CONTENT DELIVERY

 

Delivering course content to students in a manner that reduces instructor presentation can be challenging.  The once well crafted powerpoint now is less effective without the teacher delivery and explanation.  How do instructors engage students when the toolbox changes and the charisma of the instructor is no longer at the forefront of instruction?  Variety, creativity and balance is needed.

 

Tools

 

I have witnessed some self directed schools using traditional paper packets and worksheets to deliver content.  While this is possible, ideally you will be able to create digital tools to deliver your content, providing you with a wider range of interactive resources to facilitate learning.  To do so you will need a digital platform to share your work.   Some considerations:

 

1. Consider the need to protect your content from the public 

  • Do you want to share your curriculum with the world?

  • Can you password protect or establish memberships for your content?

  • What about those resources that have been 'borrowed for educational purposes?"

  • Copyrights

 

2.  Does your school have a learning management system?  Is it stable or likely to change in the near future?

A learning management system like Haiku, or Whipple Hill can be an absolutely awesome tool to use.  In my experience, these systems tend to change often.  I also wonder what would happen to my content if I left my school.  I would like to keep it.  For my comfort and security, I choose to store course content in a tool that I can manage and protect.  If an LMS is in place at your school, just create links to your own tool of choice.  See Learning Management Systems for more information.

 

3.    Some tools to consider:

 

  • Wikispaces – create a private wiki and invite students with a password.  There are free accounts for educator that will allow you to protect content, embed media, etc.    Wikis do not always look so great on iPads, though this has gotten better recently.  I have used this tool for about 10 years and found it quite easy to use.  I personally did not like the classroom feature and wanted more control over the look of my site, so I recently switched to Wix. 

 

  • WIX – There is a free version to get you started however the paid versions give you more space and functionality.  The SEO or search engine optimization is quite good on the Wix as are the templates and ability to customize the look in feel.  Creating a larger site has its challenges due to the page creation system, but it is not impossible.  I did discover the only one person can edit at one time on one computer.  If you and your colleague are building it together, you may want to create a separate site or take turns.   There is a great mobile media editing function that makes content work best on all platforms.

 

  • Jimdo - I like and use Jimdo for student ePortfolios because you can create a signup form for your students to create their own ePortfolio.  This sign up form leads them to a template that I created.  This template has all the units and navigation pre-built which saves a great deal of time at the start of your course.   What once took a class period now takes 5 minutes.  It is very user friendly and can be customized as well.  

 

  • Google Sites - Not a good choice if you want to embed audio.  Graphics tend to format in strange ways as well.  Students struggle with the permissions so I would advise that you really study this tool before choosing it.  

 

  • Wordpress - Probably the most powerful, advanced tool to use.  The learning curve is a bit more challenging and in my opinion there are easier solutions to get you up and sharing more efficiently. 

 

  • iBooks or eBooks - For a few years, I created iBooks for my content.  Our students could use their iPads to experience my content while using the computer to create.  This worked well until I needed to make updates or corrections.  Students needed to re-download the books.  Old versions were left on computers and problems occurred.  File size became an issue as well for iPads could only hold one book or unit at a time.  If you publish your work, updates can happen automatically, but I was reluctant to put my work out there in that manner.   I found the editing of the iBooks relatively easy for text, but challenging for videos.  Widgets needed to be created and it became a time consuming process.  

 

  • Other - There are many other resources available to post your content in addition to this list.  I like to store my videos on Mediacore, and my audio on Soundcloud.  

 

 

4.  For content delivery make sure your tool can do the following:

  • Easily embed video, audio and other interactive widgets.

  • Password protect pages or the entire site.  I like to keep some content open to the public and hide other pages for student use only. If this is not important, then build a site that requires membership to view.  I would not make the site completely public.

  • Custom domain name - while not necessary, it helps students and parents get to your site easier and often provides you with more storage.

  • Storage is important. You can save storage by linking to video and audio instead of storing the material directly onto your site.  I would get at least 3gigs of storage to start.

  •  Ideally your tool would have an edit history function incase you have a crash or lose information. Wikispaces has a great history function on each page.

  • If you have multiple users editing your site at once, make sure it is built to handle that function.  Some sites like Wikispaces allow you to edit different pages within the site, but not the same page at the same time. Wix does not.

 

 

BUILDING YOUR CONTENT

 

There are many techniques for developing curriculum and exploring this topic is not the objective of this article.  I have found success with the "backward design" model and have implemented this approach in the development of my courses.  What is it that we want students to be able to learn and do by the end of this course?

