New Year’s Resolution…Blended Style Part One

It’s that time of year again. People are thinking, writing and posting about their New Year’s resolutions. I have never really been a fan of this practice. Usually I just get mad that “my” normal machine at the gym is now occupied by someone who has made a resolution and who will most likely not be on that machine in about four weeks. Sometimes less. However, I like the idea of resolutions and think they can be done throughout the year. Reflect on the past and focus on something that you would like to improve. Those improvements often fall under categories like health and fitness, happiness, or education. Over the next few weeks, I will be posting about blended opportunities that may find their way into your resolutions this year…whenever you may begin them.

Starting with the logic behind how to still be that person who has “stolen my machine” at the gym after four weeks. This January, HarvardX will be offering a MOOC called “Unlocking the Immunity to Change: A New Approach to Personal Improvement.” If trying a MOOC is on your resolution list, perhaps you should start with this one. Not only will you experience the way a MOOC functions, but you may learn how to succeed in additional MOOCs (which is really hard) or your other resolutions by using the skills learned via this course. My colleague @sfieldnewtech loves Robert Kegan and swears it will be great content. Based on this short introduction video, she is probably correct. Step one in sticking to a resolution is to actually change a behavior. This blended course might be just the trick to help you succeed.


Blending Your Learning

I have been at this blogging bit for just about a month and realize that I have yet to contribute to the section called Blending Your Learning and Life. Now that schools are winding down for a winter break, it seems like a good opportunity to add some stuff in there. But where to begin?

Having done my Master’s in Instructional Technology and an additional certification in eLearning design all online, that could be a good place to start and definitely includes the learning part. But perhaps a more interesting approach is to think about the last 72 hours. What have I done that I consider to be blending my life? More than one would think in a weekend.

1. Blended Meditation

This fall, a group of my colleagues and I did an online book club using Mindfulness. Along with the book come a series of online meditations that I can go back to whenever I need to. And this weekend, I chose to revisit them. Online mediation in the comfort of my own home. Love it.

2. Wrap and Turn knitting tutorial

Texas cannot decide what season it is in. Winter is colder this year than the past two that I have been here with 20s and 30s making an appearance in the same week as the 70s and 80s. This has caused a shopping debacle. There are no hats or gloves in Texas. And this momma lost his only hat in one of three airports on our trip last week. Which means emergency knitting must take place given that the forecast for Michigan this week looks like this.

Kid needs a hat for this!
Kid needs a hat for this!

I found the best pattern and cast on last night. But couldn’t remember how to do a specific stitch, so off to You Tube I went. Bam! Learned it and already have more than half the hat done.

3. 12 Days of Christmas Fitness Challenge

One of our school development coaches @SarahLeiker is a big CrossFitter. And like to organize our staff health challenges. We are currently in the 12 Days of Christmas challenge. She sends workouts; I do them, and then post my time in a Google Form. Fitness via the internet with accountability. Goes along well with the other fitness I do in my….

4. …Virtual Boot Camp

My post postpartum trainer does these every 8 weeks. More upcoming information on this soon! She not only does the workouts, with video, but also includes a private Facebook group where we can encourage each other, offer support, and receive feedback or have questions answered.

5. Nia Teacher Materials

Apparently this was a blended fitness weekend because I also participated in some online education webinars about Nia, of which I am a white belt. I accessed some of the teacher materials for the new routines I am learning. So excited about it 🙂

6. Skyping with Grandparents

This could be cheating as it wasn’t really my learning, but my parents seeing Wee Man and watching him as he is trying to walk. But we did have a video call, so I am counting it.

7. Twitter Fun

It’s my PLN and it had all sorts of good stuff this weekend. I even shared my excitement over some of the tweets with our Online Community Manager, @TheresaShafer.

8. MOOC Participation (again)

I am continuing my learning about badges and went back into the course I was taking to review some of the resources for research. I love that I can access the course materials even though it finished in October.

Eight examples of how I blended my learning and mostly my life over the weekend. Personalized to what I needed and wanted to learn, all with easily accessible materials and a human to help me if I need it. Now that’s what I call blended.

What blended learning have you done lately?

You CAN Hear Me Now

Earlier this week, I posted about video tools that are great for online collaboration. Now here are two that I really like for voice collaboration and feedback. In online and blended courses, it is really hard to give written feedback to students in great detail, especially if the class is large. Sometimes I think classroom teachers don’t realize just how often those small, simple interactions with a student in class make a difference. Until I tried to communicate only online in mostly asynchronous interactions did I realize just how important clear, detailed, specific feedback is…and how time consuming it is if done well.

Enter a few tools that can make life a bit easier, more interactive, and are more efficient by using your voice, instead of writing all the time.

