As a teacher of high school English, it is imperative that I empower my students to educate themselves and to become active participants in their own learning.
Blended learning affords me this opportunity in an enriching and valuable fashion. Students in my classes get first-hand opportunities to share what they learn in class with not only myself and their classmates, but they also participate in online communities that allow them to share their knowledge and skills with real writers and authors.
For years, the Internet has been like a library of information to be obtained, and it’s been rewarding to be able to allow students to access vast amounts of information online to augment their learning through research for the sake of the grade in class.
Now, however, blending the learning of what once took place only in the classroom using exciting new web tools that allow students to interact within the site they are visiting–that is really empowerment for the students! It’s one thing to allow students online to view a podcast or a You Tube video; it’s quite another gift for the students to be able to produce content and share it with others.
Becoming a twenty-first century learner requires teachers to take students beyond the everyday classroom lessons into websites that allow students to practice what we preach.
I use four particular websites for blended learning: Helium, Ning, Google Docs, and Glogster. In addition to those established sites, our school’s virtual learning environment emerges, this year, from its grassroots origins at Wetpaint into a promising e-portfolio site for our students to create and maintain their own little niche in blended communities of peers and mentors. To top it off, we can be followed at Facebook and Twitter, too.
A Real Writing Community
Writers at Helium have to be at least thirteen years of age, so it’s perfect for my sixteen- and seventeen-year-old sophomores. My students have to create their own accounts when they join and are instructed to keep their profiles and biographies professionally sound. As part of their writing program that prepares them for the state writing assessment, student will write most of their essays at the writing website. They will be held to the same strict guidelines of real writers, and they will–with every essay submitted–check a box that states their work is completely original and without plagiarism. Aside from the blended learning component, this watchdog feature of Helium is very appealing to me; it forces students to acknowledge their awareness and acceptance of the consequences of plagiaristic activity. This is our first year at Helium and both myself and the students are very excited about the potential of this writing site.
Online Discussion Board
The place that takes the place of sitting in a cave of unspoken thoughts (sure, they call it a classroom!). Any website that touts forums and blogging widgets will do for the purpose of maintaining an online discussion board, but I prefer Ning for its friendly prepared widgets. At our Ning website, students set up and maintain their own profile pages and use the site for its forum discussions where they can post and reply freely to discussion related to the lessons from class. Students are encouraged to start their own discussions based on questions and topics that don’t arise in class where we are restricted by time and are susceptible to their overwhelming fears of discussing in front of others face to face. This is my second year using an online discussion board, and I know it will be a rewarding experience for my students. Last year’s sophomore class wrote more than two hundred blogs and started innumerable discussions. To date, this year’s sophomores have already, in one week, posted over eighty blogs!
Not All Students Can Afford Flash Drives
With Google Docs, students don’t need to fret about making the morning deadline for homework submissions at our campus. No need to remember the easily forgotten flash drive either. Anyone can benefit from using online document storage sites that allow the user to produce a plethora of content, which can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection. I prefer Google Docs for its familiar format and universal access. Students will produce most of their homework in their Google Docs account and be able to share with me, other students, and/or both. This is our first year; my expectations are hopeful!
Excellent Site for Online Posters and Projects
Glogster is my favorite blended learning site! Students (and the teacher, when he gets the time!) get to produce rich, vibrant, connected, linkable, multimedia online posters that fit any project guideline. Glogster is a godsend for those who are inclined to using classroom time for pen and paper assignments only. Bringing stacks of sundry magazines, scissors, and glue has never been a favorite activity for me as a teacher; it’s just a mess and usually a waste of time, given all the content we must cover and learn.
Glogster eliminates the need for extra materials piling up in an already-cluttered classroom. Students who are inclined to kinesthetic learning styles thoroughly enjoy Glogster’s poster format. Glogster reigns supreme among these multi-faceted blended learning opportunities that make homework a strangely enjoyable activity now.
This Goes Without Saying (Or Does it?)
In any online extension of the classroom, it’s imperative to remind the students that these sites are virtual classrooms and must abide by the guidelines and codes of the respective school sites. Students must take an active part in protecting themselves from not only cyber strangers but also from their own propensity to share inappropriate information.
The Virtual Learning Consultant
North Carolina Virtual Public Schools