 

It is important that the content you wish to have students experience be broken down into manageable units.  Study your school calendar carefully and then break the year or semester into short learning segments.  Consider vacations, midterms, testing, and performances.  It is important to build due dates that are spread across the duration of the class to serve as a guideline for student use.  Once you have an idea of how many units are possible see how your content can be effectively divided and modify as needed.

 

  • I have 16 weeks in a block system.  

  • I have 6 units due prior to the midterm.  

  • I built a buffer weeks around testing session for students to catch up if needed, thus providing 8 weeks for six units.

  • After the midterm my units get a bit longer in length and I require the last four units to occur for the next 8 weeks.

  • Units 7,8,9 take one week, unit 10 is a 2-3 week capstone project.

  • My colleague does a total of 12 units with buffer weeks built in around testing.

 

These units are then assigned 'soft' due dates.  I call them ‘soft’ because students have the ability to move at a flexible pace. If a student is more than 4 days behind, a mandated “guided learning plan” is put in place until work is completed.  We are fortunate to have a flex block at our school, which provides time during school for students to receive extra help.  Mandated flextime will occur for students that do fall behind.  I advocate training students how to self impose homework.  I encourage this by letting them know that they have more time for creative projects at the end of each unit if they do some foundational work at home.  

 

When creating the unit work for your students, carefully determine how much work can be completed in the amount of time you have specified for the unit. Consider approximating the time from the perspective of the average student.  I chose to think in one week increments and built my units accordingly.  As you start this process, you will quickly find out that building these units takes a great amount of time.   You are living the lesson as you create it.  The work that was once done in front of your students is happening as you build the unit.  Think of the student experience as you build assignments. Expect this process to take time with the understanding that once it is built, you will only be doing revisions in the years to come.  

 

As I have stated before, variation is needed for students when experiencing your content.  The trap many new blended instructors fall into is posting video after video or extremely long articles to read.  You need to break it up and find opportunities to get students to "play" with the content in a variety of different ways. 

 

 

 

The unit itself will usually consist of the following:

 

  • An essential question that needs to be worked out - The concept of study

  • Pre-study questions-  What do you know before you start?

  • Resources to help answer that question

  • Puzzles or challenges for the student to apply the learning of that concept

  •  Post study assessments

  • Application of concept to a larger creative project

  • Final reflection

 

Some Tools:

  • Videos of instructor presenting concepts

  • Khan Academy Videos or Youtube Videos explaining topics

  • Text explanations or articles

  • Quizlets

  • Interactive Music learning sites such as, Musictheory.net, Theta music trainers, etc.

  • Audio Examples- models of exemplary work.

 

I require students to document the process of their study in their ePortfolios as much as possible. They should include, notes, videos, and any artifacts and solutions to the questions that I have posed.  I require screen shots whenever possible and request self-reflective postings about their work.

 

ASSESSMENT

 

I learn a very valuable lesson early on in my development of blended courses.  For every activity in each unit, I would create a specific grade based on a rubric that I created. In one unit for example there might be five projects.  I created a grade column in my LMS for each activity and assessed accordingly.  While in theory this makes sense, the shear process of mouse clicking between grade books and ePortfolios was taking up all my time.  If I had two studio periods with 20 students in each with 5 assessment points per student from 5 different courses, that was a minimum of 200 grades per week.  Adding this to my large ensemble music arranging load and my life was instantly consumed with assessment.   My solution... grade the units as a whole and provide more detailed written and verbal feedback.  If an assignment was sub par, I allowed students to go back and make adjustments as needed and tweaked the grades accordingly.


I have also learned that I can automate some feedback by creating traditional concept quizzes using online tools.  Students can check their knowledge of concepts while working in the unit.  Quizlet is a great tool for this.  Combining this practice with pre-testing and project work, resulted in better retention and creativity has improved. 

 

 

MOVING FORWARD

 

 

When building your courses in the blended format consider these points: 

 

  • How can I get the student to apply the knowledge acquired?

  • Are the students just memorizing facts or actually using the information?

  • Do I provide flexibility for students to demonstrate mastery of the content?

  • How many different types of tools have I used to get students to experience the material?

  • Have I been clear about the expectations of how to demonstrate mastery?

  • Building your units the first time is very time consuming. Make time to prep.

  • With the Heterogeneous environment, several courses can be offered.  Start out with offering just a few to begin.  When you are ready to expand your offerings, create them over time and add them to your repertoire each year.  

  • Get your advanced students into the building process.  If a student wants to study "Sound for Film" for example, consider building it together. Create an outline of topics, divide into units, begin the research and create learning activities together.  I did this twice and it was a very powerful experience for both the student and myself. 

  • Know that you will be revising your work each year to some extent.  There are always new tools and new approaches in every subject. 

  • Be careful that you stay on top of your deadlines for assessing student work

 

 

 

 

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