Who would have thought that blended learning was like the postman? Well, it’s true. Setting up class for blended learning not only help students learn more on a day-to-day basis, but it also keeps them learning and on track during snow and rain a sleet. It’s an accidental benefit of learning for the 21st Century.
The promise of 21st Century technology does not mean we have to teach and learn 24 x 7, but it means we can. It means we can fit learning into the day whenever and wherever. It means we can play in the snow and still learn – before and after.
My semester started out on slippery ice this year. I teach a weekly 3-hour course on Entrepreneurship at Tufts to highly motivated students, most of whom live on campus. Yet, after the first class session, we skipped 2 weeks before we had another class. Depending on how Mother Nature goes, we may miss another class this week. Am I worried? A bit, but not nearly as much as some of my colleagues who rely purely on teaching in the classroom. Here’s why.
Before the semester began, I had my students all register for my course at the 30hands Cloud eClassroom. This got them into the mix of the digital content for the course, the syllabus, the assignments and some discussions. It also set an expectation that students needed to do work regardless of whether we were in class. This was so much more successful than when I waited until the first in-person class to get students started on anything.
Let me step back a moment to briefly explain 30hands Cloud. We designed the app to best fit our needs as teachers and those of our students. We liked the paradigm of the physical classroom, so we set out to build a cloud-based version. 30hands Cloud is the central go-to place for everything the teacher needs. It integrates Videos, Google Docs, Dropbox, web pages, PDFs and just about any type of digital learning content we need. Instead of just linking out to content, 30hands brings it into the eClassroom to keep students focused and keep the content in context of the learning environment.
Online assignments are not just files to download, but they are process-oriented: the student reads the assignment online, hands it in online, receives teacher feedback online and iterates through multiple revisions online. This process makes finding, reviewing and managing assignments so much easier for the teacher. For the student, it puts everything in one place – including feedback and grades – so it is easier to see what is due and review hand-ins any time. If homework is designed to build from one assignment to the next, being able to review previous work can be very beneficial.
In addition to organizing digital content and assignments, 30hands provides a Facebook-like timeline for discussions and groups for team collaboration. We do a lot with Project-Based Learning and teamwork, so groups are really valuable.
So, this is where things were on the first day of class:
- Students already had some sense of what was expected of them.
- They had already set their learning routine into motion.
- Some had explored the content they would be learning.
- Everyone had completed a simple assignment, had handed it in and most had received feedback.
We were on a roll from day 1, which we really needed, because we ended up not getting together again for 3 weeks. What happened to prevent the course from falling apart? First, I set a precedent of working online when not together, and then, I planned work in class that could not be done as easily outside of class. The class time was a time to bond, interact and collaborate. Discussions and brainstorming were done in the first class. In the second class – 3 weeks later – we finalized our brainstorming to create teams. Then, the teams worked together with me as an advisor to make sure they gelled and were on track. Once effective working teams are in place, I have found they help each other out immensely over the course of the semester. I am there as a coach and a guide, but the team takes on a lot of the learning together. When this happens, getting together physically is less important, and when we do get together, we take advantage of the time to do what we really need to do.
Where does this leave us when it snows? Pretty much right in the same place as we would be anyway. We use all the tools we can to get the job done, to learn and create and collaborate on projects. By establishing a framework for learning and a set of routines up front, we are able to weather the storm and keep on learning. So, bring it on, Mother Nature!
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