Blended Learning ISV 2017

This link will take you to the Prezi that I am using in the first session:

Socrative for a quick poll: Go to
Enter the room code: NCCGATT
Answer the questions!

Padlet for brainstorming student activities in a Blended Learning environment:

Fill in this Google Sheet to think about how you can start blending in your own context:

A blended learning activity:

  1. Choose the resource below that sounds the most interesting or appropriate for you.
  2. As you ‘read’ the resource, take notes to summarise what you’re learning.
  3. When you’ve finished, highlight your notes to identify the three best ideas. (Focus on practical advice that will help you create effective video content or online learning experiences.)
  4. Join a larger group and discuss what you learnt.
  5. Pool your ideas to create a document with clear  and orderly advice about how to best create blended learning experiences. (You can use this doc for that purpose).

Blended learning resources to consume independently:



Celebration: The fire is spreading!

It’s been a long time between posts! This is largely because I’ve had several big projects on the go (and a newborn child) and simply haven’t had time to write and reflect. It also means that I haven’t been investing as much time as I’d like promoting technology use in my school. Being wired the way I am, this led me to assume that nothing was progressing.

How wrong I was!

I run regular ‘techie teas’ where I demonstrate how technology could be used in classes. Being pushed for time, a colleague suggested that rather than doing my usual preparation, I invite other staff to share what they had done over the last term.

It was fantastic! I had no idea how many grass fires were springing up throughout the school!

Here is some of what was shared:

  • Using Socrative to engage students in discussion, help focus lengthy readings and, of course, for quizzes.
  • Using Twitter to share what’s happening in the classroom with parents.
  • Plans to set up a Minecraft server (almost done!) for a mapping activity, as well as to provide a fun, free space for some of our geekier students. We will also have student administrators who will have an opportunity to take responsibility and show leadership.
  • Google Docs for group work (That was me. You can read my previous post about it here).
  • Age of Empires to teach stages of history and terminology. A highlight was when an ESL student began discussing Feudalism.
  • QR codes as a pathway to individualised tasks.
  • Corkulous for collaborative mind mapping and other visual presentations.
  • Aurasma to create augmented reality book reports (point your device at a book’s cover and hear what other students think about it!).

My goodness! That’s a long list! No wonder I found it an exhilarating hour!

I asked another staff member to take notes using Wall Wisher. Unfortunately this didn’t work as well as I would have liked as only certain people can move certain sticky notes, but I’ve included it below so that you can see more detail for some of the ideas above.

(FYI – I tried to embed the wall instead of just providing the link but I just discovered that the free version of WordPress doesn’t allow iFrames. So, do I pay or change to Google’s Blogger service??)

At the end, I shared a Popplet that I had created a while back. I think we can be overwhelmed by the number of tools that are available. I try to encourage staff to start by imagining what they would like to do if anything were possible, then search for a tool that fits the bill. This chart is designed to help simplify that process. (iFrames again! I wonder if eduBlogs allows them…)

This experience has reminded me that it’s important to celebrate progress and to share ideas. It was great to see so many different approaches springing up. I feel like we’re really gaining momentum and hopefully these grass fires will soon be a blazing inferno of creativity and innovation!

If you’d like to know more about any of the ideas above, just post a comment below. Most of them make use of free tools, so there shouldn’t be any significant barriers if you want to try them yourself.

I’d also love to hear other people’s success stories with newly-tried innovation or technology use.

Does your school have a platform where you can show off what you do and share in each other’s success? How does your school encourage teachers to be creative and try new ideas?

Google Docs for Testing

Although many teachers are embracing available technology to transform the way teaching and learning happens in the classroom, we still run into a wall when it comes to exams. At that point, throw away the iPad, say goodbye to collaboration, it’s time to sit in silence and write with a pen for three hours.

I’ve recently trialled giving a SAC (a formal assessment task that needs to be done under test conditions and with a high level of accountability) online. This isn’t the same as letting all VCE students sit an exam online but I thought it was an experience that was worth sharing.

My Year 11 Media students had to complete a research report looking at the impact of the Internet on our society. This was done in place of a mid-year exam, so the stakes were high and accountability was a must. I was able to move this task into a digital space while still allowing for these needs.

Diigo Web GroupFirst, the assignment itself was ‘open book’. The broad question that the students were answering required more than copy-pasting from other sources. This made for a better assignment and also removed the issue of students having Internet access. In fact, I wanted the students to have Internet access. We had set up a Diigo group to collate a class set of references for use in the essay. Part of their assessment was their contribution to this Diigo group prior to the essay but the real test of learning was how they were able to draw connections between, and conclusions from, this information.

