Instant Blended Learning with Lesson Paths and Blendspace

While some teachers may be struggling with integrating blended learning (any combination of learning on-site in a classroom with learning online), two web-based tools are making it much easier for teachers to accomplish this merger:  Blendspace and Lesson Paths.

blendspace logo

Blendspace allows for teachers to load content, websites, articles, videos (and a whole lot more) into an embedded, interactive grid that previews each step of a lesson. Each content type is numbered to suggest an order in which students can progress, but they may also explore in whichever order they choose.

Google Drive Basics Blendspace

Here is a Blendspace lesson that I created using Google Drive tutorial videos:

lessonpaths logo

Lesson Paths is more linear in it’s design.  When content is uploaded or links are inserted, they are added in a list that hovers on the left side of the screen.  The first item on the list (in my case, the introductory video to my lesson) is loaded first, and the learner can navigate between content using the arrow at the top of the screen of by clicking on the item in the list.

While Lesson Paths does not support as wide a variety of embedded content, it does allow the creator to insert challenge questions, pop quizzes, or short articles of text on the spot.

Lesson Pathways

Here’s the same Google Drive lesson created on Lesson Paths instead.

Both of these tools make the task of creating a blended learning environment very streamlined and simple for educators of any level.  Try each of them to see exactly how you could use them in your teaching and learning environments, as they both offer strengths and weaknesses.

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LMS Showdown – Which Is The Best Fit?

Teachers, schools, districts, and higher ed institutions have a wide range of platforms to use as their online “home base” for their students.  Companies like Blackboard, Desire2Learn, Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology, and more recently Canvas by Instructure are all vying for the chance to become your Learning Management System (LMS) of choice.

LMS Smackdown

With all of these options (along with dozens more) available, how do teachers, administrators, and tech coordinators decide which platform is best for their students?  As a middle school educator and instructional coach, Here are some of the areas that need to be considered when evaluating which LMS is right for you:

1.  Straightforward Set-up and Maintainance

In order for any LMS to be successful, it needs to be fairly simple for teachers to set-up and maintain their classes/courses in the online environment.

While additional training and professional development is almost certainly required for any new system, the administrative interface of the LMS needs to be intuitive.  Teachers will not buy-in to the system if it is not user-friendly, and will be less likely to implement the system to its full potential if roadblocks are continuously encountered.

Additionally, maintaining class rosters and posting updated content for units and lessons needs to be as streamlined as possible.

2.  Simple Student Access and Navigation

Although the learning-curve for a teacher to learn any new LMS is integral to its adoption, the ability for a student to pick it up easily is exponentially more important.

Students need to be able to join groups/classes, access content, and submit assignments with as little interference as possible.  You will also want to keep in mind how content is presented from the student’s point of view (is it presented linearly in a “playlist,” as a page of multiple entry-points, etc.) and if it allows for students to easily explore related content on their own.

With this in mind, even the LMS with the most intuitive user interface may be challenging for students who are not as tech-savvy.  Whatever LMS you end up deciding to use, a system of support for students (and parents) needs to be set up.

Whether this is by a help-center or FAQ section developed by the LMS company or a series of lessons/screencasts that you develop yourself, students and parents need somewhere to turn when they have questions about the learning system.

3.  Ability to Embed Various Content 

Most learning management systems can easily embed video and images, but any other content (interactives, ebooks, etc.) need to be tested to make sure that they can be embedded into the system easily.

I have been using Edmodo this year with middle schoolers, and for the most part embedding content has been successful.  Some more complicated content did not successfully embed, and I had to post it as a link instead.  While this worked out for me, I had to preface this to students and remind them to read the post and follow the link accordingly.

4.  Connectivity to Student Information/Grading Systems

The biggest selling point of many learning systems and applications today is complete, back-end integration with student information databases and grading systems (such as Power School or Progress Book in the K-12 realm).

Having information about student enrollment, scheduling, and grades continuously connected and updated makes any learning application or program that much more effective.  It allows for almost instant feedback and communication between the instructor and the student/parent, and aids in the analysis of data to make important instructional decisions.

What is even more rare to find among web-based learning platforms is the ability to link all student performance and assessment data into one central hub.  While many companies are working toward this goal, finding a perfect combination of LMS with compatible learning tools and programs is somewhat challenging.

5.  Universal Hardware Compatibility

Depending on the hardware that you school or organization has adopted, this is crucial to successfully implementing an LMS.  While most of the popular systems tout cross-compatibility, there are some major differences in the user experiences of, say, the iPad app versus using the LMS on a desktop.

It is important that you know what features of your selected LMS will function of each hardware device that your learners may be using, and having foreknowledge of this before signing on to using one for a specified period of time will be very important.  Testing out the experience of the LMS on all possible devices – from the administrative and student perspective – is extremely important.

