Tag Archives: collaboration

Flipping Without Flopping

Without question, the most talked-about educational innovation to go mainstream recently has been the “flipped” classroom. For the uninitiated, this term broadly refers to the practice of delivering content to students electronically for independent consumption, while the classroom becomes a place for completing assignments and getting help. The surging popularity of the Khan Academy has been the most notable examples of this method.

The benefits are clear – students get more opportunities for guidance and help during the class periods, and the videos they watch are typically more engaging than a textbook. Yet, there have been some problems identified with the approach as well – especially when the application has varied from classroom to classroom. One major criticism of the flipped classroom (also known as reverse instruction) is that it highlights the digital divide. [I’ve mentioned this topic in a previous post.]  Students without independent access to the Internet from home could find themselves at a severe disadvantage when a classroom completely flips. Additionally, many see the method as a way for teachers to avoid having to actually teach the whole class. The pros and cons of flipped teaching (taken from the pro side) are summarized nicely here.

There are many valid points on both sides of this debate, although I tend to take the conversation at-large as being a good thing. When was the last time we had educators this passionate about methodology? Surely this is net positive!

I recently conducted my first major experiment in flipping my classroom, to see for myself whether or not this method was worth trying on a larger scale. I had my opportunity because the technology in my school had finally caught up to providing me the necessary tools, and a week-long professional opportunity out-of-town gave me the excuse to implement the plan. I conducted my flipped classroom roll-out in two phases:

Phase One: Introduction

I think a CMS (course-management system) is a good idea for a flipped classroom. Having a communication hub to center everything around becomes pretty essential. Prensky was right in his assessment of Digital Natives – yes, today’s students process their thinking about technology differently than those of us from the print age do. However, many of us overlearned the lessons of Prensky and assume too much out of students today. Just because they are more wired when they get to us doesn’t mean that they automatically know how to operate every web tool that we throw at them! They still need to get introduced to new tool and be given time to work with it a bit before deploying it fully. A CMS provides an easy “sandbox” for students to get acclimated to the tech before accountability kicks in.

I settled on Edmodo as a CMS due to its pricetag (free!) and its design, which is stylistically similar to Facebook and therefore appealing to most students. The seamless integration with Google Docs is another huge bonus! I took my classes in the computer lab for a day and rolled them through the sign-up process and a tutorial on how to use the various features. Fortunately, we have been using a lot of Web 2.0 tools in class all year so it was not too laborious getting the students all signed up. I also made it a point to contact parents and send home a form letter with the parent Edmodo code included. Once I was done, I had created an instructional space outside of my classroom where content could be shared.

Phase Two: Implementation

Developing the habits of mind when it comes to sharing took a few weeks! I slowly started rolling out links and Google Docs through Edmodo, and encouraging students to use the digital dropbox feature for turning in assignments. Once we got Edmodo down, I started to experiment with YouTube. Now I recognize many schools block YouTube, but there are many other sites out there for sharing video content, so don’t fret! The bottom line is that by sharing an RSS feed through your CMS, it’s a snap to start podcasting your direct instruction content to students! I started creating “learning modules” for student consumption at home and it was a great success! Edmodo provides easy sharing of attachments, and combining a reading, a video of yours truly, and a written assignment as a package was beyond simple. Check out this example on William Blake where I blended a documentary film, a VoiceThread, and a YouTube clip. The writing assignment extended into the next day where I was able to provide help in person.

The final test came when I was absent from class for a week while conducting an evaluation of another school. I flipped my sub plans for the week and let the proctor run the learning modules in the class. After years of trying, I finally learned how to bi-locate! Pre-recording my lessons and flipping the sub plans was probably the most ambitious tech move I’ve ever attempted. There were a lot of bugs in the system, but the overall benefits to my students, and the impact that it had on my professional development were more than worth the effort it took to orchestrate the whole plan. I have never had a better return rate on my assignments, and the scores on those assessments showed a significant bump! Take it from someone who has been a skeptic – flipping your classroom doesn’t have to be a total flop! Give it a try!


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Bloom, Revisited: Towards a Digital Taxonomy

Once you gain support in your school/district for the development and promotion of 21st Century skills in your curriculum, you begin the real work in training the staff.  When you direct the PD, don’t forget to highlight the fact that there exists a spectrum of skills.  Far too often in the rush to share the advantages of 21st Century skills in a student’s development, we leave out the fact that we have effectively carved out a new domain in Bloom’s Taxonomy.  And not all 21st Century skills are created equal!  This new domain for a new age of pedagogy emphasizes the hierarchy of skills needed to be successful in the information economy:

  • Curate – Students need to show facility in navigating a vast array of resources and discerning which are valuable and which are irrelevant to the needs of the moment.
  • Share – Students need to demonstrate judgment in calibrating how much is shared with an audience and by what method.
  • Collaborate – Students need to show they can engage with their peers in a collective effort, and act as both leader and follower as appropriate.
  • Cull – Students refine their thinking by gleaning the best of the collaborative process to produce informed decision-making.
  • Publish – Students express themselves confidently and creatively in a manner that shows full participation in the cycle of learning.
  • Reflect – Students can effectively and thoroughly consider the process of learning on a metacognitive level.
How will you best prepare your students for the world they will inherit?

