Overcome EdTech’s Problems with Blended Learning
By Chris Thomas, Teacher at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor Public Schools
Blending Your Instruction to Support a Reflective Classroom AND Reduce Your Workload?
Wait… really? This Holy Grail of EdTech of being able to reduce a teacher’s workload while also providing student opportunities for deep levels of engagement, access, and real-world application, remains elusive. And, while I do not claim to have laid my hands on this lofty goal…I feel increasingly closer every week.
Quality EdTech is subjective, isn’t it? We see differences in quality and student engagement in the tools we use in our classroom to support our student’s mastery of content. We hope we see them right away, but sometimes we don’t see it until we are stuck in the mud!
I remember once I had my students create a video as a summative assessment. With rubrics in hand, students were to use an application they had practice with and I fully expected significant accolades in this dynamic and creative assessment were sure to follow. What actually happened, and what is probably a common story for those of us who are early adopters, was a total disaster where students spent all their time managing the application, file management, and logistics instead thinking deeply around the content. My grand assessment was an almost total loss when I reflected how my students were limited in their opportunities to engage with each other and the content. This EdTech support was a distraction instead of the catalyst I had envisioned.
Simplicty, Simplicity, Simplicity: Padlet
Sometimes the simplest EdTech solutions provide the deepest opportunity for student engagement. Let’s consider Padlet.com as an example of an EdTech tool that supports deep dives to support mastery. This web based “freemium” (free basic version with additional options at a cost) EdTech tool is a digital parking lot for ideas in a digital “wall” that can be configured in various ways (stream, columns, lists, etc.). This simple idea allows students a digital space to share their thinking on a topic, consider others’ ideas, and comment.
Consider the ways skilled educators can use this as a space to curate ideas in the moment and for the future. I have students turn-and-talk on a topic before co-using their tech to create their group’s post so they are continuously sharing, considering, and reflecting on their ideas and the ideas of their peers. We can return to the posts and dive deeply into ideas in the moment or in the future as the Padlet “Wall” becomes a monument to our changing ideas.
Further, I spend less time managing paper versions that do the same job and am allowed to participate in student conversations and support and encourage in the moment of struggle. Access to your Padlet can be provided as a link or embed on my LMS or website and manage in the moment or afterwards. This simple EdTech tool allows us to focus on the question in front of us and focus our efforts.
EdTech tools are not always the answer to the question of student engagement, access, and real-world applications. But, educators want options to extend the conversation and use a tool that streamlines their workload, and there are more and more EdTech tools available that do just that.
Chris is a husband, father of three, Michigander by marriage and dedicated educator in his 17th year in the classroom. He earned his Master of Science in Education from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA in 2000 and has taught Integrated Science for the Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Seoul, South Korea and Wiesbaden Germany at their respective middle schools. He is currently engaged in quality science education at Scarlett Middle School in Ann Arbor Public School. He also supports cohorts of AAPS educators in Blended Learning as a facilitator and leader for his district as they proudly partner with Michigan Virtual. He is also currently a dedicated NEA Early Career Learning Lab Coach for new teacher support.
Chris is also a frequent presenter for educators on the topic of Blended Learning. He has been recognized as the 2013 Teacher of the Year in the Heidelberg District and state finalist and the 2003 Phi Delta Kappa teacher of the year in Korea. Lastly, he is a strong proponent of public schools and has represented their employees at various levels of EA work from the building level, local president to the national level. Chris understands that he is small cog in a very large machine that supports the growth of quality humans and is excited to learn from others at every opportunity.