Next Steps – Further Investigation

Over the next few weeks, I will be spending time researching some of the best Learning Management Systems available to educators and blogging about them as  go.  I will be looking at the feature-sets of many LMS platforms and evaluating them in the mentioned categories, and will note any major features that set each apart from the rest.

If anyone would like to share their own thoughts or experiences about a specific LMS, I invite you to comment to this or any of the future posts.  Knowing exactly what you get from each system is very important, and getting a more complete picture of each available system will help educators and administrators make more informed choices for their students.

Also, any representatives from LMS companies are welcome to comment and leave their own feedback or add more information about the features that I may overlook.  You can also follow me @EdTechToolkit on twitter to let me know what you think and keep up to date on my venture through different learning management systems in the coming weeks.

Freerice.com – Feeding the Hungry, One Question at a Time

Teaching basic vocabulary and math skills to today’s students can be challenging at times, and remediation for students who are struggling can be overwhelming.  One extremely valuable tool available for teachers and students is Freerice.com, a non-profit website that supports the World Food Program.

Image

Answer a question right, and rice is donated to hungry people. It’s a win-win.

Freerice is a web-based trivia game that has two goals:

  1. Provide education to everyone for free.
  2. Help end world hunger by providing rice to hungry people for free.
Many different subjects of questions are available, most of which being leveled to accommodate any level of learner.

Many different subjects of questions are available, most of which being leveled to accommodate any level of learner.

While this charitable idea on its own is ingenious, it creates an intrinsic reward to those who participate that is very addictive – students always are wanting to answer more questions to keep donating more rice.  Additionally, teachers can create accounts for their students and have them join class groups, where goals can be set and class tallies of rice can be made to see how much rice the entire class has donated over time.

Many different subjects are available to answer questions on, including English vocabulary, basic math skills, geography skills, and foreign languages, with more subjects being added continuously.  What’s more, many of the subjects have the option to change the level of difficulty as you are answering questions, which allows you to individualize this for each student based on his/her needs.

If the content is too easy for the student, the site will gradually increase their level as they answer questions.  If the questions prove to be more challenging, it will alter the difficulty as well.  This is a godsend for teachers who instruct groups of students at varying learning levels, tailoring the activity to meet the needs of all students.

Become a Sensai of Classroom Management with Class Dojo

Class Dojo

Use any device (now even Android compatible!) to manage classroom behavior.

Move over, Mr. Miyagi – Behavior management in the classroom just got an upgrade.  Actually, Class Dojo has been around for a while now, but a recent upgrade has made this easy-to-use app available to Android users as well as iOS.

Class Dojo is a tool that teachers can use to manage both positive and negative behaviors of their students within the classroom.  A teacher sets up his/her classes, decides what positive behaviors will be rewarded, and can begin using the program immediately in the classroom.

Wax on, wax off

Class Dojo works using a point system, where positive behavior exhibited by students is is awarded with a point.  Negative behaviors, on the other hand, result in a student losing a point.  At any given time, a student’s overall behavior breakdown can be accessed and reviewed to summarize how he/she has behaved in class in a given time frame.

When students are awarded points, the teacher can select one or more students (all of which can be done from a tablet, PC, Mac, or smart phone (Android or iOS), and what behavior is being awarded.  If the Class Dojo class screen is projected, the student(s) receiving the reward are instantly recognized in a pop-up on the screen, along with a satisfying chime to let the class know what behavior has been noticed by the teacher.  Alternatively, a teacher could review the points at increments during class, or at the end of each class to recognize students for their positive behaviors.  Additionally, Class Dojo automatically sends out reports to parents each Friday, given that you have entered email addresses for your students beforehand.

In my own experience with 5th graders, I have noticed that Class Dojo does a great job of focusing on the positive behaviors of students, even when negative behaviors are occurring at the same time.  With many reward/punishment systems, the positive and negative consequences are not connected, and many students receive more attention and recognition for doing things “wrong,” although they may be doing many more things “right.”  Class Dojo summarizes both together, and students can receive more attention for the positive decisions they make in the classroom.

Google Apps for Education – The Basics

As part of a training unit that I’ve been developing for some co-workers, I’ve put together this series of short short how-to screencasts to help even the least tech-savvy teacher breeze through Google Apps like a pro.

The first video gives an overview of how cloud-based storage works with Google Drive, walking through the basics of uploading files and sharing them with others. The following three videos demonstrates the basic functions of Google Docs, Google Presentations, and Google Forms.

Although these videos were created to show teachers how useful Google’s free web-based applications can be, anyone can benefit from these invaluable resources that Google has been so kind to offer us.

Enjoy! (and be sure to share these with others who you think would benefit from a little basic Google know-how)