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Cycle of Learning, Part IV: Groupthink? Guess Again!

As I write this, the biggest education event of the weekend – Philadelphia’s #Educon 2.4 – is concluding. The conversations that began this weekend were stimulating and provocative. Overall, I must say that it was an experience that left me hopeful for my profession and the field of education in general – a too-rare feeling these days! Now imagine how I would feel if I attended! You see, I only connected remotely from home through the Twitter feed that was running the whole weekend. I am already making plans to attend next year’s convention on January 25-27, 2013.

In my last post, I stressed the importance of collaboration in the Cycle of Learning. I am a strong advocate of 21st Century Skills and the need for them to have a prominent place in the classroom. Yet, I am also on record as favoring a balanced approach. The idea of throwing out everything good about the educational system and replacing it with “all-collaboration, all-the-time” just doesn’t strike me as a good notion.

Enter Susan Cain’s New York Times article on The Rise of the New Groupthink. It spread like wildfire through the convention this morning, which I was attending remotely from my laptop at home in Baltimore. It seemed almost perfectly timed to take the wind out of the sails for the #educon #edchat crowd and the article talks pretty tough about a few things:

SOLITUDE is out of fashion. Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place. Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.

But there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies by the psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Gregory Feist. They’re extroverted enough to exchange and advance ideas, but see themselves as independent and individualistic. They’re not joiners by nature. […]

Culturally, we’re often so dazzled by charisma that we overlook the quiet part of the creative process. Consider Apple. In the wake of Steve Jobs’s death, we’ve seen a profusion of myths about the company’s success. Most focus on Mr. Jobs’s supernatural magnetism and tend to ignore the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer.

I am still wondering about the presuppositions present in Cain’s thinking. She seems to argue, at least in the first half of the article, that the advocates for 21st Century skills, like myself, are pushing for a revolution in education that replaces the tradition from Dewey to Danielson with a whole new way of thinking. Sure, there are some who would argue for that – I saw many tweets this weekend comparing the conference rooms of SLA to Independence Hall – but I don’t feel that it’s the majority. I believe that the blogs that arrived Saturday night into Sunday afternoon individually reflecting on the convention spoke to the power of collaboration as a crucible for shaping ideas. Revolution isn’t what we are after – rather, it’s evolution! The field of education needs to adapt, not get scrapped and reinvented.

Brainstorming via Twitter and “unconferences” doesn’t breed Groupthink, nor is it an echochamber as some would contend. At least, it won’t as long as we maintain the all-important fourth part of the Cycle of Learning in mind – Integration. Integration is the phase of learning where we use the 21st Century skill of reflection to refine the collaborative process into manageable pieces. As the #educon attendees have commented, getting a whole lot of quality PD in a very small amount of time can be an overwhelming experience. You leave with a headache, but the good kind that makes you think for a long time afterwards. It is during reflection that you come to the individual conclusions that stay with you beyond the learning. You also come to decide what you want to learn more about, which leads to new Discovery, and the Cycle of Learning starts anew.

I like to summarize the Cycle of Learning as a dialectic. Beginning with Discovery, the instructor facilitates the curating of new information to develop a THESIS. After using Expression to share that thesis, the learner engages an audience in the process. As a group focused on Collaboration, the learners practice culling by exposing the thesis to alternate views. These alternate views constitute an ANTITHESIS. Afterwards, the learner needs to find a way to promote Integration. By using the tool of reflection, the learner blends the best elements of the thesis and its antithesis into a SYNTHESIS. This fully vetted and thoroughly studied idea now becomes the basis for new knowledge and further Discovery. A dialectic built on the 21st Century skills of curating, sharing, culling, and reflection – this is the Cycle of Learning as I see it, and it is the post-collaborative reflection which separates this model from all others.

This reflection is important for all learners, whether it is a teacher or administrator seeking PD, or a student processing new material after a inquiry-based group project. As an instructor or supervisor, our job is to direct that reflection – to facilitate and guide it to a place where it will do the most good. This is the proper role of a critical friend. The post-#educon blogs prove to me that we are not in danger of Groupthink. It’s collaboration writ large that demonstrates a truly organic moment in the evolution of our educational system. Now is the moment to capitalize on our learning and engage our collective will into making action plans for the future. The critics are waiting for us to prove them wrong, and the students can’t wait any longer for the important work of proving ourselves right.

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