Recent Articles on Educational Technology

It’s Not (necessarily) About the Technology!

Thomas D. is the Superintendent of Student Success – Learning Technologies with the Ottawa Catholic School Board. He believes that technology should be used as a tool to help support effective teacher practice that impacts student engagement and results in student achievement.

As more of our classrooms become equipped with 21st Century tools such as interactive whiteboards, LCD projectors, document cameras, and teacher and student devices – some reflection is required.

If we accept the notion that technology does not define 21st Century teaching, then what needs to change?

Lower order skills can be taught by lecturing and using chalk on a blackboard or an overhead projector.  We need to acknowledge that the same lower order skills can be taught by lecturing using an interactive whiteboard, a laptop connected to an LCD projector, and a document camera.

Scenario A
A teacher has prepared a lesson on World War 1 using PowerPoint.  The teacher connects his/her laptop to the classroom projector and projects the PowerPoint presentation onto an interactive whiteboard for the class to copy notes.  Some students copy the notes into their notebooks, while others use their iPad/Netbook/Laptop  to copy notes into a wordprocessor.  One student logs into their online account in Evernote and syncs the notes to their home computer.

Scenario B
A teacher stands at the front of the class, and moves the overhead up and down to uncover the typed notes that were used last year to cover the same topic. Students copy the notes during class and occasionally ask the teacher to slow down since they aren’t finished copying the previous section before the notes are moved to allow space on the overhead projector for the next page.

Quiz time:  Which scenario is an example of 21st Century Learning?
Answer:     Neither!

Digital Resources

Scenario C
Students are assigned to one of five groups.  Each group represents a country.  Each group is asked to:
– assign the following roles to members of the group: President/Prime Minister, wife of a soldier, soldier, member of the clergy, radio reporter.
– prepare a 5 minute radio interview that will be Broadcast across the Country that involves each member in the group above taking part in the interview
– The interview broadcast will take place live at 9:00 a.m.
– Group 1 interview takes place in 1914, group 2 in 1915, group 3 in 1916, group 4 in 1917 and group 5 in 1918.

Scenario C will require students to learn the facts that they would have memorized in Scenario A and Scenario B,  but the activity will require analysis, synthesis, point of view and different perspectives, and will likely result in the use of multimedia tools for researching, validating, creating and presenting the resulting knowledge… not filling in the blanks with facts that have been memorized without understanding the relevant context.

The skilled 21st Century Teacher would have included learning goals and  a rubric at the beginning of the activity so that students understood how they would be assessed.  The teacher would have provided some guidance toward quality resources, and established time lines and group norms.  The 21st Century Teacher focuses on the higher order thinking skills as outlined in Bloom’s revised taxonomy.

You can read more from Thomas @ 21st Century Learning/Teaching

Combining Project-Based and Blended Learning

Brian Greenberg is a former teacher in Los Angeles Unified School District, founding principal of Leadership Public Schools — Hayward, and Chief Academic Officer of Envision Schools. He can be reached at

Don’t listen to the current education reform rhetoric: There is more than one way to educate a child. In fact, sometimes very different approaches can yield terrific results when combined together.

Readers of this blog are likely familiar with project-based learning (PBL), but may be less familiar with the notion of “blended learning.” Blended learning generally refers to incorporating online learning into traditional brick-and-mortar schools to create hybrid learning experiences for students. So how do the generally progressive ideals of PBL merge with the more reform-oriented blended learning approach? Beautifully, at least in theory.

“Blended learning generally refers to incorporating online learning into traditional brick-and-mortar schools to create hybrid learning experiences for students.”

Sal Khan of the much-acclaimed Khan Academy personifies the blended learning movement. His team’s herculean efforts to record thousands of videos, create practice problems, and build sophisticated back-end analytics are opening educators’ minds to what is possible with online learning. As with any innovation, there is a growing army of critics who accuse Khan of being just more of the same drill-and-kill pedagogy. They ask, “Where is the deep and engaging curriculum that Ted Sizer championed?” It may surprise readers to know that Sal Khan himself is an advocate of projects and hands-on learning, believing that using videos like his can free teachers’ time and energy up for richer instruction focused on higher-order skills. So if Mr. Blended Learning embraces PBL, can the PBL community embrace blended learning, too?

