OK, Blended Learning — How about Blended Teaching?

I’m a conscientious teacher. I work pretty hard to ensure that learning activities are driven foremost by learning goals, and I work pretty hard to avoid “easy-for-me; crappy-for-student” learning activities, where they spit back content in multiple choice tests. But there’s no denying that I get really tired doing it this way. And there’s no denying that I mess up from time to time. And sometimes I really long for the simplicity and clarity that quantitative, multiple-choice assessment offers in spades.

Because good pedagogy is often a pain in the butt, and doing “blended learning” without falling back on often pedagogically-light teaching methods promises to be much more work, I’m very interested in collecting, developing, and sharing the best of the best tips and tricks for doing blended learning easily.

How do we maximize the best aspects of technological integration — not only to increase learning, but to keep the administrative aspects of teaching reasonable!?

Failure Story

This semester, I had my students do peer reviews of each others’ final presentations. My thoughts were: 

  • learning to give good feedback takes practice, and some prodding. I asked them to note that the required points were covered (checklist), and add one positive and one “could improve” thing about each presentation.
  • I said I’d grade the feedback, hoping this would deepen the thoughtfulness of the comments.
  • this would also, I figured, encourage them to pay attention to each others’ presentations, so they could learn from each other.
  • and I said I’d share the comments their peers made for their presentations with them, so they didn’t just have my comments, but had each others’.
peer review

A terrible, terrible idea.

What I didn’t recognize at the time was that this tremendously increased the administrative element of the assignment for me.

  1. I  stapled the peer review sheets together, so they could fold over each review after they were done and have some sense of privacy about what they were saying, without worrying about their neighbors seeing everything. But that meant that I got back 20 packets of 20 review sheets.
  2. Collating them involved putting 4 on a copier at a time folded open to the same student, and stapling the legal sheets together.
  3. I then read through the comments for each presentation, highlighted common themes that the students noticed, and added my own thoughts and grade.
  4. To share them back with the students, I scanned each set of 5 sheets, and emailed the scans back to the students.
  5. Then I went through each of the Peer Reviewers’ packets and graded them for writing two comments (+,–). 2 points each slip, 2 points for the checklist, 40 points total. I didn’t give back the feedback slips they filled out.

So, it was a nice idea, but an awful one as far as end-of-semester workload went. A terrible idea.

Next time

peer review form-desktopWe are lucky to have Google Apps here on campus. One of the apps is Google Forms. Had I used Google forms instead of packets of paper, my students could have filled out a form like this on their laptop (right), and if they didn’t bring a laptop, it would look like this on their mobile device (below).

peer review-mobilephoto

 

And instead of collating the forms by hand, I could easily sort them in Google Spreadsheets, or send them to Excel if I preferred, and manipulate them there. 

And instead of sending the students emails of pics of photocopies of the feedback they got, I could have copy/pasted the data.

Lesson Learned

The lesson here is that technology can help us include good teaching practices that might otherwise be cumbersome — such as student peer review of presentations. And sometimes we have to fail miserably in able to figure out a better way. It wasn’t until I was hunched over the copier, holding folded packets straight that it occurred to me that Google Forms would have worked better. Now I know.

Granted, as an Education PhD, I like to try new pedagogical approaches, and sometimes I suffer in my failed attempts. And I’m okay with that because teaching, for me, is more than half about my own learning and research. As long as the students keep learning (and they seem to roll with it, for the most part, I’ll probably keep experimenting, and failing, and iterating to improve.

And I’ll keep you posted.

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