Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

Free webinar: Models of Blended Learning: What Works for Your District

by t.e.d.d.y.

Models of Blended Learning: What Works For Your District

This event is scheduled for Thursday, June 9, 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. EDT.

We know that districts are being held accountable for more, and being asked to do so with less funding. As a result, districts today are looking for new ways to effectively implement technology that can engage students and boost academic achievement. Blended learning, the teaching practice that combines both face-to-face and online learning, offers several models of instruction to engage students in and out of the classroom. It has proven highly effective in helping schools and districts address the challenges of student achievement, limited resources, and the expectations of 21st century learners. It is also the fastest growing component of online learning.

Join us for an in-depth discussion on blended learning led by two experienced practitioners, Pam Willingham and Dorothy Hirata. Hear about the many teaching and learning objectives they are meeting through the implementation of a blended learning program. Also learn how the two districts have grown the level of adoption by their faculty over time by championing accomplishments of the program. You will also hear from John Canuel who will briefly talk about current online learning trends and how Blackboard can help you address several of your current academic challenges.

Access will be available starting 15 minutes prior to the event. It is highly recommended that you allow time for system compatibility testing and any downloading that may prove necessary prior to the event. For optimal viewing the recommended browsers are IE for PC users and Firefox for Mac. Please check your audio settings and speaker volume.

Education Week is serving only as the host for this presentation. The content was created by the sponsor. The opinions expressed in this webinar are those of the sponsor and do not reflect the opinion of or constitute an endorsement by Editorial Projects in Education or any of its publications.

May 26, 2011

Choosing instructional tools for: Group Project Work

by t.e.d.d.y.

Group projects are a fun collaborative way to engage students whether you are teaching face-to-face (F2F) or online.  They contribute tremendously to the learning environment and experience of learners and instructors.

Some of the benefits:

1. Student engagement

It’s much more interesting to be in a course if you have to explore and bring back your findings to share with everyone.  Students love taking control of their learning and sharing their experience.

2. Creating a community

Group work means students work in a community.  Each group member owns the responsibility of the success of their group.  It’s in everyone’s interest to work together and make the project successful.  It’s amazing to observe a group’s dynamic and see how this mini-society organizes itself.  Some groups prefer to assign roles to each group member.  Other groups prefer to get all group members to work on the same subject and then compare notes to come up with the best outcome.  Some groups elect a group leader.  Others share the spotlight and lead together.  Each collaborative method reflects a group’s culture and learning style.

3. Active learning

Students become active rather than passive learners.  They seek information and seek each other’s involvement which increases the sense of belonging to a project.  Active learning keeps the project going – from start to finish.

4.  Social skills

Group work enhances social skills by placing students in a situation of support, trust and co-operative learning.  The communication and exchange of information and experience increases retention and improves team work and social skills.

5. Building a team

Sharing the workload of a project is a great way to foster team building.

Some skills developed through group project work:

Decision-making, problem-solving, values clarification, communication, critical thinking, negotiation, conflict resolution, teamwork.

So what kind of instructional media can be used for group project work?  How can we set it up?

There are quite a few tools out there that will be fantastic.  But before we choose one we need to know how to choose.  Our choice should be based entirely on what we want to achieve with the group project work.  So here’s a few questions to answer before we dive into developing the activity with a particular tool.

1. How many people per group do I want to have?

From my own experience and observation, the optimal number of students per group is 3 to 4.  The reason is, it gives students the chance to know each other well in a short period of time.  It is also easier for them to contact each other and establish a regular system of communication.  It’s quite difficult to coordinate the same times to talk with 7, 8 or 10 people in a group.  It much easier when you need to coordinate the schedules of 3 to 4 people.  Also, with less people, more tasks get distributed to each person.  If there are more people per group, some people may complete their tasks quickly and then go into idle mode waiting for the others.  And as all know, idle time equals boredom.  You will lose the momentum of engaging students.

