School In The Clouds

In the classrooms, in the hallways, in the staff rooms, in a high school, in the Twitterverse, I’ve been spending a great deal of time talking about some of these related things:

  • education
  • engagement
  • motivation
  • critical competencies
  • learning outcomes

As an educator, I am fascinated and thrilled with some of what I see happening in classrooms; at the same time, I have an extremely strong belief that we need to hold firm to the high expectations we have always had. Sometimes, it seems that in the balance, there is a risk of something being lost.

I fear for example, that”Hybrid” or blended learning, which has such fantastic implications for engaged and in-depth learning, could also be a vehicle for mediocrity if not done well. We cannot just put something online and call it Hybrid; it must still be pedagogically sound, and must link to measurable learning outcomes. Done well, Hybrid offers greater scope for students, greater achievements, greater understanding. Done poorly, it does none of these things. As my favourite MOOC professor (and one of my favourite profs ever!), Al Filreis once said (and I paraphrase here), Online does not equal automation. In fact, as I am finding, planning and delivering the hybrid section of a course has proven to be more challenging and time-consuming than planning the classroom sections; however, with that comes the potential to make that classroom time infinitely more rewarding both for students and the professor.

This is disjointed today–too many thoughts swilling through my head after a couple of very busy weeks. But a colleague and I yesterday watched and discussed this video, and it led to some excited, passionate discourse about what education could and should be, and how to harness the power of self-directed motivation in our own classrooms. I’m still synthesizing the possibilities, but for now, here is the link to the video, and I am open to your thoughts, ideas, comments, and suggestions.

School In The Cloud

Questions and Implications

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?