I have been on Spring Break, traditionally a week to finish up all of the current marking, and, in consideration of the relative strengths and weaknesses of each class, plan the next eight weeks of the semester. I’ve done all that, and in addition, have spent more than a bit of time staring at a flip chart of ideas headed by the question What If…?
- What if…students had to achieve a high grade in each learning area before moving on to the next?
- What if…assignments were designed for student choice and relevance to real-world application?
- What if…classroom learning catered to individual student needs and strengths?
- What if…class time was structured differently with pockets of collaboration, independent work, and ongoing formative assessment instead of a specific learning objective?
- What if…communications and writing was taught from a position of student interest?
- What if…digital literacy could be embedded in everything we do rather than added on to projects?
- What if….students had more autonomy over their learning?
What if….? What if….? What if…?
I tried not to put any limitations on the types of questions I asked myself. I wanted to add in things such as, “in accordance with learning objectives”, which I still think is valid, but I didn’t want to restrict the questions in any way.
Not everyone is ready to address all of these questions. I’m not even certain I am ready for all of them. However, I think they are important enough to ask. The conversation should be started.
There is a tendency, especially in a pilot project, to focus on the questions, the things that aren’t working so well, in order to make corrections, adjustments, continuous improvements. This is how innovation happens – it is disruptive, messy, ever-changing, and when it comes together, ultimately extremely rewarding.
But it would be remiss of me not to acknowledge that despite some setbacks (see previous posts on Student Completion and Technological issues), I have also had many positive comments about the hybrid section of this course, and some excited students who very much enjoy and are engaged with the course material both in the classroom and online. Our class discussions suggest students are actually about 65-35 (%) in favour of hybrid options, and that is encouraging. Even more encouraging was this completely unsolicited blog post from a student the other day… A big #thanks to that unnamed student.
I had a feedback loop last week in class. A number of students are not actively participating in the hybrid portions of the course. In some cases, these are also the students who are not submitting assignments in other classes too (yes, I checked), which indicates that there is a larger problem here than just the course being online.
For the most part, students are coming to class and engaging in the discussion. You can do that with short stories because the discussion often revolves around Universal Themes that are of interest even if you have not read the story in question. One of the challenges I have set myself is to make the face to face (F2F) element of the course lively and interactive and discussion/activity based, but I need to make sure that our assignments cover elements that are learned from both the hybrid AND the classroom environment. So far, I think they do, but it is something to continue working on.
Taking advantage of a full class, I asked some questions: Is the Hybrid section easy to follow? Is it too hard? Too easy? Do students have any difficulty accessing it? Understanding what is required of them? Is there too much to do? Too little? Does it follow on or lead into F2F classroom activities effectively? And then the zinger: For those of you not completing it regularly, why not? And the answers were very raw, very honest…Leaving it too late, procrastination, couldn’t be bothered going online. In short they felt it was easy enough to access, thought the material was relevant, but ultimately there is something external to the course that is stopping them from completion of hybrid classes.
This feedback is essential. I have been reflecting on it all week, and thinking about ways to encourage and motivate students. I’ve been reflecting on it in a broader sense too: Is it too much too soon? Is it the student demographic at our college? Do we need more time for modeling how to complete online material successfully? Would that help? Can the course be structured in a different way that would encourage more hybrid participation? What does this experience tell me – and our college – about student expectations, preferences, abilities? And what are the implications of this lack of participation as we go in the direction of more hybrid courses and some fully online courses?
If you spend any time around the international water cooler that is Twitter, one term you are bound to hear tossed about is Differentiated Learning.
It’s a truly fantastic idea….to have learning geared towards the individual needs and abilities of students…but too often these kinds of phrases are bandied about willy-nilly by people who talk a good line, but have absolutely no plan for putting an idea into real action, so I admit I approached it with the same sort of scepticism I reserve for all “trendy” terminology.
Until this semester. All of a sudden with the hybrid learning initiative underway, I am seeing just how differentiated learning can fit into a pedagogically sound and academically realistic curriculum.
The funny thing is, in our little Communications corner of the college, we’ve been doing it all along and I didn’t realize. Every time we have “pod analysis” in Critical Thinking; every time we turn a Seminar into a series of “Stations”; every final test that we transfer to a more applied “Culminative Activity”…yes, all part of that differentiated learning.
With hybrid, I’ve just taken it up a notch. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, not by a long stretch. But giving students an opportunity to review, learn, and apply learning on their own (for my students, that is the Hybrid format) has meant that class time has been dramatically restructured. My vision is to keep working on the structure of the face-to-face time to allow for even more of the Pod/Seminar/Culminative type of learning that we already use.
Imagine, if you will, a class where students get to choose the activities that best reinforce their own learning and understanding. What might that look like? Some using technology to review material. Some in a small lecture/analysis group with the professor. Some discussing alternate approaches with peers. Some workshopping issues. Some teaching or tutoring small groups of peers. Some getting creative and applying their learning in a new way. With a bit (okay, a lot) of thought, the in-class learning could really cater to each and every individual student.
I’m not there yet. I’m not sure it will ever be perfect. But I have a vision now of what Differentiated Learning could look like. And I like what I see.