Tag Archives: Edublogs

Flip Your PD for Extra Flexibility & Support

This post is reblogged from the original at PLP Voices.

backflip-250One of the most popular topics in education today is the Flipped Classroom, a model in which teachers send their students home with a lesson (usually in the form of a video) and then engage in exercises and practice in the classroom after the fact. It has many advantages, namely getting the basic nuances out of the way and working on projects and problems with the teacher in the room.

This year at my school, I’ve been inspired by this model to flip our tech-related professional development.

Videos usually work best

When I flip my educational technology workshops and staff events, I use a variety of tools –primarily screencasts, instructional videos, and some step by step how-to lists. I’ve generally found providing videos to be most successful.

There are a myriad of tools available for recording video on screen (I love Camtasia and Snagitby Techsmith for capturing directly from the screen; if I want to do an iPad video I use them in conjunction with AirServer). I keep videos brief (no more than 4 minutes, ideally 2-3) and always strictly on topic. I also clearly label them so that a teacher can find exactly what they’re looking for quickly. My motivation in providing a flipped environment is to provide educators with greater flexibility in their own learning and just enough support after the fact.

The general flipped model directs you to provide the lesson in advance and then work out the problems in the classroom. However, I have found that you should flip appropriately for the context of your professional development. I have found success in a variety of Flipped PD methods using several different models. Here are some techniques that have worked for me.

Flipping in Advance

Teachers are exceptionally busy, especially during the school year. I flip in advance only when I’m presenting a quick and easy-to-follow task for them to accomplish. For example, if I am leading a professional development session on Google Drive, I will, in advance, have them login, accept the terms of service, and set their password. As support, I provide them with a short, 2-minute video with step-by-step instructions on how to do this. This way, the focus of our training time together can be on how to use the tool rather than simply getting into the system.

By keeping the introduction short, explaining why they should do this in advance, I find that I get more buy-in from my staff. They come ready to learn and we do not have to spend a good chunk of the session getting people logged in for the first time.

Flipping After the Fact

After a professional development session, I like to provide my faculty with a series of videos that highlight what we did in the session. This is a great way for them to later return to topics they found useful, at a time when they might be most motivated to learn.

I generally keep an agenda for my training sessions and then make sure that I provide a brief video highlighting each topic. For example, in a session on Google Apps for Education I will provide brief videos on:

  • google-apps-illusHow to log into the system
  • How to personalize your account
  • How to create & share A document
  • Different share settings & what they mean
  • How to create Groups
  • How to create & share a folder
  • How to upload & share a file
  • How to download & login to the Google Drive app
  • How to upload pictures & videos using the Google Drive app

I also hold training sessions on internet resources such as Edublogs and Wikisites, and other various tools and apps that we have available on campus. I ensure that there are short, supportive videos for each of these resources that take faculty step-by-step through the training session. I have found that by doing this, teachers are more likely to continue to implement what they learned in one of my sessions – to use the tools for real purposes and continue with their own training. They are more comfortable when they can go back, in their own space, and review material they have forgotten or were confused about.

Flipping for Enhancement

Many of my faculty members are comfortable with technology or feel empowered after initial training. So, in addition to providing “review” sessions, I like to give them videos to help enhance the skills they learned with me.

For example, after a workshop on Wikispaces, I provide the teachers with a playlist highlighting the more advanced tools, such as widgets, embedding videos, and inputting a variety of multimedia. After training them on Google Drive, I will provide videos that explain how to use the research tool, how to grab the embed code from a document, and even address highly sophisticated techniques such as importing video from a smartphone, opening it on a tablet, and then importing it into another app for further modification (a concept known as app-fluency).

By providing faculty with additional tools and information that may be more challenging, they have the option to accelerate their professional development according to their comfort level and individual needs.

Flipping for Continual Support

Both my faculty and I have incredibly demanding schedules. Often, it is a challenge simply to find a time to meet to go over a concept or a tool. I find that if a faculty member asks me a quick question — “How do I add users to my class edublog — it can be faster for me to make them a short “how-to video” rather than trying to navigate our calendars for a joint meeting. They are able to get their question answered directly and quickly and both of us get to be active conservators of our time. Plus, I have a new resource to add to our video library, expanding my support throughout the community.

Concluding Thoughts

For me, flipped professional development has been highly successful when blended into a more traditional model. I can hold workshops, training sessions and other professional development activities in person with my faculty and continue to support them outside of that face-to-face environment.

Flipping PD has allowed me to make my training more efficient from the get-go, provide continuous support, and allow everyone flexibility with their schedules. It’s now a proven model that I will continue to use; its success has been greater than any previous training experience I have provided.

Interactive Imagery: Blogging with Students & Thinglink

My school uses edubologs as our primary blogging platform. Just a month ago, they announced a massive upgrade that, much to my eagerness, included activation of the Thinglink widget. Thinglink is an online tool that allows you to create dynamic, embedded images out of your own images. As such, you can take a stagnant image and create a dynamic, multimodal project.

We are finishing up the American Civil War in my U.S. History Class. The Civil War was the first, broadly documented war in American History. There are repositories of tens of thousands of images through the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and various other private and public institutions. Thus… my students had a project. They were assigned to find a meaningful image (not necessarily of a famous individual or event, but an image that had purpose) and to expand upon that image using multi-media. The image must be properly cited and and license-free (if you would like to learn more about finding license-free images for your classes, see my post: “Find Free and Legal Images for your Classroom“).