2.  Timeline of the project

When do I want the group project completed by?  It’s important to ask this question because its answer will give you the opportunity to make the tasks fair to the groups.  You need to factor in time for the group to “click” together.  It is the period of time when the group forms itself into a community.  The dynamics of the group are set and everyone has to feel comfortable in their role.  If you do not leave enough time for this to happen, you will end up with anxious, frustrated students who blame each other for not completing the group work on time.  Therefore, you need to start the group project with some simple to complete tasks which will build trust and work ethic among group members before they fully engage in the project work.

3.  Purpose of the group project work

The end result – what is its purpose?  Think about what you want your students’ projects should demonstrate.  Are they only supposed to create something for your eyes so you can evaluate their work and knowledge.  Or are they going to be showcase project that your students will share with other people?  Some of my teacher students have created projects that they can refer their own students to.  For example the project on copyright is a resource and it is not intended just as a course assignment, but rather as a resource for my students’ students.

4.  What is the level of technical skills of my students?

Of course, before we choose an instructional tool, we need to know the answer to this question.  If you choose a tool that you think is going to be effective and interesting but your students have not seen it before, you need to factor in the time for them to learn how to use it and get familiar with its functions and principles.

The above questions are just a few things to focus on when deciding on a tool.  Of course, the regular factors for using technology must be taken into account too: logistics, costs, etc.

Now that the planning stage is done, lets look at some appropriate tools for group project work.


Of course, Wikis are at the top of the list.  What better way to collaboratively work on a virtual portal than a Wiki.  I have used Wikis to get small groups to work on creating a resource portal on copyright.  So the group members had to research the topic, gather valid information, organize it and enter it into the Wiki according to the needs of their audience.  Very effective and powerful tool.  Wikis are usually open to view by anyone.  The editing permissions can be restricted to specific Wiki members.  They can also be locked and made private.  Usually in order to make a Wiki private, there is a small cost involved.

Google Docs

Same idea as Wikis except the documents are accessible with a Google account.  The documents are not in the public domain and only people with certain permissions can edit them.  I have used Google Docs when small group work on a report together or they are reflecting on a discussion or conference between each other.  Then they can contribute together to the report on that conference.  One advantage of the Google Docs is the fact that the documents are in familiar formats: .doc, .xls, .ppt, etc.  However, you don’t necessarily need the MS Office package to create them.  You can create them straight in Google and edit them from there without downloading them to your computer.  In other words, creating and editing documents happens on the Google Docs cloud.

Live chat tools (Skype, ooVoo, web conferencing, etc.)

These tools are great.  I use them every day and my students love them.  The fact that you can see and talk to someone across the globe is quite exciting.  Especially when used in combination with any of the above tools, these live communication tools can be quite powerful.  They do require fast Internet connection so it’s something to talk to your students about.  Also, some of them don’t allow video web conferencing with more than 2 people (Skype, unless you pay for premium membership).  ooVoo allows such video conferencing and for up to 6 people it is free.  I have used live tools as a regular touch-base tools for groups.  While the groups work on their project and talk to each other via email or other type of messaging, it’s always good to call each other on ooVoo and talk for a bit about the project.  In other words, they can touch base on what they are working on.

These are just a few of the possible tools for group project work.  Think of your audience and purpose of the project.  Then choose the tool that’s best for you and your learners.


Lou, Y., McGregor, K.S. (2004) Enhancing project-based learning through online between-groups collaboration. Educational Research and Evaluation, 10(4-6), 419-440

Blumenfeld, P.C., Marx, R.W., Soloway, E., Krajcik, J. (1996). Learning with peers: from small group cooperation to collaborative communities.  Educational Researcher. 25(8), 37-40

May 6, 2011

The Theory of Learning Relativity

by t.e.d.d.y.

We are used to measure learning relative to static criteria.  When I say static, I don’t mean that they don’t change.  I mean they are always there.  For now I will call these criteria “The Base”:

The Base
Standards  Location  Content  Teachers

We have standards relative to which we measure learning (a student learned enough to get a B+), or compare academic achievement (students who get Cs consistently are more at risk than students who get As consistently), or setting goals (by the end of the practicum, students should be able to complete a task on their own) and measuring whether we reached them (tests show that 55% of students completed the tasks, 30% completed them with some difficulty, and 15% experienced serious difficulties completing the tasks).  So based on all that we make a decision on where learning should go, how we should design the next tasks, and how we should change our teaching to ensure everyone is able to complete them with no to some difficulty.

