Primitive to proud

Hi again! This week, I am responding to my experiences and perceptions related to my use of blended learning and/or technology integration and the challenges and opportunities I’ve experienced.

As a student, I have grown up with some form of technology or another, although my experience probably seems so primitive compared to that of the students I teach. Throughout my undergraduate degrees, I didn’t take any online classes, although there was a class or two that required forum posts. I deliberately chose face-to-face courses because of the type of learner I am. These limited experiences meant I didn’t have much of a model for blended learning when I started my career. Having said this, with an inclusive education minor, I have used a variety of blended learning options for students throughout my career because, in my opinion, that is best practice for all types of learners. I am gaining confidence as I get more experience with using technology as a form of differentiation. Much like the ADDIE model, whenever I am planning my courses I use 2 guiding principles:
     1) how I can make this better than last time
     2) what method of delivery or assessment is going to land best with the students I am teaching right now 

I have struggled in the past with sticking to “the old school” method of teaching and going completely digital because I see colleagues of mine doing one or the other successfully. I have come to find a balance and level of comfort, while also always learning and trying something new, throughout my experience of blended learning. I try to find new apps/tech or new ways to use apps/tech I’m familiar with to incorporate into each of my courses each semester, which has allowed me to be quick to adapt or offer choice for students that require alternative methods to be assessed. For example, I used Flipgrid one semester as an experimental way for my grade 12s to respond to the literature circles and podcast we were simultaneously studying rather than presenting in class. I found their confidence was higher and their responses were more thoughtful when they had the time to prepare and record their response asynchronously. The following semester I taught a student who suffered from severe stuttering due to an acquired brain injury and they refused to speak aloud in class during discussions or to ask questions. I offered that student the Flipgrid option that I’d used the previous semester and they agreed to try it. I was absolutely floored when I watched their Flipgrid video and heard them speak flawlessly. They also began to participate in class, which as you can imagine was a HUGE win in the ripple effect of offering choice. So, by trying out a new way of assessing student engagement, I was able to unlock a method that worked for a student who was struggling to find success and confidence in the classroom. It is because of this experience that I continue to incorporate different types of technology/blended learning into each course and cater it to the students I have in my classes.  

Of course there are always challenges with using technology. Some of the most basic challenges like not being able to connect to the screen beam, students not being able to sign into Office 365, computers freezing, etc., creates tightened time constraints that are counterproductive to the efficiency this technology is supposed to create as well as the reliance classrooms now have on such technology. As much as I try to troubleshoot and offer alternatives, I often don’t have a solution to technological problems so students and I are sometimes at a standstill with how productive we can be. On a more complex level, increased blended learning has changed classroom management altogether. Phones are “parked” when they enter the classroom in order to remain focused (school policy), but we still use computers almost every day which creates a whole different distraction when they have the world at their fingertips. I physically set up my classroom to monitor this as best I can, but I have also put more accountability onto students with having more self-regulating freedom. I have also changed the dynamic of my lessons in that not everyone is doing the same thing at the same time, which is great for students, but definitely keeps me busy and on my toes.  

Ultimately, I am proud of my evolution of integrating blended learning. I definitely rely on the tech-savvy colleagues of mine for ideas and help, but I’ve got to admit I’m getting better all the time. By expanding my repertoire each semester, I am also expanding my comfort level, opportunities for students, better troubleshooting on the fly, and offering suggestions to colleagues based on my experience, among other skills. 



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