Tech Tuesday #6: TCEA Reflections–Doing Blended Learning Right

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What happens when a Georgia girl gets flown to Austin to present at conference where the goal is to keep it weird? Let’s just I fit right in, except for the fact that sweet tea was a hidden treasure I had a hard time finding. But I didn’t mind having to navigate the loss of my favorite drink, as long as I got to share my love of OneNote and gamification. My passion for gaming the classroom first hit me when I was reviewing resources from a Georgia technology conference. Having just left the classroom about four years ago to work for technology in the district office, I’m still very much aware of teachers’ struggles to get their students to be motivated and turn in work. The concepts of badging, leveling up, and missions seemed to be what I was looking for, and what I would love to share with teachers. At this conference in Texas, I decided to give my gaming brain a break and follow a couple different tracks: blended learning and using an LMS with little ones. Thus, my overview below will not cover every session I attended but those where I got valuable information related to those two topics.

On the blended learning track, my first session was “Blended Learning for Elementary” on Tuesday morning. Because I’m from a Microsoft-using district, and many of these sessions focus on Google tools, I always go in with the mindset that I will need to adapt. In this session, I certain received several insights on what I could adapt. As teachers are sharing Office Mixes with students, they can use their LMSs to deliver either a Word online or PowerPoint cloze-style online recording sheet for students to take notes and make sure they got everything out of the video. I also thought of ways to use the new Microsoft Whiteboard app for students to do collaborative brainstorming; now all it needs is an embed feature, so students can access the web version without having to download an app. Later that morning, I went to a session on “Hacking Canvas,” hoping to learn even more ways to make our district’s chosen LMS do more. In this session, I was reminded how much I like Thinglink for its linkable hotspot capabilities. The session leader gave us the idea of using a Thinglink image to give a classroom tour with a reminder of procedures that happen in each area of the room. Because these enhanced images embed beautifully in Canvas, I want to show them to teachers for a way to bring even more capability to blended learning.  A Wednesday workshop continued my thought process about the pedagogy behind the tools with blended learning. Using different types of hammers, the workshop facilitators showed us that a good tool is not always the right tool. Different types of blended learning should be used when they work, not all the time. They emphasized the tendency of many teachers to fall back on old habits, even with new technology, and reminded us that an LMS should not be just a filing cabinet, but a place where the resources truly are interactive. They reminded me of the true definition of blended learning; students have at least partial control over time, place, path, and pace in which their learning takes place. My final blended learning workshop, which was later on Wednesday afternoon, added these tips to my well-rounded exposure to this topic. These presenters emphasized the need for student engagement; their workshop itself relied on a “BLT” theme to get our attention, which stood for Blended Learning Toolkit, and even involved the presenters wearing themed shirts. They showed us how hyperdocs could be engaging but still meet academic content. They also suggested having students create memes to summarize reading pieces. Finally, they showed through their examples that a teacher should always plan two different activities or articles for each standard students are to learn. This tour blended learning certainly broadened my horizons, and I look forward to being able to share with teachers as I model strong blended learning in my own trainings.

My second path for the conference was bent on trying to find ideas for engaging young learners, and thus their teachers, in using our Canvas LMS more effectively. Though I did get some ideas, which I will share momentarily, other interaction came with fellow attendees in person and on social media. One such interaction came when a group I met in a session shared that they were having the same trouble as me getting their K-2 teachers from Seesaw into the Canvas LMS. I was able to share information with them to help students do work in Seesaw but then submit it and share with parents in one place, Canvas. Also during the conference, a podcast episode I recorded with a first-grade teacher got a tremendous number of retweets and listens. That fact prompted another trainer to reach out to me on Twitter for some inspiration on getting more use for the LMS with his K-2 teachers as well; nothing but positive can come out of organic interactions and brainstorming sessions like those. As far as more formal sessions, I went to one on Tuesday morning called “Canvas for Littles.” In that session, I was reminded that by organizing our materials well in the LMS, we are “buying time back” to work with students. The facilitators told us that anything that takes students more than three clicks to access is too much. I was inspired to think about how I can simplify the workflows I’m asking teachers to try with their students to limit students’ and thus, their own, frustrations with putting work in the LMS for little ones. As far as practical ideas, I saw that Padlet embeds right into Canvas for students to use without going out of the LMS. Also, although the example was with Google Docs, I saw a drag-and-drop flower label worksheet that would be cool to share with students. The two presenters were both instructional technology specialists like myself; they reminded me that my making a resource to share accomplishes two things: it inspires my teachers to create the next one, and it helps me build up a repository of resources I can with teachers in the future. Everything I learned along this “littles” track may not have been new, but I was fired up afresh to get my teachers and young students using Canvas even more.

Technology conferences aren’t just conferences. Perhaps the best part of any conference is the congeniality that develops among new friends who find common areas of interest, all looking for solutions to help their kids do more. TCEA was that for me. Though I mostly teach adults nowadays, the excitement of my new friend and roommate attending the conference was tremendous. The travel program for MIE Experts should continue to be a valuable resource that educators like me can access to find renewal, ideas, and an outlet to show the great things about Microsoft tools to a larger teaching community.

Want to see my top ten tips for doing blended learning right? Watch this video from my weekly Facebook Live session, happening every Tuesday at 8:00 PM EST right here.