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.
What are some considerations when implementing virtual course work?
- Consider Virtual Norms.
- Consider organizing staggered due dates by subject area to avoid concentrations of assignments being due at the same time. For example, math subjects are assigned Tuesday and Thursday, social studies subjects have Monday and Wednesday.
- Close the distance between students and teachers by using a collaboration and communication tool like Slack, Skype, or Google Hangouts to connect your students and teachers when they are not in the same room. Zoom is another free option for video conferences and supports up to 100 participants. Regular one-on-one or small group check-ins ensure students feel connected to the teacher and the learning.
- Set a standard for how many minutes students should be engaged in course work per week (i.e. 200 minutes per course per week). Audit coursework to confirm it is appropriate paced for the time allotted.
- For at-risk students who may benefit from teacher interaction:
- Establish recurring 1-on-1 or small group Zoom or Skype video meetings between teachers and students (and parents, if possible) that need extra support.
- Knowing that students may lack a safe and stable place to study at home, (and that this is a scary situation for many of them) incorporate mindfulness techniques throughout your daily schedule.
- Be flexible with when and how students demonstrate their learning
- IMPORTANT: Even though technology seems ubiquitous, it's important to remember that not all students have computers or internet access at home. Leveraging online coursework can unintentionally lead to inequities in learning opportunities. Strategies need to be in place to identify those students that do not have adequate access to technology and provide either access to technology or alternative ways for student to access course materials and complete assignments.
Echo features that support virtual and blended learning
Echo is a robust LMS fully capable of supporting virtual and blended learning experiences. If your 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.
- 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.
Resources for implementing virtual and blended learning
A lot of attention has been given to virtual learning over the past decade.
- Handy poster from ASU on best practices (share this with your teachers)
- Teacher’s Guide To Online Learning (Michigan Virtual)
- Best Practices For Teaching Online (ASU)
- 10 Best Practices To Be An Effective Online Teacher
- 101 Tips To Motivate The Virtual Learner
- How Students Develop Online Learning Skills
- Strategies For Virtual Learning Implementation (for larger school/district approaches)
Digital tools for virtual and blended learning:
Here are a few other online tools that you may also find valuable:
PebbleGo by Capstone: informational articles, activities, and literacy supports for students of all abilities (free trial for the next few weeks)
Brainpopjr: has quick videos with built in check for understanding
ABC Mouse: preschool- free for the next few weeks
Edpuzzle: Allows teachers to create interactive video lessons; take any videos and embed voice notes, questions, etc
Espark: automatically differentiates for your K-5 students based on their current needs, giving them targeted instruction in reading and math.
Epic: Instantly access ebooks, learning videos and quizzez for k-5
Prodigy: Math Games
Scholastic Learn at Home: made free and has good daily lessons by grade level
Overdrive: to check out ebooks from our local library
recommended: assignments are about an hour spread out over the day in 15 min intervals.
Edpuzzle: Allows teachers to create interactive video lessons; take any videos and embed voicenotes, questions, etc.
Kami: Allows users to annotate .pdf and other documents in real time in support of collaboration.
Newsela: A database of current events tailor-made for classroom use.
Zoom: Feature rich video conferencing tool for organizations. Also has a free option for individuals that allows you to host up to 100 individuals.
Overdrive: to check out ebooks from our local library
Screencastify- Google plug-in. They just extended the length of time that you can create a screencast video past 5 mins. GREAT tool for showcasing Echo, a set of slides or any website or navigating a tool while talking.