Consolidation

My coursework in the Masters of Education program at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology has influenced my entire outlook on education. As I move forward in my career as a secondary English teacher, I continue to take on new challenges and pursue new opportunities. I have recently become the head of English at my school, which provides me with the opportunity to start implementing my vision of The Shifted Classroom. Luckily, I undertake that task armed with an understanding of change theory, thanks to EDUC5105G Technology Diffusion in Education and EDUC5203G Dynamics of Change. I also have a clear plan for implementing this vision thanks to EDUC5302G Curriculum Planning & Implementation. In that course, I developed an implementation plan which I have included here.



When considering the implementation of an innovation such as using blogging as an authentic writing task, I approach change from the perspective of the Concerns Based Adoption Model (Hall, Hord, Huiling-Austin, & Rutherford, 1987). I’m aware that this change can be threatening for many teachers because they are stuck in the personal stage of concern (How will this affect me?). They’re worried about the time it will take them to learn a new skill. They’re worried about replacing something with which they are familiar, with something they do not have mastery of. So trying to convince them to change because research shows it’s good for students is ineffective. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this issue so far is by leading professional learning sessions on blogging in low-stakes casual environment where teachers have the opportunity to play and experiment at their own pace and then decide the extent to which they may want to incorporate blogging in their own classrooms.


At the same time, I am writing curriculum for e-Learning Ontario. As I write, my decisions are informed by knowledge of instructional design, learning theories, and authentic assessment. For example, one of the concerns my team pointed out in our planning sessions was the fact that much of the content written for secondary English in the learning management system is very text heavy and focuses on the assessment and evaluation of written performance tasks. While text-based learning tools contribute to certain areas of literacy and address some of the expectations of the Ontario curriculum, they do not adequately address many of the other expectations. For example, the Ontario English curriculum is divided into four strands that must be assessed equally: Oral Communication, Reading and Literature Studies, Writing, and Media Studies.  In the content that I am writing, I am trying to incorporate more multi-modal assessment strategies that take advantage of the affordances of technology while being more accessible to students. Students make use of open source mind mapping tools and have the option to submit audio recordings of assignments. They use web-based learning tools such as Bit Strips, and Glogster to create visual representations of their learning. Combining these tools with text-based tools provides a richer variety of assessment tools.



Looking Ahead


Moving forward, I am applying constructivist and connectivist theories, my understanding of authentic assessment, and my knowledge of web-based learning tools to the effective integration of blended learning. More and more teachers in Ontario and being encouraged to use blended learning in the classroom. In my grade 11 enriched English class, we begin with specific learning goals and success criteria. I tell students what the culminating task for the unit will be and what knowledge and skills they’ll need to be able to demonstrate in order to complete the culminating task. Then students develop authentic tasks that they can complete that demonstrate that project. They work both online using our learning management system and face to face. This is an example of using problem-based learning, authentic assessment, and constructivist learning theory which mirrors the kind of learning I hoped to achieve in my vision paper (Savery, J. R., & Duffy, T. M.,1995). They will also be using the learning management system to prepare for the Advanced Placement exam that many of them are choosing to write next year. I want to continue to learn about best practices for implementing blended learning and conduct more focused research on the effectiveness of problem-based learning projects in the blended learning environment. For example, what tasks are best done online and what tasks are better done face to face? Which web-based learning tools are best for which tasks? How can social network sites facilitate collaboration in problem-based learning?


Barriers and Limitations


While I believe this vision has a great deal of potential, it is not without its limitations and barriers to implementation. First of all, there is the danger, that my vision of the Shifted Classroom could be viewed as one that simply substitutes technology for teaching strategies.


Consolidation

click the above image to see the artifact

Curriculum implementation Plan

It is very important to me that the practice of blended learning is not merely one of substitution but eventually one of redefinition (Puentedura, 2010). In order for the technology to be transformative, we cannot simply use the learning management system as a different medium for content delivery. We need to ask ourselves, what does this technology allow us to do that previous kinds of technology could not? Of course, the challenge with this lies in ensuring that teachers understand the affordances of different types of technology.


Second, the authentic assessment practices and constructivist teaching practices I advocate for tend to focus more on higher order thinking skills. These skills are ones that tend to be less “visible” and more challenging to assess. Many parents (as well as other stakeholders in education) are concerned about poor spelling, or a student’s inability to remember his or her times table, or his or her lack of knowledge of basic dates in Canadian history, to name a few examples. These are lower-order thinking skills. They require knowledge of facts that can be easily discovered in a web search or by typing digits into a calculator, but this knowledge (or lack of knowledge) is the easiest kind of information to see and assess so it is my belief that teachers, parents, and other stakeholders focus more on the skills that are visible and easy to assess than they do on the less obvious skills like problem-solving and innovation. How do we convince stakeholders that these higher-order thinking skills/21st century skills warrant more attention than knowledge and recall? How do we convince policy-makers that this is the case when creativity and innovation cannot be measured on standardized tests?


While the limitations and barriers exist, I believe this is the kind of shift today’s students need so that the affordances of 21st century technology are more accurately reflected in the kinds of work they do in their classrooms.