My vision, as idealistic and "green" as a first-year-teacher," was to build constructivist experiences around essential questions through the blended integration of accessible and free technology. What follows is the autopsy.
- Tab management on desktops continued to be a challenge for any generation of student if he or she did not already frequently use technology. The process of registering or "signing up" for Web 2.0 applications was also a challenge, with things like captcha and/or mobile text confirmations codes. Password organization also plagued the group with frequent bottlenecks. We eventually began using "problem pairs" as a cooperative learning tool to work collaboratively through minor technology issues.
- Once the "announcements" section on the class webpage was established as a place for information and dialogue to clear up ambiguities, everything went much better. Next time I teach a blended class, I will emphasize this resource better in order to head off issues before people get frustrated.
- The time I spent getting students oriented to the nuances of each Web 2.0 application paid off in student confidence and better (and more prompt) collaboration and interaction later. Each Web 2.0 application is a bit different in how posts are published, how html code is embedded, and even how to view the "home" location. I found out quickly that students needed large group and small group process time to gain the experience needed to effectively navigate through different Web 2.0 applications.
- I learned that the innate communication aim and intent for each Web 2.0 application is significantly different (with a little help from @mcleod). It turns out that the purpose of one digitally-oriented tool is completely different than another even though they overlap in publishing characteristics. Indeed, the published post of a blog made most sense (in my class setting) when the primary audience was the teacher. The peer comments on individual blog posts maintained a narrow focus without room for applicable but tangential dialogue. The published post of a comment within a discussion thread (say in Google Groups) has a more peer-based audience, and students had the ability to shoot off on ancillary sub-discussion threads. Backchannel transcripts turn out to be an almost intimate, stream-of-consciousness diary of aggregate reflection and playful multi-directional teasing, not meant for anything but formative assessment. Wikis (I used a shared Google Document.) in this setting worked best as a communal opportunity for whole class collaboration. The development of the template for artifact reflection (all of which were included in a portfolio) worked exceedingly well as a large group opportunity for student input on summative assessment.
- Problems were as much the "glitchiness" of the tools we were using as it was breaking our conception that each of us are individual silos of learning. Indeed, Google Groups would flake out and not allow certain students to post for no reason at all, or Capzles would freeze without reason. However, it was our traditionally tilted paradigms of exclusive and private learning that hampered our progress for inclusive and aggregate learning in an environment amplified with digital-age tools. I found that the backchannel was most useful in breaking that notion, allowing students to glimpse the the interface between crowdsourcing in a classroom and powerful learning.
- This is a big one: Device uniformity does not matter as much as browser uniformity. To create an environment that focuses more on constructivist learning activities and less on technology hiccups requires a common vocabulary for navigation through Web 2.0 applications, similar tab management features, etc. I found the solution to be a strong recommendation for everyone to use the same web browser.
- The students loved Skype. I am grateful Deb Gurke, Joe Schroeder, and Peggy Hinckley for taking time on a Saturday to talk to the class. The students loved it, the content was timely, and the examples were real.
- The concept of "share settings" is not complex after you've experimented with using it, but for the novice, the concept is daunting at the start. Like most of these observations, the more time I spend modeling in large group and capitalizing on "educational moments," the better students utilized the feature.
- Constructivist activities within cooperative learning groups are already difficult to develop and facilitate, but when digital-oriented tools are added to the mix, the complexity was at first overwhelming. Honestly, I used the book, Total Participation Techniques, as a starting point, and then matched the technique to the Web 2.0 application, whether it was a comment on the day's backchannel, some contribution to a wiki list, a post to a discussion thread on Google Groups, a Wordle (as trite as it may now be), or a Google Form. The dialogue of PLNs naturally ebbs and flows between different Web 2.0 applications pending preference, novelty, functionality, etc. To deliberately design experiences matching critical thinking to the most suitable digitally-oriented tool was a more difficult task than I expected.
- I gave students the option of submitting the summative-assessment portfolio as a Google Collection (which is a collection of shared folders, all of which contain shared documents). Once students understood the concept, they enjoyed the option, and I did too.
In retrospect, the class was quite the endeavor. Students were symmetrically learning about the content of the class and the digital applications used to facilitate the learning. Student feedback, however, was exceedingly positive and appreciative. Accordingly, the myth narrative that educators are reluctant to "jump in" and learn about and use digitally-oriented learning tools is wholly false. If this experience is any indication of the larger educational community, the problem (or "big fricking wall as @mcleod calls it) is not as much fear, ambition, or traditionalism, but is rich exposure, deep access, and productive experiences within staff development opportunities.
What a lesson! I genuinely encourage you to seek-out experiences to "walk the talk" of #edtech and actually "do" what we "ask" others to do! If you've "walked the talk", I'd love to hear about your experiences. If anyone has "best practice" recommendations in facilitating blended classroom instruction, I'd enjoy your comments!