The link for students between the content, conversations, and productivity tools can be a social hub such as Edmodo or a Learning Management System (LMS) such as Haiku. Edmodo boasts over 7,000,000 users (Edmodo, n.d.) and it has been described as the “Facebook of education.” Edmodo now has apps for iOS and Android platforms that promote mobile access as well.
Katie Angelone, social studies teacher in the Roseville Joint Union High School District, regularly uses Edmodo with her students: “I use Edmodo to engage my digital native students, to teach them good digital citizenship and to post assignments, and videos. Recently, students posted avatars (using the free program Voki) to describe what Enlightenment Philosopher they thought had the best and worst ideas and WHY. They had to view and comment on at least one other student's Voki. I have had students submit work digitally as well. Students have been asked to preview material before coming into class so they may be better equipped to participate in that days activities (flipping the classroom). Students also are involved in discussions (kind of like a blog) and have sent me private messages asking for clarification on an assignment as well. Students and parents are enjoying Edmodo very much as do I.”
A Learning Management System (LMS) can empower students and also be very useful from the standpoint of the instructor that is facilitating all of this activity. Haiku (www.haikulearning.com) is a popular option with both free and paid versions. The free version includes features such as a gradebook, attendance book, assignment list, and discussion forums. The paid version, like many competing platforms, offers integration with student information systems and expanded customization options. Most LMS options also allow for importing and exporting of Common Cartridges, such as University of California. Online Academy content (www.ucoa.org).
Honorable Mention: Schoology (www.schoology.com)
Schoology is a free LMS that incorporates online sharing, connecting, gradebooks, attendance management and more.
In addition to providing access to content and conversation, students need ways to produce and share their work. Our favorite, free, web-based resource for this purpose is Google Docs. This ever-expanding suite of tools include word processing, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings. Additionally, sharing options allow for groups of students to collaborate and work as teams in real-time or asynchronously. Importantly, that collaboration does not require students to be in the same place as they work with one another. This article, for example, was co-authored in Google docs with relative ease in spite of the fact that the two authors live hundreds of miles apart.
In the world of conventional K-12 education, we now have enormous opportunities to connect our students and emphasize collaboration through blended learning. Craig Miller, 9th grade computer literacy teacher in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, regularly uses Google docs with his students. Shared Miller, “When my students are placed into project teams by their teachers, the first question they ask each other is, 'What is your gmail address?'. After sharing a document, presentation, spreadsheet, or drawing online through the address, they are able to work collaboratively from their respective houses in real-time. Keystrokes are literally displayed on each student's screen as the characters are typed. The team is truly looking at the same document as if they are all in the same room."
Greg Ottinger, the Director of Blended and Online Learning at the San Diego County Office of Education, recommends that “leaders are wise to thoroughly evaluate LMS options before making a selection” because not all options work in every environment. As with all of these blended learning resources, Greg also pointed out that “the transformative aspect can be realized when the LMS is coupled with professional development, a reliable internet connection, and overall program vision and management.”
For those interested in moving in the direction of blended learning, our recommendation is to start small--pick one of the suggested resources and engage in a small-scale pilot to identify issues, opportunities, and challenges. To accelerate the learning curve, connect with others that are engaging in this work--colleagues both within your organization and outside of the organization can provide valuable insights that will assist you to make progress. For example, you can use the ACSA “Community” or Linked In’s “21st Century Education,” “ISTE,” or “Technology Integration in Education” groups to ask questions and cultivate relationships with those that have similar interests or experiences.
The process can also be assisted by using research and resources from agencies such as the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (www.inacol.org). Emerging forms of professional development such as the Leading Edge Certification, or LEC, (http://leadingedgecertification.org/) can also be powerful accelerators in the learning process. Girlie Ebuen, math teacher and BTSA support provider at Murrieta Mesa High School in the Murrieta Unified School District, blogged about her experience with the LEC certification. “In the LEC course, I had never blogged before but now I see a blog as a tool for reflection both as a learner and instructor. Working with more web 2.0 tools such as VoiceThread and several Google apps, I realized how much I can vary assessment in an online course. The LEC course confirms my belief that in order to teach, I need to continue to learn,” she shared.
Most importantly, take the time to step back and realize that our educational system is at an inflection point. The broad changes in society, coupled with rapid advances in technology, are creating possibilities for transformation that simply were not feasible just a few years ago. Enjoy the process and appreciate the opportunities to be a part of the reinvention of teaching and learning. This is an amazing time to be an educator.