BSNMOOC Post #1 – Ideal Blended Learning Environment in the Year 2013

Our assignment this week is to create a post that reflects upon one of four projects.  I decided to write the “Pie in the Sky” post, describing an ideal blended learning environment in the year 2013.  The questions we are to answer are:

  • What sort of content is delivered online? What is delivered face-to-face?
  • Which assessments use the Internet? Which assessments do not?
  • What benefits does this environment have for students?
  • What sort of resources are being used in the classroom?
Cover of "The Great Gatsby"
Cover of The Great Gatsby

I’ll take each one in turn and put it in the context of a unit on the novel The Great Gatsby.  Since I have been reading Gatsby (for the fourth time), a question has been niggling at me: “How would I make this relevant to youth today so they might enjoy reading a terrific novel?” I must tell you that I tried blended learning with this novel when I was student teaching and the results were disastrous.  That unit haunts me to this day.  Therefore, I think it interesting that I chose to read it again just as this MOOC was starting up and fortuitous that I can reflect and project upon it as I try to come up with a more successful unit plan.

I must also confess that I long to have my own classroom.  Writing this post is sad in a way, because it describes something that isn’t – and may never be.  Nevertheless, it will be written.

My classroom would exist in two spaces, the physical and the virtual, as any blended learning environment would.  I would use a learning management system like Moodle to develop online activities that required independent thought and collaboration.  I would use authentic assessment ideas to create assessments that asked students to think about events and characters in the novel and construct new knowledge (technical or cultural), or to develop their value system, personal philosophy, or writing skills.  I would provide opportunities for those who not comfortable with classroom discussion to contribute to the overall discussion through forum posts and replies. I would couch the novel within our current context, always trying to pull from our culture to make connections with the culture of the 1920s and the lost generation.

What sort of content is delivered online? What is delivered face-to-face?

I would start out with a video presented through the LMS on the lost generation and Fitzgerald.  I have one I used back in pre-service and I do think that it is good.  The students could watch the video outside of class and respond to it via a forum, sharing their ideas with their peers.

I think I would like to have students read the novel a bit at a time in preparation for class.  There are some teachers that cannot afford to let the books out of the classroom because they would not get them back; I hope I would not fall into that group and would let students take the book throughout the unit.  I believe 15 – 20 minutes of reading on certain nights is enough to ask.  Then, I would ask them to log into the LMS and write a forum post based on a question I pose for that evening’s homework.  I would also ask them to respond during the week to at least three classmates’ posts.

Once in class, I would like the students to write for five minutes about a quote that they should have encountered during their reading the night before.  Then, I would like to read aloud for fifteen minutes, with someone as the narrator and others taking roles and reading their character’s “lines.”  After that, we can have a guided discussion, an authentic activity, or group discussions about what they read.  An example of an authentic activity, in my opinion, is one I tried while teaching the unit in my pre-service days.  I had most of the students act as journalists and interview other students who volunteered to play Nick, Daisy, and Gatsby.  The journalists were to ask the characters questions like, “How do you feel about how you were portrayed in the book?” This time around, I would also ask someone to portray Fitzgerald.  Perhaps I would portray Hemingway and add what I think he would say about the book and the characters.  The two authors always had a love-hate relationship.  I think this is a good opportunity to do formative assessment, to see how well the students understand the characters and can ask good questions.

Other homework ideas include using Animoto to create a music video about a character, using Wordle or Tagxedo to create a word cloud about an event in the novel and to analyze the results of that cloud, or using another app from the web to create something that extends their reading into a new context. There are so many resources out there that it’s hard to start this paragraph without going on for pages!

Which assessments use the Internet? Which assessments do not?

I would tend to use formative assessment on the Internet.  For instance, the observations I could clean from the forum posts or activities are examples of formative assessment.  I would prefer the summative assessments to take place on-site.

What benefits does this environment have for students?

The first thing that comes to mind is that the blended learning environment affords students who are shy or need more time to think to work in a comfortable space.  As an online student over the past seven years, I appreciated the extra time that online activities provided me.  I needed that time to digest information and construct knowledge for myself so that I could share my thoughts with others.  I feel I learned a lot more because I was given that time to form more complex thoughts.

What sort of resources are being used in the classroom?

Online resources include web applications, the learning management system, and resources the student or I could find using Google.  I would also load rubrics to the learning management system that include self-assessment rubrics.

Resources on-site include print copies of the text (I have a graphic novel version as well as the traditional book), Kindle versions, and audio versions of the text.  There are some who prefer to listen to a book or some who could supplement their reading with the audio version.  English Language Learners might benefit from the audio version, for example, to hear cadence, pronunciation, and pace.  Other resources include re-printed articles and handouts for activities.

Assumptions

This “plan,” such as it is, assumes that kids will have access to technology and the Internet.  I found a resource for low-cost access to both that is worth noting: http://www.internetessentials.com/.  This site offers low-cost access to the Internet and computers if families have at least one child who qualifies for free lunch.

This plan also supports a BYOD model that encourages students to bring their own technology to school.

Finally, this model assumes that the teacher will keep the students’ needs and capabilities in mind and make adjustments as necessary.  🙂

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6 Comments

  1. I found your post very interesting as our literacy coaches are starting a reading circle today with this novel. I read it a long time ago, but I am looking forward to reading it again. The timing is also good with the new movie being released soon.

    You seem to have given your unit a lot of thought. I did many similar things as I was just teaching To Kill a Mockingbird. Having students respond to a quote daily is a good way to check in with them about their understanding of the assigned reading.

    I have also used EDmodo successfully for online discussions and you might like that.

    1. Thank you for responding to my post. TKAM is another book that is so fabulous, yet so hard to put into a context that makes sense to today’s students. Helping them to get over the racism in the book is difficult in itself.

      I like Edmodo as well and see that a number of teachers and schools are using it successfully. Thanks again.

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