They then had to post this image on our class blog along with a brief paragraph highlighting why they chose this image as well as demonstrate critical assessment and thought in curating content to embed. In other words, don’t just throw together a bunch of links on an image. This allowed students to explore Digital Literacy in conjunction with performing individualized research on the Civil War. They then presented these projects to the class.

This was an excellent, creative project for students to stretch their intellectual muscle in conjunction with a creative element. Now, unfortunately, thinglink does not work on my own blogs. However, here are some great examples of their work along with links for you to check them out!:

Railroads & Steam Engines

Civil War Amputation

Map of Civil War Events

Blogging in the Classroom

I’ve been toying for a while (a few years now) with the idea of having my students blog. There are plusses and minuses to this idea (some unique to me and others common to all educators). I’d be interested in other peoples’ considerations and thoughts.

So, why do I want my students blogging? I like the idea of collective thoughts and ideas in a single place that the class and I can access. I feel like blogging can replace homework assignments that I currently have, the traditional “answer this question or write a reflection on this idea and turn it in.” Not only is it wasteful in terms of paper, but (due to my peripatetic nature being sans classroom), it lends to more frequent “lost” assignments (I’ll put it in quotes as this is an easy claim to lob at me) and allows for very little reflection or consensus. And having them email or dropbox them to me doesn’t really solve the issue as, well, have you had 90 kids emailing you their assignments (all entitled “homework”) over a series of a few days? Trust me, it’s a nightmare – especially when you don’t have ready access to a printer.

What I would like to do is provide them a safe space where they can write up their thoughts, synopses, answers to critical questions and then respond to the work of their classmates. I feel that not only would this give them the traditional reading/writing/analysis exercise, but also give them a ‘safe’ place to learn to read and constructively critique their classmates’ work (a much needed lesson in Digital Citizenship).

So, a few potential problems, hiccups, and issues that I see for me – many educators have other speed bumps.

  • No classroom sets of computers. I’m a floating teacher and most of my rooms do not have a classroom set of computers. Out of five classrooms that I had last year, only one had a true class set.
  • Heavy filtering. My school has a heavy filtering system. I’m sure that our amazing technology administrator would be willing to work with me, but this would require a lot of work on both our ends.
  • Addressing parent concerns about their child being online. I was surprised last year that I had a few students who were not permitted online in their homes without a parent present. While I understand the parents’ motivation, this can be a problem for homework.
  • Students can only do this exercise from a stable location (home or school). A lot of our students participate in sports or extra-curriculars and (during their sports season for example) are not at home until 9 or 10pm. Homework is usually done on the go – on the bus to/from a game, in a hallway waiting for an activity to begin, and so on.
  • Student “buy in.” Believe it or not, teenagers are not always as excited about their education as I am. I find it shocking that they are not as interested in History or ancient peoples as me – I mean, it can’t mean that I’m a nerd can it? Surely not… Students don’t always ‘buy in’ (at least initially) to what we are trying to convey to them and don’t always respond to a rational argument. Shenanigans. Think of all the times you called your Biology teacher’s homework “stupid” or questioned how you would use your grasp of analogies in the real world?

So, I’ve identified a few of the potential problems and now I have plans on how to tackle them:

  • Because of the limited classroom time, most blogging activity would have to be limited to homework time. Other classroom activities, computer lab time would have to be booked well in advance. This will require a lot more planning on my part.
  • Meeting with the tech administrators and outline my exact needs.
  • Educating parents about what their children will be doing online and how their privacy will be protected (e.g. blogs set to ‘private’)
  • Limiting blogging to a regular, weekly activity that students can plan in advance – e.g. every Wednesday your blog entries on ‘xxx’ topic will be due and three meaningful responses to your classmates’ work due every Friday.
  • In terms of student ‘buy in,’ all I can do I think is explain to them what we’re doing and why and show them the products of their work. I think I need to accept that this won’t be an overnight thing.

Tools – what are the best blogging tools (hosting and writing) for students? I’ve been examining this quite a bit. Key features: multiple authorship, privacy settings, and ease-of-use.

WordPress – Clearly I like WordPress (as I host my blog here). I like that it has an iOS and Android application (even though they’re not the best). Also, the UI is excellent. Also, I can have 35 users per blog for free ($29.97 a year after that). If I set up one class per blog, this is more than enough. If I want some cross-class platform, then I can talk to my administration about the $30/year. Heck, we would spend more money printing their homework. I can also set blogs to private.

EduBlogs – I’ve played around with EduBlogs but am not the biggest fan of their UI. Still, the fact that they are entirely devoted to an educational platform helps in terms of weeding out potentially problematic blogs (considered graphic, adult, etc). They also have extensive privacy features and do not require email addresses to create a blog (key for those teachers who have students under 13). However, you do not have the management features that you find in WordPress unless you have the paid features. To see an outline of the features and cost, click here.

Blogger – As blogger is tied in with Google, there are a lot of benefits and draw-backs here. One it is tied in with your Google account. This can be an issue with privacy. However, it can also be immensely convenient in terms of tie-in with your Google Reader, YouTube account, etc. Blogger also has free Team Blogging, highly conducive to a class blog feature. Also, you can set your blog to private.

So, these are my thoughts right now in a nutshell. Still toying with it and may not implement it – or may do it with one class as an experiment…. I think that there is a lot you can do with it but there are a lot of obstacles to overcome. Right now, it’s still an idea and a toy…

Added on: Here is another great post about How to Organize a Class Blog (to help manage the logistics).