Why Virtual and Blended Learning?
There are many good reasons to incorporate virtual and blended learning experiences for students. Here are a few of them:
- Blended and virtual learning experiences can push teachers to create personalized courses that are less teacher-centric and allow students to move at their own pace and spend more time on topics or subjects they struggle with.
- Virtual course work can augment learning when schools are closed due to weather or other events.
- Provide students access to electives, career preparation, or early college coursework that isn’t readily available on campus or in your community.
- Implement innovative programs such as internships, community service programs or digital portfolios.
Echo features that support virtual and blended learning
Echo is a robust LMS fully capable of supporting virtual and blended learning experiences. If teachers have been using Echo extensively to organize their classroom activities, they are more than half-way there to implement a virtual classroom. If your school has not yet been taking advantage of all the features Echo offers now might be an excellent time to expand the ways you utilize Echo. The more teachers and students use Echo’s features to manage the learning process, the easier the transition to virtual learning will be. Here are some features we think can help:
- Use folders and sub folders to organize your course so that students can easily find their resources and assignments.
- Every few days, ask the students to use Echo’s heartbeat feature to get a sense of how students are feeling about that course. This can help you identify students that need some extra attention.
- When scoring student assignments, use the video option to record yourself and your feedback. This approach can feel more personal, especially when you don’t have daily contact with students.
- Use discussion boards to encourage thoughtful dialogue between students on the subject matter. Be active in the discussion by asking probing questions and pushing lines of student inquiry.
- Have students track their learning over time using journals. Be sure to review and comment frequently to encourage students to routinely post.
- Avoid long, boring slide decks. The web is full of more engaging videos covering almost any academic topic and you can embed them right into your course. For example, you can quickly add a YouTube video to your course.
- Provide many opportunities for students to assess themselves. Use practice questions as a way for student to check their understanding of key topics. Be sure to provide resources in the course to help them master topics they are struggling with. You can even exclude the assignment from the gradebook.
- For students used to traditional daily classes, scaffold their virtual learning experience by using the daily agenda to focus their attention on what’s important. Gradually, as the student’s time management skills increase, you can shift to weekly agendas and eventually self-paced learning. Check out our guidelines for creating student-centered agendas.
- Having trouble getting your remote students to read the Echo Agendas and not just go straight to the student "to-do" list?
Here are some ways you might be able to mitigate the problem:
- Add a large "See Agenda before starting this assignment" to the activity description field as a way to push students back to the Agenda.
- Put some fun "easter eggs" into the Agenda as a reward for students who read it carefully.
- For the first couple weeks of school, create an ungraded gatekeeper assignment each day that requires the student to review the day's agenda. Use the "student marks complete" option so that students have to verify that they reviewed the agenda. Because it's a gatekeeper, students would not be able to move on in the course until it was complete. Creating it as an activity template would make it easier to add to the course each day.
- Regular communication is very important in virtual course. Use Echo's communication tools to send emails to your students. For more targeted communication, use Echo's clipboard tool to select a set of student you want to communicate with.
- Whole School: Use the School Browser Tool to view other courses' data including projects, agendas, student scores, and much more. "Our staff is using it to check in on each other's courses during this time of virtual instruction and it has elevated the conversation around what we are doing and how we are doing it. I am hopeful this will be one of the positive changes to come out of all of this, even after we return to work eventually." Steffany Batik, principal of New Tech High @ Coppell
- IMPORTANT: The Echo mobile app for iPhones/iPads is read only. That means students/parents can check grades, see agendas, etc, but they cannot create content, add text to journals, discussion boards or complete assignments. Echo is a complex website that can be used in a mobil browser, but the small screen and touch screen navigation are more problematic than when viewing a simple web site in a mobile browser. Schools should make every effort to get laptops/chromebooks in the hands of students.
Don't forget about the Echo Help Desk and useful articles for virtual learning like these: