I can make videos. I can teach. At some point, I realized I could teach in a video. This is blended learning.
I’ve been blending my courses at both University of La Verne at at Azusa Pacific University for a while. At first, my videos were created from necessity. At ULV, we meet weekly for five hours. That’s a long time. My lectures were dense with information, and had little interaction. So, I flipped my courses whenever I had a long lecture–students watch my lecture at home and take notes, and then we spend more time in class on activities and discussion. This is a much better use of class time. Students appreciate the flexibility, and I appreciate more discussion and less lecturing.
At APU, summer courses have a strange schedule: we have five hour classes twice each week. Again, that’s a lot of class time. Born out of this impacted schedule, I flipped my class again. One of the meetings had lectures and activities online, and the other was entirely face-to-face. I already had a sequence for this course, so the flipped sessions ended up being arbitrary at first. Student feedback has slowly transformed this process.
As it turns out, blended learning already has a taxonomy. The Innosight Institute has published a whitepaper on blended learning trends and practices. They identify four blended learning models: Rotation model, Flex model, Self-Blend model, and Enriched/Virtual model. My attempts at blended learning fall into the Flex model. My videos can be used as enrichment or to reteach.
I didn’t know what I was doing when I began blending my courses. After reading the whitepaper, I realized that I need to support student learning in a blended environment. Next quarter, my APU students will join a Google+ Community, where they can connect, share resources and ideas, and support each other. The combination of my course website and a place for online discussions will hopefully make students feel more connected.
A significant component of a blended course is student control over path. I could definitely leverage some online video tools to allow for more student choice. My goal is to transform, rather than sustain, the traditional classroom model.
A while back, Robert the worship director at my church tried to convince me to start a podcast we would taste beer (read: talk in front of a camera) and talk about it. Sort of like Wine Library TV, except we don’t really know what we’re doing, neither of us had been in front of a camera, and we would drink beer instead of wine. I am comfortable shooting and editing video, but I did not like being in video. Despite hating how I look or sound on video, Robert and I jumped into video podcasting. (After all, I knew how to build a website with a podcast feed, so I kind of had to.)
In a seemingly unrelated event, I moved from teaching kindergarten to elementary music, and with it, my student load grew from 20 to 500. I went from seeing the same kids every day for six hours to seeing them one hour per week. And I was left with this huge disconnect between what I wanted to do with my students, and what I had time to do with my students. I needed to be able to connect with my students more than one hour per week. Seriously, how can you expect to accomplish anything substantial in 60 minutes per week? Then it hit me–I needed to start creating videos for my classroom. I would walk beginning band students through the basics: setting up their instrument, playing the first few exercises in the book, and reading more complicated sheets of music.
At some point along the way, I went from being a behind-the-scenes guy to feeling comfortable in front of a camera. Had I not had the experience with the beer podcasts, I would not have created a series of videos for my 500 students.
In some ways, this is what Ed Tech courses are supposed to be–they give you a chance to practice a skill and become comfortable with it. By the time you actually want to incorporate that skill into your classroom, you are confident and prepared.
So, if you’re not comfortable with a particular skill set (like video podcasting), start now with something silly. Seriously, go get started now.
When I look back at the first few episodes of the West Coast Beercast, I realize how little I knew about video production from an in-front-of-the-lens perspective, and how little I understood about screen presence. Now, I’m comfortable in front of the camera, and I am able to quickly and effectively communicate with others through video, whether it’s explaining what a quarter rest is, or what a Weihenstephaner tastes like.