The main way I ensured students were doing their own work, in the time provided, was by making use of some of the fantastic features of Google Docs. At the start of the period, I had my students share a Google Doc with me. I then opened each file (I only have seven students in my class) and as they worked, I could see the words pop up on my screen in real-time. Using this technique, I could quickly scan through the students’ essays and ensure they weren’t simply copying and pasting large chunks of text.

True, I couldn’t see every student at once, but they didn’t know who I was looking at at any given time. I suppose it created a sort of Panopticon (is anyone cringing that I’m suggesting a prison strategy as a positive teaching method?). Also, if I did get suspicious, I could go through the revision history and see how their ideas and paragraphs developed over the course of the period.

Google Docs Revision History

At the end of it all, I was able to put comments straight onto the students’ essays. They were able to read over these extensive comments and reply to them. The learning didn’t end with submission and a grade, rather the discussion continued as students reflected on their performance and my feedback.

I think this was a very effective method of conducting high-stakes testing using digital tools and I would certainly do it again. Would it work in your context? Have you done something similar using the same or different tools? How could a system like this be ‘scaled up’ to larger class sizes? Please leave comments below.

Student Generated Assessment Feedback

After students complete a major piece of work, such as an end-of-unit essay or semester exam, I will always run a class giving general feedback of strengths and weaknesses of the class overall. I also give students specific feedback written on their submissions but this is a chance for me to address some common issues in more detail.

As I move towards a more learner-focused style of teaching, I’m thinking this isn’t the best way to give feedback. I don’t mind that I am giving whole-class feedback – I think it’s good for students to note common strengths and weaknesses and to consider which apply to themselves – but I think it takes responsibility away from the student and doesn’t require them to reflect deeply on their own performance. Below are a few thoughts I have had for tools and strategies I could use to address this. All of the options below encourage students to reflect on their own work and provide some simple data to indicate areas that need to be addressed in future lessons or activities.

One simple idea, which isn’t a huge transformation but is a step in the right direction, is to create a Google Form (or use a similar tool such as Survey Monkey) that lists all of the strengths and weaknesses that I have noted. Students could then go through and tick their ‘top three’ from each list. This gets students to reflect on both their strengths and weaknesses and at the end would automatically provide a graph that would allow us to identify the most common issues.

I could also use Google Forms, in conjunction with Wordle, to take things a step further. I could provide fields in a Google Form for each student to write one paragraph reflecting on their strengths and one paragraph on their weaknesses. Once finished, I could import all of the strengths into Wordle to create a ‘word cloud’, then repeat for the weaknesses. Because Wordle sets the size of words based on their frequency, this would provide a simple visual indication of the most commonly identified ideas. The reason I would separate strengths and weaknesses is to help with interpreting the ‘cloud’. For example, if you did them both together, the word ‘structure’ written large could indicate that half the students did well on this and half did poorly but there would be no way to know.

Another great tool that could be used for this task is Wall Wisher. I like to think of this web app as a digital version of sticky notes. Students could put their personal strengths and weaknesses on our ‘wall’. As a class we could then find trends and group the comments based on them. This would provide a simple indication of the most commonly occurring issues but would also allow us to read through individual posts to see the diversity of ways students have discussed those similar ideas.

Of course, whichever method is used, the important thing is what you actually do with the data that is generated, but I’m keen to know what other people think of these initial ideas. Have you done something similar? Are these useful strategies? How could they be improved? Is there still too much focus on one-size-fits-all teaching or does this allow for differentiated learning? Please post comments below.

My First Virtual Unit

I’ve been really interested in blended learning and virtual courses since doing the ‘Blended Learning Boot Camp‘ with Sylvia Guidara in 2011. Well, I got a crash course in it when I discovered I would lose three-quarters of my lessons with my Year 10 English class leading up to our first major assessment task!

So, here was the situation: In two weeks time, my students needed to present, in groups, a close analysis of key scenes from the film we had been studying. This was an essential component of the unit of work before sitting mid-year exams. Without it, they would have only watched the film and had some general discussions: not much depth there!

Right before we launched into this section of the course, I received an email reminding me to check the school calendar for upcoming excursions. When I did- Shock! Horror! Of the eight lessons I was meant to have with my students, they were out on excursions for six! I entered panic mode, cried a little bit, then got to work.

I had to teach the course but I wouldn’t be seeing my students: the perfect time to dip my toe into online courses for the first time.

Before students began preparing their presentations, they needed to gain a deeper understanding of the main themes of the film. I would have liked to get students to brainstorm the themes themselves, but in an effort to keep things (relatively) simple, I provided the list myself. I used VoiceThread to create a very simple slideshow. I thought this was a good option to replace what would otherwise have primarily been a class discussion.

VoiceThread Screen GrabI included a video introduction where I explained the task and why analysing themes is important. Each subsequent slide was simply the theme written in nice big letters, allowing the students to add comments for each one discussing how they were reflected through characters, film techniques, plot points etc. They were also encouraged to reply to each others’ comments. In this way, we moved our discussion out of the classroom and into the cloud. It could happen asynchronously and students could review it later as they prepared their presentations or even to revise for the exam.

