Open the Hybrid Learning Option
Before designing or redesigning a course to be delivered online, I recommend reading Aaron Sams and Jonathan Bergmann’s short article, “Flip Your Students’ Learning”. Flipped learning, also known as hybrid learning, refers to courses where some traditional face-to-face classroom time has been replaced by online learning activities. As Sams and Bergmann insist, the ultimate goal of a hybrid course is to make the most of in-class time and provide a more student-centered learning environment. To arrive at a balance that utilizes the best features of both face-to-face and online learning, start with the most important question, “Where in the learning cycle do your students most need you face-to-face?” (Sams & Bergmann, 2013, p. 16). Underlying this question is the fact that there is no one way to implement a flipped classroom. Hybrid learning often involves diverting time away from teacher-led direct instruction towards more face-to-face formative assessment that teachers can use to gauge individual progress and build teacher-student relationships, two things not usually accomplished through a lecture. Likewise, online content, as opposed to a one-time lecture delivered in class, serves to aid students at their convenience regardless of when or how often. Implementation, however, still depends on factors like students, subject matter, kind of material, and tasks.
With this thinking in mind, I designed the following project based learning (PBL) STEM course on Wind Power and Renewable Energy. The course was open to students in grades 6-8 enrolling from three different charter schools in the area. Class would meet weekly and students would have laptops in the classroom, but I had no prior knowledge of students’ access to devices or internet at home. Therefore, I designed content that could be easily adapted to flipping if circumstances allowed. Here are some of the critical design choices regarding tools & layout, assessment, as well as some areas for improvement.
Tools & Layout
To deliver the course material in and out of class, I chose Google Classroom as my learning management system (LMS). This decision was made with input from my program manager and mostly reflected students’ familiarity with Google apps over other LMS like Canvas. To help guide my course design, I chose to follow the best practices laid out by the Quality Matters Standards 6-12 rubric as well as the Universal Design Learning Guidelines.
An agreed upon crucial first step was to invest time in a solid Course Overview giving students a clear picture of the course objectives, teacher expectations, and class dynamics of participation and teamwork. For a PBL curriculum involving plenty of class discussion and group projects, it was critical to include rubrics for each. By reviewing these guidelines as a class, students can begin thinking about their strengths and weaknesses and set their own goals for improvement. Second, a Course Introduction screencast helps students navigate the course and can also break the ice even before the first in-person meeting.
Considering the wide middle school age-group, for each course lesson I designed a Follow Me Page to serve as a guide and include every assignment in the lesson so nothing would be missed. Follow Me pages followed a standardized format to aid students’ user experience, starting with essential questions, learning objectives, and learning goals. Rather than simply providing a list of assignment links, which would mirror the Google Classroom Classwork page, tasks are embedded as links amongst lecture prompts and questions that lead into the work. Where possible, material for direct-instruction was recorded and posted as a screencast. For example, this lecture on ecological-footprints was provided as a screencast video as well as a Prezi that students could click through at their own pace. Readings and articles were largely provided through links from Newsela, with adaptive comprehension levels, and vocabulary review was administered through Quizlet, which is ideal for self-study.
The main goal for the course is for students to know the importance of wind power in the contexts of the Earth’s environment, the energy industry, and sustainability goals. To address the UDL principle of increasing relevance and authenticity I included Oregon State’s electricity sources to show students just how relevant wind power has become. Students hopefully can feel pride knowing that Oregon is farther along in the push towards renewables than other states with its hydro and wind production, see the need to design efficient turbines, and also become open to the idea of the wind power industry as a growing employment opportunity.
One of the greatest benefits to flipping a classroom is freeing up time for more teacher-student interaction to gauge whether or not students are constructing accurate conceptual understanding. Since my course module would be taught in class, I was less restricted in my options for such assessments than a completely online course. However, some of my chosen methods of formative assessment, including discussion questions, vocabulary checks, and even observation worksheets, could be completed online asynchronously. Assigning these as out-of-class work would allow more face-to-face time for the main project of the course: designing, building, and improving a wind turbine.
During group work, I could observe and talk with students using terminology in context and check questions that would help both students and me understand their level of comprehension. These interactions also prepare students for the presentations following the design challenges in Lessons 2 and 3. The 2-4 minute team presentations help students analyze their design process and reflect on their results, not to mention share relevant successes, failures, and problem solving techniques with the rest of the class. These authentic assessments help to ensure the target knowledge, in this case understanding of air pressure, kinetic and mechanical energy, energy transfer, etc., is integrated with the project. It is, afterall, possible for students to build a windmill without reading about forms of energy, but using this information in the context of designing and problem-solving mirrors real-world experience and leads to deeper understanding.
To enhance students’ own capacity for monitoring progress, design worksheets guide data collection and reflection on aspects of their work. Just like the rubrics for participation and teamwork, a presentation rubric provides explicit reminders and tips that most middle school students would definitely benefit from. Pointing out these criteria before the presentation allows students to prepare to meet these goals and hopefully even realize their own areas for improvement before giving the presentation. This familiarity with the rubric also makes feedback more accessible to the students. By using the same presentation format and rubric multiple times throughout the course, students can become monitors of their own progress.
Changes for Next Time
As pleased as I am with the course, there are always potential changes worth addressing. My main focus is the Follow Me pages. While they turned out well and accomplish the goal of encapsulating each lesson’s direction and tasks, being Google Docs, it is not possible to embed content, like video or readings, directly onto the page. In order to provide an even better visual guide, I would explore hosting the majority of content on a website like Google Sites. Assignments could still be linked and handed in through Google Classroom for the sake of tracking participation and student privacy, but I think this alteration would maintain a more consistent flow during the lesson.
Sams, A., & Bergmann, J. (2013). Flip your students’ learning. Educational Leadership,70(6), 16-20.