We have a location (schools, colleges, universities) where measurable learning happens.  We know what the optimal size of space is needed for effective learning, optimal temperature of space, amount of light, etc.

We have content which has to be covered during the time learners are at the location.  The content must be organized and pr

esented by the teacher in the specific time allotted at the specific location following specific standards.

We have teachers who became teachers after getting training at a location according to some other standards and now their work is being measured by another set of standards.  If they don’t meet the standards, they could face consequence and even lose their jobs.

In this picture, social learning is considered important but it is not measurable.  Thus it is left out as a possible relative criteria for achievement.  I mean how to do you measure someone’s learning based on their contribution to a blog or Wiki on model airplanes?  The scientific knowledge is there and this person probably knows more about lift and turbulence than their teacher at school.  However, this knowledge does not count towards their academic success or achievement.  It doesn’t count because their writing skills are not good enough to write an academic paper or essay on a topic their teacher chose for them (this topic being chosen according to a set of standards, at a location, by a teacher who can only measure a learner’s work by a set of criteria under circumstances that this teacher must create)  Out of these circumstances, the criteria don’t work or are redundant.  That is why contributing to a blog is not measurable as it is a circumstance which was not created according to standards at the location by the teacher.  In other words, its presence is acknowledged but altogether it is left out of the learning process as insignificant.

This is where most of the anxiety and confusion about the new type of learning comes from.  Most educators think that the universe of education is not heading in the “right” direction (whatever “right” means and according to who).  Meanwhile though, they all understand that it is inevitably expanding/changing and impossible to stop it.  In fact this motion is similar to one of the consequences of the general relativity theory is that the universe is expanding indefinitely and the objects that are farther from us are moving away faster than the speed of light.  So what are the implications to the “traditional” picture of education that we have above?

The Base still exists but learning is not relative to it only.  Learning happens outside the base and it is sometime even relative to itself.  In other words, we don’t need to check with The Base to see if we have learned something correctly.  All we need to do is compare our knowledge to the knowledge of others (read: other learners).  This is where social media come in.  Learning is more social than ever.  Learning creates more learning, just as learning sources create more learning sources.  And believe it or not, they are not measured or based on the The Base.  For example, no one thinks: “Hey I learned something on Wikipedia that someone else wrote.  Let me verify the information by looking at my school textbook.  Or ask my teacher if it’s true.  Or let me see if is part of the national curriculum.”  What the learner will do instead is find a forum, blog, Facebook page, Wiki, where other people shared knowledge on the topic.  The learner will post a question on a forum before they ask the question to their school teacher.  Which means that learning instances are everywhere and they expand quickly.  In fact, it seems that the farther they are from The Base, the faster they expand.  The Base becomes more and more unstable in its current state.  So eventually it will have to transform, change its nature to accommodate the new learning pattern.

As a result the anxiety among educators grows because learning is not relative only to the Base any more.  The Base is not the sole creator or evaluator of learning opportunity any more.  Just as creating information is now easier than ever before.  Every consumer of information is now a creator (author) of information too.  Likewise, every learner becomes a “teacher” in one way or another by sharing what they have learned through new types of media.

Consequently, one way for The Base to change is to teach learnings to be responsible about their own learning because it eventually leads to someone else’s learning.  It has wider impact than ever before.  The Base needs to instil in learners to take ownership of their learning and become passionate about it, instead of trying to bring learners back to what education used to be.  The implications will be:

- Standards:
Will become focused on communication and establishing a ground for knowledge exchange

- Location:
Will eventually shift to cloud learning, which does not mean that face-to-face learning will be eliminated.

- Content:
Will be focused on what is relevant in the world today.  It will be dynamic rather than static and will have wide room for flexibility to accommodate what is relevant tomorrow.

- Teachers:
Will become mediators and mentors.  In other words, they will be sources of experience rather than sole sources of information.


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