Some good comments were uploaded, but overall this activity wasn’t entirely successful. This was largely because it was organised in such a rush. Students weren’t given any specific training or advice on how to use the program, or what constitutes a good comment, and there was very little ‘back and forth’. More time and direction could have helped with this. In hindsight, a simpler web forum would have been more familiar and encouraged ongoing discussion.

After this, we got to have one of our face-to-face lessons! We summarised some of the discussion surrounding the themes, then I got students into small groups and they chose scenes to analyse. I got a member of each group to set up a Google Doc and share it with their partner and me. And… the period ended and they were off on their own again.

I think Google Docs is a fantastic tool for collaboration and I have always found that students warm to it quickly. Each group was able to organise times after school when they would all go online and edit the one document in realtime. I was also able to check out their progress and track who was doing what by viewing the revision history. It was fantastic for me to see how students’ ideas progressed and how they responded to each other. Check out the image below: the names have been blanked out but the colouring indicates how students built on each others’ ideas. I got more of an insight into how the students participated and collaborated through this method than I would have in a classroom, where my attention is always occupied. I was also able to add comments throughout the week to guide students throughout the process.

Google Docs Revision History is a great way to see how collaborators develop ideas.

Google Docs Revision History is a great way to see how collaborators develop ideas.

It wasn’t an ideal situation, and the success of the unit was mixed, but it was a good experience and I would do it again.

The main issues that need to be addressed are student motivation and tech training (digital natives – bah!). For students who weren’t intrinsically motivated by the task, there was no scope for me to push them along (a whole issue in itself). I gave students clear deadlines and instructions but I would also need to allow time, perhaps during lunch, for recalcitrant students to complete the task.

Reflections on the EduTech K-12 Conference

Last week I was in Sydney attending the EduTech K-12 Conference.

It was a fantastic event with some big-time international speakers (Alan November, Stephen Heppell, Sir Ken Robinson) as well as some great local talent.

What stood out to me was that, even though this was meant to be a technology conference, there was very little discussion of technology! The most insightful, challenging, and exciting points were about transforming the underlying pedagogy in schools. There was usually some discussion of how technology could be used as a tool to facilitate this, but the clear focus was on the need to completely rethink the way we ‘do school’.

It is daunting to think that all of my experiences as a student and teacher have been based on an outdated, industrial-aged model. On the other hand, it’s exciting to begin thinking about what the future (hopefully the near-future) might bring.

Some key concepts I want to focus on are flipped classrooms, peer-based learning, project-based learning, blended learning, and student-directed learning. I will need to investigate all of these concepts more, so stay tuned for further reflections as I begin preparing and implementing these practices.

One speaker (a very engaging teacher named Dan Haesler) encouraged us to think about what we would implement tomorrow. I thought total transformation couldn’t (shouldn’t) happen overnight, so instead I chose one simple strategy that I could start employing straight away. To encourage students to take ownership of their learning, and to think more deeply about course content, I have stopped answering questions. I will only respond with more questions, or add additional information (I got this idea from Alan November’s presentation). The questions are designed to allow students to reach their own conclusions and find the answers for themselves. In the few days since returning I’m already finding that it’s having an immediate impact on student’s levels of processing. I think there is a cultural problem in our school (and specifically in my classroom) where we spoon feed our students too much. It’s encouraging to see how quickly they respond to this sort of technique. It’s a baby step, but one that moves me in the right direction.

It was fantastic to go away for three days and immerse myself in these topics. I was accompanied by one colleague and several members of Independent Schools Victoria, and one of the most rewarding parts of the experience was to be able to focus, as a group, on some of these deep issues. We don’t often get time to catch our breath during the school year, so I thoroughly recommend taking advantage of these sorts of opportunities. We’ve returned to school buzzing with energy and discussions about what we’ve learnt have been spreading throughout the school.


Welcome to the Journey!

Welcome to the 21st Century!
We’re one-eighth of the way in but, if you’re working in the education system, you may not have noticed.

This year, the school where I teach Media and English has also given me the role of eLearning Coordinator. Generally speaking, it’s my job to ensure that we are doing our best to prepare our students to operate in the digital age. Already it’s evident to me that our fairly traditional teaching styles and structures are not going to cut it. We need to transform.

This blog is partly a chance for me to track my own journey but I hope to provide some useful reflections and resources for other educators who are working towards similar goals. I hope one day it may serve as a guide to others, as they will be able to see the steps taken as I move from a traditional model of teaching and learning, to one that is transformed and innovative.

The end goal isn’t clearly defined, and the process to get there is a mystery, but this side of the new millenium, that’s no reason why I shouldn’t share the journey with the world!