Blended learning

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The first time I heard the term blended being used in the context of teaching and learning, I was confused. By now I have gotten used to the use of this kitchen term in the educational context. In our TELL programme we apply blended learning by using both a reader and a lot of digital sources like the TELL Toolbox, Onderwijs Online, Educreations (flipped class), and many online tools for teaching and interacting during the sessions.

This year for the TELLprogramme we have been using different platforms to teach each session so we could explore these together with you in class, sharing the  experience. For us as teachers this was quite a bit of extra work, but also useful for our own teaching repertoire.

In this post I will briefly review the programmes/tools that we used. We used Power Point, Prowise, Nearpod, Educreations, Blendspace and Prezi for the presentations. We started off with good old Powerpoint, which everyone knows. The main drawback of this programme for me is the automated formatting in it, like automatic capitals and bulleted lists. I like to limit the amount of bulleted lists to a minimum, knowing this is not very brain-friendly and there are better options, so with every new slide you make you have to manipulate this. The main asset is the ease of use, which explains its popularity, of course. Its compatibility with many other (Microsoft) programmes and aplications (it can be imported in many online platforms) is also a good reason for teachers and presenters to continue to use it.

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When we prepared our other lessons our starting point was always a Powerpoint presentation, to be on the safe side and in order to share our slides with you on #OnderwijsOnline. In some cases we could simply import our slides and add other extras, like embedded videos (Nearpod), but in other cases we manually copied and pasted all text blocks from Powerpoint into the platform (Prowise). In the case of Blendspace this turned out to be unnecessary, which I only found out after I had copied and pasted all texts, hm. But this session was less theoretical, so there were less texts to be copied.

The programme that I like working with most is Prowise, since this tool enables you to use the most interaction while teaching, both intentional (planned and typed and added beforehand) and incidental (while teaching). I think it is important for any teacher to write on the board as much as possible while teaching, especially in secondary school where you do quite a lot of explaining  (grammar and vocablury). We all know how important visualising is and Mayer’s design principles also stress the importance of synchronising your speech with your visualisation; writing/drawing what you explain is the easiest and perhaps the most the effective teaching tool. The combination with your prepared visual support makes it all very complete. Prowise can do all that for you and more, which my Pabo students demonstrated during their peer teaching.presenter

One of the last programmes I explored before using it for our session was Blendspace. I first heard about it during our first TELL course two years ago, but had not used it actively myself. This year I started to collect all the relevant slides for our session and experienced how easy it is to incorporate different source material into your Blendspace lesson, but I had a hard time working out how you as participants could log in on the lesson while using it in class. In the end it did work for some, but it cost quite a bit of class time. The day after I attended the bi-annual national conference for English teachers and attended a workshop on Blendspace.

Surprisingly, the teachers who presented it, had used Blendspace for more autonomous learning and what they had done was prepare an individual learning pathway for their pupils in secondary education to improve their writing skills. Their pupils could simply use the lesson materials that their teacher had collected and organised for them on Blendspace. It was a completely different approach than we had chosen for our class. I discovered that I could actually import a Powerpoint presentation and that you can add a comment  or short description to an imported  video or image (it does not work if you use the app), quite handy! I also heard that pupils prefer shorter Blendspace sets than bigger ones with a lot of information to process and tasks to fulfill. The workshop leaders thought that about 9 ‘pages’ in one ‘lesson’ would be efficient. This means you have to split up the topic you want your pupils to study and practise into small subtopics or units, which is something that we know from a flipped lesson as well. Again, Mayer’s design principles lurk around the corner. I leave you to figure out for yourself which one is relevant here, since the interactive exam for this course already takes place tomorrow. Always the teacher, right?

Educreations is the programme that my colleague used to record the flipped lesson. This programme works best on your tablet and you can simly ‘teach’ your lesson by embedding your Power point slides and record your lecture. In class we already discussed the fact that flipping only works if the learners are willing to watch the clip, just like they should be willing to do their homework basically. Some people prefer a programme like Moovly for a flipped lesson, so that you can actually watch the speaker. The most important for both types of flipped lesson is that the visual information is presented following Mayer’s design principles.

The last platform we used was Prezi, which is quite an old programme. According to my account information, I first started using his programme in 2011.  In the beginning I really liked working with Prezi. It was new, different, visually attractive and you were in control of the complete lay-out of your presentation. Unfortunately the programme has evolved into a more ready-made tool suggesting templates for your presentation or lesson. You can still design your slides from scratch though, but for the sake of the experiment, I have used a template which reminded me of technology fir this session. The nice thing about a Prezi still is that you can easily share and use presentations. What is also practical is that you can prepare and design your lesson on your mobile device by means of the app.    Personally, I only use a Prezi if I ‘see’ my presentation or lesson as a sort of model, like a logical order or mindmap.

We hope we have inspired you to try out different teaching platforms yourselves and perhaps you like to write a blog post about the different options you have seen us work with in class? In what do you use the interactive whiteboard while teaching and how TELL proof is that?

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