As the former Chief Academic Officer of Envision Schools, I experienced the beauty and power of PBL. But I also saw how PBL could sometimes create content-area gaps for students because of the focus on depth versus breadth. Few teachers can master all the challenges of teaching state standards, designing engaging projects, assessing all students along the way, and intervening effectively when students don’t master the material.

The Best of Both Worlds

But what if PBL teachers also had online resources to help students learn content and to provide better feedback on student outcomes? In this scenario, students might be learning content at home in the evenings or for some of class each day. The online learning would be highly personalized and adaptive, allowing some students to go deeper or faster and letting others go at the pace they need to ensure true mastery. This could also provide a more accurate daily picture of the content students had mastered and exactly where each student struggled. This blended learning approach can be seen in schools like Carpe DiemSF Flex Academy — and even in Envision’s own summer school pilot, being documented right now on the Blend My Learning blog.

What most of these early blended learning models are missing, however, is application of knowledge — the deep and meaningful learning that students experience when they synthesize content and apply it in novel, exciting ways. This is where great PBL comes in. I’d love to see Khan paired with awesome physics projects, for example. Complete four badges showing you’ve mastered certain content and “unlock” a project challenge. The software helps ensure you have mastered the content; the challenge lets you apply the learning and produce a beautiful piece of work.

Or flip it around: Present the challenge that engages students first and then elicit their desire to tackle the online learning. This is where the expertise of the leaders in PBL is so valuable. I’d like to see High Tech HighEnvision Schools, the Big Picture Learning, and New Tech Networkdigitize their best projects and resources and make them “student-facing.” The New Tech Network’s Echo platform and the blossoming partnership between Envision Schools and Show Evidence are two promising examples of bringing the best of PBL to a wider audience. And Khan Academy’s two million users per month demonstrate the power of the Web to spread good ideas and scale implementation.

The blended learning movement is still in its infancy and needs time to prototype, experiment, make mistakes, and figure out what works. It would benefit greatly from incorporating decades of learning from the PBL community around what engages students and leads them to producing the highest quality work. The PBL community, similarly, should embrace the power that blended learning offers.

“The technology itself is not the game changer; it is the personalization that technology affords.”

Blended learning’s greatest potential lies in the combination of immediate feedback to students, more personalized pacing, ability to make students responsible for their own learning, and ability to serve up the content when and how students are ready for it. If we can get this right, blended learning 2.0 could be a powerful way to run our schools — where the best of online learning meets the best of project-based learning. I have to believe the results for students will be powerful.

7 Stories About The Flipped Classroom

This is a very helpful and informative article on the “Flipped” or “Reversed” classroom.  It was originally posted at Emerging EdTech and written by Kelly Walsh, who is the Chief Information Officer at College of Westchester in White Plains, NY.

Informed articles and commentary on this powerful and often misunderstood concept.

The University of Wisconsin’s Stout School of Education publishes a great Tech Tips newsletter [1]. The last few issues of this newsletter have been packed with resources focused on topics near and dear to us here at EmergingEdTech, and we strongly recommend signing up [2] for this free publication. I spent a good deal of time reading and appreciating the resources shared in a recent Tech Tips newsletter focused on the concept of “the flipped classroom”. Below I have shared several of the articles listed in the newsletter, along with a few more that I searched out, and I’ve provided a little insight into each of them. Continue Reading…

Khan Academy | Watch. Practice. Learn.

The Khan Academy is an educational organization, created in 2006 by MIT graduate educator Salman Khan. With the stated mission of “providing a high quality education to anyone, anywhere”, the website supplies a free online collection of more than 2,600 micro lectures via video tutorials, stored on YouTube, teaching mathematics, history, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics and computer science.

Khan originally created the site to assist a cousin and some of her friends with math and science problems.  Over time his collection of video lectures and tutorials grew to incorporate multiple learning disciplines and to include a web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on skill level and performance.

All of the site’s resources are available to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you are a student, teacher, home-schooler, principal, adult returning to the classroom after 20 years, or a friendly alien just trying to get a leg up in earthly biology. The Khan Academy’s materials and resources are available to you completely free of charge.

The Flipped Classroom | by

Turning traditional education on it’s head! Many educators are experimenting with the idea of a Flipped Classroom model. So what is it and why is everyone talking about it?

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