Why I like it: One of our Digital Learning facilitators (@arringham) has 90+ kiddos in his online PBL astronomy class and uses this tool quickly to give oral feedback, directions, messages, and clarification about concepts to his learners. It is easy to record your voice in the tool or upload your file from the computer/ Then simply share with a URL link. Easy peasy. You can also embed it in a website if you’d like in the event you have one for your class.

Drawbacks: It is still in Beta. And it is not a permanent storage space, so you just have to remember to download really important messages if you want them. The message won’t be there forever.

Why I like it: Many educators use this tool already. But why I like it for blended and online classes is that it can supplement any class discussion, allow for collaboration via video and/or voice, and give faces and voices to the learners in your class that you may never get to see face to face. Upload files, comment on them, leave feedback, or present final products of projects all in one tool.

Drawbacks: The free version doesn’t get you much. This is one instance where I think it is actually worth the money to get the educator license. It also takes a little training of your users to understand how to use the tool to its full capability, but then you are good to go.

Video Collaboration

Online collaboration. There’s a challenge. It’s hard for adults. It’s hard for kiddos. While people seem to embrace text collaboration fairly easily through tools like Google Docs, trying to share and edit video just gets tricky. There are the inevitable technology challenges of compatibility (news flash to the computer geniuses of the world: this educator would greatly appreciate if you all could just get along) from machine to machine, internet connections and speed for uploading or downloading video, firewalls for viewing video….and that is all before it even shows up on your screen!

So which tools have I found useful for collaborating via video? Here are two that seem to work well, despite the challenges above:

Why I like it: It allows for collaborative video sharing and editing which works great for group projects. It supports a large variety of file types and videos can be posted to many different sharing spaces. This allows for collaborative video making, regardless of location and technology type. No more uploading to somewhere, downloading files, maybe converting, editing, and re-uploading to share again.

Drawbacks: The free account is good for one, maybe two projects. Think about your frequency of use and if it might be worth it to you to get a paid account. It is supposed to integrate with Google Drive, which is great, but it seems buggy. The learning curve on this one is a little higher than I would like.

Why I like it: The teacher can have 90 second videos in a flip book format where students can respond to a variety of prompts. The possibilities here are endless. It’s free and it allows each user to post their point of view. I love this for face to face, blended, and online courses. It just adds that personal touch to a response. I can see all my learners. And they can see each other. So awesome.

Drawbacks: You can create four grids with one login, so I think that is pretty great, but some might consider that a draw back.

What tools do you like for online video collaboration?

Would You Like Cake With That?

This weekend Wee Man turned one. Most families throw a birthday party with relatives and friends. But given that we don’t live near our family, we opted for a virtual birthday party. There’s a first time for everything.

How many devices does it take?
How many devices does it take?

In our family, the answer to the caption is four. Yes, four devices for two sets of grandparents, three sets of aunts and uncles, and three cousins. One iPad on Skype using our son’s login, one iPad on FaceTime, and two different computers using my Skype login as well as my husbands. All to watch our one year old end up covered in frosting.

Would you like cake with that?
Would you like cake with that?

My brother, who is in the tech industry and works from home (or airplanes or hotel rooms) pointed out the obvious – Haven’t you ever heard of a Google hangout? Well, yes. To which I replied, “It’s not about me, but about the people on the other end.” Sure, it would have been easier on us to make it a Google hangout, but not necessarily on the grandparents who have trouble making a folder to save their documents or the uncle who had to set up a webcam to even participate. New technology seems to overwhelm my family members sometimes. Not only did we want people to be able to attend our blended birthday party, but we wanted them to enjoy it. Birthday party lesson number one: That meant no new tools just for the sake of using a new tool.

I think that is a lesson to be learned in any virtual or blended environment. Just because there is a tool out there that might be shiny and new doesn’t mean you have to use it. Select the tool that is going to meet your objectives and lower the technology barrier for your audience. Even if that means you allow for differentiation of end products. With my family, I didn’t care which tool they used, just that they got the experience of watching Wee Man eat cake. Birthday party lesson number two: Virtual differentiation might mean letting the user choose their technology and you control less.

The virtual birthday party was a success since our two objectives were met. But it got me thinking about other ways to use the technology in a classroom. In Project Based Learning, we often talk about having an authentic context for your project. But this can be incredibly challenging to find experts or an audience in your community for some projects. That doesn’t mean we can’t virtually bring them in from other locations. Use your personal network of people and see what connections you already have that can be virtual experts. Do it as a staff and compile all of your contacts into one place and draw form that. Have students present to a virtual panel. Birthday party lesson number three: Be creative with your resources and think of virtual panels as a real possibility.

Finally, the birthday party reinforced for me what is often a challenge in online classes. People want to see one another and be present for events, even when separated by distance. Wee Man had an instant community that wanted to be there. What kind of opportunities are you creating for virtual parties in your online classes? How are you getting your students together just to see each other or have some fun? What does that look like in your virtual work environment? Birthday party lesson number four: Building community is challenging and fantastic for those who want to participate. So throw a party and see what happens.