-ranked LMS. Recently, PowerSchool purchased Haiku Learning and rebranded it PowerSchool Learning. Even better, the grade book was integrated with PowerSchool. Now, when I enter grades in my LMS, they go straight to my PowerTeacher grade book. After entering assignments, I just open PowerSchool and click “publish” so parents can see the grades. This saves me so much time!

Whatever LMS you select, look for one with many features. If you can save time with entry, great, but it isn’t required. (I know of teachers who use PowerSchool Learning but have a different Gradebook system.)

Blended Learning Tip #3: Consistently Layout the Screen

Could you imagine a classroom where the inbox for student work moved every week? Would you do that to students?

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I consistently put essential questions above each video so students can prepare to take notes. Also, I clearly mark assignments. Each year, I make small additions to make my online classroom easier to use.

In the first place, teachers who constantly change how students turn in online work are confusing their students. Secondly, I have found that a consistent layout of the screen lets students focus on the content. Finally, I teach students how to use the LMS in order to learn the content.

Tips on LMS Layout

Essential items in the layout of my online classroom include:

  • Essential questions – I list these for each video. Students make sure they look for answers to these questions as they watch videos. I have students use these to take notes in OneNote and submit a link to the notebook page to me when finished.
  • Videos – Videos have lesson numbers. I also use custom YouTube thumbnails for the videos so they are clearly labeled.
  • Assignments – Each assignment has a number. That way, students can easily find an assignment if they need to get work done. I also embed assignments on the page so students can see them and if they’ve submitted work.
  • Simple, repeated graphics – I have consistent graphics for Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 that I now use. This helps beginners learn to move through the assignment without getting confused.

Blended Learning Tip #4: Create 2-Way Communications with Your Students

Effective communication with students comes in several forms. Understandably, an important part of beginning a course is practicing successful LMS habits.

Give Feedback on Assignments.

Giving students feedback so they can improve is essential to learning. We want our students to understand their mistakes so they can correct them.

Currently, I give online feedback in our LMS several ways:

  • Annotation. If it is a Word, Excel, PDF, or PowerPoint files, I just click and type on the file. In the LMS, I click “return files” and students get them.
  • Rubrics. Build-in rubrics let me mark the rubrics. I print them as PDF’s and give them back to students for re-work and feedback.
  • Messages. I send students messages to clarify instructions or let them know what they’ve done wrong. I can send messages on assignments or to a group of students.
  • Grades. Grades on the assignment go directly to the gradebook. Students can use the assignment number to look them up in the LMS. The assignment is also included in the gradebook.

How to Review Feedback.

Students often know how to turn in work but not how to improve the work they’ve already done. Feedback is not effective if students don’t know how to read it, download it, correct it and return it.  At the same time, you have to teach students this valuable skill. So, I teach students how to read their messages, how to look up assignments and review rubrics, and even how to ask questions before turning work back in. Communication must be two-way to work.

Assignment and Communication Notifications.

You also want to make sure that students understand how to notify themselves of important activity.  While many more options are available, I recommend that students set up their cell phone to receive text notifications when:

  • work is handed back,
  • they receive a message in their inbox, and
  • when they successfully turn in an assignment.

These notifications help students stay “on top” of their work and prevent procrastination.

Grade Notifications.

Students also set up notifications inside our gradebook student information system (SIS.) The PowerSchool App also works with their Apple Watch or email. Students should set up notifications to come to them in the way that they will check. Whatever method they choose, students if students handle the grades promptly, we both remember and can teach.

5. Blended Learning Tip #5: Promote Student Professionalism

I’m the oldest daughter of a south-Georgia farmer. So, when school was out, my sisters and I worked on the farm. During school, however, my Dad told us that our profession was that of “student.” Since being a student was our “job,” he expected us to do it well.

Understandably, I teach my students the same thing. Here are a few ways I teach my students to be professional scholars:

IM Speak. In discussion forums, many students use IM speak. Sometimes they’ll interact in 140 characters like they would on Twitter. Other times, they have no capitalization like they would on Snapchat. Interestingly, students also do this when communicating with me. IM Speak is not allowed.

Commenting. Also, students struggle to have discussion that is much past “good job” or “I like this.” Students have to learn how to respond to other student work in meaningful ways. Many don’t know how.

Following Instructions. Recently I had a student turn in random screeenshots because I asked for a screenshot. However, I asked for a screenshot of a specific item, not just a screenshot. I’ve found that students often don’t pay attention to assignment requirements when they are online. Part of being a professional is learning how to turn in excellent work that meets or exceeds requirements.

Blended Learning Is Here to Stay

The biggest shift is helping students understand the online classroom is as important as the face-to-face one. It’s easy to put the virtual aside and think the physical classroom is all there is. But, in today’s interconnected world the bricks and the clicks both matter. Helping students succeed in our blended classroom is a high priority for me. Online learning is here to stay and every classroom is becoming blended.

Listen to the Blended Learning Webinar! I go into blended learning in more detail during the free blended learning webinar that I hosted on November 30, 2016 at 4:30 pm EST. Listen here.

guest blogger

Cool Cat Teacher Vicki Davis

Vicki Davis is a teacher and the IT director at Westwood Schools in Georgia. Vicki co-created five award-winning international wiki-centric projects, the Flat Classroom project, the Horizon project, Digiteen and the Eracism project with teacher Julie Lindsay, currently located in Beijing. She co-founded the NetGenEd project with Julie Lindsay and award-winning author Don Tapscott and the Flat Classroom Conference with Julie Lindsay. These projects have linked more than 4,000 students from both public and private schools in such countries as Austria, Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, Pakistan, Qatar and the US and harness the most powerful Web 2.0 tools available including wikis, blogs, digital storytelling, podcasts, social bookmarking, and more. Vicki has been featured in various media including Thomas Friedman’s book, The World is Flat, Don Tapscott’s Book, Grown Up Digital, Curtis Bonk’s Book The World is Open, Suzie Boss and Jayne Krauss’ Reinventing Project Based Learning, Lawrence Peters’ Global Education, and media outlets such as the Wall Street Journal, and the Boston Globe.

Vicki blogs at the Cool Cat Teacher blog which has approximately 30,000 subscribers and winner of the edublog award for best Teacher Blog in 2008, and was a finalist from 2006-2009. The Flat Classroom project won the edublog award for best wiki in 2006 and 2008, and the Horizon Project was a finalist for best wiki in education in 2007. Vicki is a Google Certified Teacher and Discovery S.T.A.R. Educator. She lives in Camilla, Georgia with her three children and husband, Kip.

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