Beth Holland

Food for thought…


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Are We Innovating, or Just Digitizing Traditional Teaching?

I didn’t write this blog title. The editor at Edutopia changed mine before publishing my latest article. Originally, I thought that I wanted to discuss the promise and the peril of blended learning. However, I am thankful that he had a better idea.

Admittedly, this post began as a rant against blended learning. Not the effective version as described by the tremendous educators in Bellevue, Nebraska whom I feature in this post, but the “I regularly put digital versions of analog assignments on ___ (insert platform name) and then collected them back” kind.

True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process. With students freed from the confines of the school day, the walls of the classroom, the sole expertise of the teacher, and the pace of the rest of the class, blended learning could fundamentally change the system and structure of school.

And yet, as illustrated by the varying perspectives of what constitutes blended learning lies the issue that I am really wrestling with: how to create a vision for innovation. For my dissertation, I am looking at how to scale up change, more specifically, how to help districts expand the pockets of innovative teaching within classrooms and buildings to the rest of their ecosystem. As I think more and more about this, the real challenge may lie in first helping districts to recognize innovation versus digitization.

 


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The Best App for Your Coursework Isn’t a Single App

Which app is best for coursework depends on the tasks students will perform and the skills you want them to develop.

A few years ago, I wrote about creating an edtech ecosystem. Each ecosystem contains different tools and apps, and deciding which is best depends on your devices and infrastructure as well as what best supports your students. Within this ecosystem concept, each piece of technology provides a different functionality. A given piece might allow teachers and students to transport information, create new learning artifacts, or communicate, collaborate, and share.As educators, we often seek out not only one ecosystem but also one app to solve all of our problems and meet all of our needs. For example, over the past several months, I have engaged in a number of conversations about technology with educators that began with an either/or question:

  • Should I use Google Drive, Google Sites, or Padlet?
  • Should I use OneNote or Google Classroom?
  • Should I use SeeSaw or Office365?

My reaction to each line of questioning is: What do you want your students to do?

Although I understand these teachers’ concerns that they not overwhelm their students (or their colleagues) with too many tools, that single solution does not really exist. Depending on the tasks that students may need to complete, and the skills that you may want them to gain, a variety of options may be required. Choosing the best options can seem daunting. To start figuring out which tools to bring into your ecosystem, consider these essential questions to guide your thinking.

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.


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Take Note: How to Curate Learning Digitally

Note taking lies at the heart of curricula around the world. Beginning in elementary school, we teach students to “take notes” so that they can maintain a record of the content disseminated to them by the teacher. And yet, with mobile devices replacing paper notebooks, this process has become increasingly complex as students (and teachers) struggle to apply previous strategies to new tools.

In the past, I wrote about the 4Ss of Note Taking With Technology. Students should choose a system that:

  • Supports their learning needs
  • Allows them to save across devices
  • Possesses search capabilities
  • Can be shared

While I realize that younger students need scaffolding to learn any system, older students need to think beyond just transcribing information. In an age when simple facts can be Googled and students create with a combination of analog and digital tools, they need to think about note taking as an opportunity to curate and synthesize information so that they can make conclusions, build deeper understanding, and construct new knowledge. Whether students choose to handwrite, sketch, or type their notes, the challenge lies not in choosing, but in creating a system that allows them to ultimately curatesynthesize, and reflect on what they learn.

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.


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The Backchannel: Giving Every Student a Voice in the Blended Mobile Classroom

backchannel — a digital conversation that runs concurrently with a face-to-face activity — provides students with an outlet to engage in conversation. Every time I think about this tool, I remember my student, Charlie (not his real name). Given his learning challenges, he struggled to keep up during class discussions. Long after his classmates grasped a concept, he would light up in acknowledgement and then become crestfallen as he had no way to share his revelation. Charlie needed an alternative means to participate, and a backchannel would have provided him with that outlet.

At the time, we did not have mobile devices. If we had, then a number of free tools could have augmented class discussions and supported students like Charlie.

  • TodaysMeet would have let teachers create private chat rooms so that students could ask questions or leave comments during class.
  • Padlet wall might have fueled students to share their ideas as text, images, videos, and links posted to a digital bulletin board.
  • The open response questions available in a student response system like Socrative or InfuseLearning could have become discussion prompts to give each student an opportunity to share his or her ideas before engaging in class discussion.

Consider the students like Charlie who cannot process at the same pace, the ones unable to speak up over the din of the class, or those who want to share ideas to a point of disruption and need an outlet for their enthusiasm. Backchannels give all of these students a voice. They create a blended environment where teachers and students engage in both physical and online conversations so that learning is no longer confined to a single means of communication or even an arbitrary class period. Backchannels don’t replace class discussions — they extend them.

>> Read the rest of the article on Edutopia.


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The Balance of Screen Time

“Television rots your brain.” In a similar vein, video games turn your mind to mush, and staring at a screen for too long potentially makes you a zombie. In 1999, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a report suggesting that children under two should not have any screen time. Since the release of that report, numerous studies have emerged to address this issue of screen time, from the 2012 report Facing the Screen Dilemma: Young Children, Technology and Early Education to Lisa Guernsey’s Screen Time: How Electronic Media – From Baby Videos to Educational Software – Affects Your Young Child.

Particularly when working with elementary teachers, I frequently hear concerns about screen time in the classroom, and they are not wrong. Students should learn to interact in a face-to-face setting, experience the physical world and go outside. However, much like we cannot say that all television rots our brains, we need to look beyond saying that all screen time is bad for our students. To do that, I like to ask three questions:

  1. Is it appropriate?
  2. Is it meaningful?
  3. Is it empowering?

>> Read the rest of this article on Edutopia.