2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

2015 PBS LearningMedia Digital Innovator

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blended Learning and Service Learning

Today I am exhausted and humbled.  Yesterday, I was exhausted and nervous as hell.

Yesterday my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition students organized a community event to record a video for the Medina County Stomp out Suicide Project.  They have been planning this particular scene for at least a month.  This means that I haven't had any sleep for at least a month.  Let me backtrack a bit. . .


One day my students and I were discussing possible research projects when I came upon an online flyer for the Stomp out Suicide Video Project.  "Hey, do you want to make a video for this contest?" I asked.  "You could win a thousand bucks."  The students jumped all over it, but in the way that seventeen year olds think about how cool it would be to make a video without doing any of the work to make a video.  We downloaded the information and the students half-heartedly discussed ideas.

That day the unthinkable happened:  our school lost one of our own to suicide.  That evening, one of my students emailed me.  "This just got very real for all of us, " she wrote.  "We need to get serious and do something to make a difference."  And so they did.

The students created storyboards, recruited two videographers, and started shooting.  They researched statistics.  They assigned responsibilities.  One idea they all agreed on was that they needed a community crowd scene.  "Our theme is 'You are not alone,'" they said, "so we need to show that nobody is alone.  We need the community."  They created a Twitter hashtag (#MedinaStrong).  They created waivers and flyers.


Flyer Small



I watched with pride (and honestly, a whole lot of angst) while my students made appointments with administrators, safety forces, business owners, students, and community members.  "Beth," a student who had always been a bit shy and quiet, volunteered to meet with our school's administrators and book the high school stadium and the gymnasium, in case of inclement weather.  "John," another student who previously hadn't been much of a go-getter, managed to secure free pizzas, pop, and all the napkins and cups we needed for a large crowd.  He also volunteered to plug our video on the school's morning video announcements.  My students wrote invitations to school board members and our communications director.  They papered our hallways with posters.

What was my role?  I tried to stay the hell out of their way.  I bit my tongue. . . a lot.  I showed them how to log their "business meetings" and all the documentation for the video into a wiki on Blackboard.  I retweeted them.  I took pictures. . .and I held my breath.

Yesterday, I watched my students organize a crowd of ninety students, EMT's, police officers, and community members into a meaningful event.  They presented an opening ceremony, they directed all of those people, and they sent them away feeling that they contributed to something important in the community.  Oh, and they collected money through wristband sales to donate to the Battered Women's Shelter of Medina.  Here are two newspaper articles describing that day:

"Video: Teens, think twice about suicide" from the Medina County Gazette


"Medina High School students create suicide prevention video" from Cleveland.com


In my last post, I described my job as a shepherd dog.  In this particular case, I learned how a blended learning class is really supposed to work.  My students were inquisitive, and they were willing to do the work.  I was lucky enough to point a finger and gently nudge them from time to time.  When I can take a moment to exhale (we aren't finished with the editing process of the video), I will be able to reflect on how this project helped the students ( and me) to learn and grow.  More importantly, I will allow the students to reflect on their learning.  I want them to tell me what they learned, not just for the sake of the Common Core Standards, but to give them the opportunity to realize what a fabulous moment they shared.  This is something I will remember forever, and I certainly believe they will, too.


[caption id="attachment_282" align="alignnone" width="300"]You are not alone.  Photo:  Sydney Campbell You are not alone. Photo: Sydney Campbell[/caption]



Stephani Itibrout

Want to read more about Blended Learning?  Follow me on Twitter @itibrout


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Return of the Wiki

So. . . because I am a masochist, or because I am extremely stubborn (or both), I am revisiting my use of the the Big, Bad Blackboard Wiki in my Rhetoric and Composition class.  Why is this so frightening to me?  Click here for a glimpse at my epic fail with the wiki last year.

This year is different.  It is.  The students are different, the assignment is different, I am different (true story--I am different:  I broke my foot!).


[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500"]Ur Misery Amuses Kitty  *Mwahahaha* This is an image of the Wiki-Gods laughing at my attempt at redemption. I'll bet you didn't know that the Wiki-Gods are evil cats.[/caption]


For this assignment, channeling the true spirit of Blended Learning, my students chose a collaborative project in which they will create a suicide prevention video, which they will submit to the Stomp out Suicide Project, sponsored by Alternative Paths.  What better way to collaborate than with a wiki?

Because the project is completely student-driven, and their idea came rather unexpectedly, I didn't give the extensive wiki-training prep that I gave last year.  Instead, I showed a short clip that demonstrated the purpose and function of a wiki, and then I demonstrated the basics of Blackboard Wiki.  I already know that I should have given the students more time to process the technical aspects, but they are picking it up a little more each time they work.

The wiki is currently very messy, but I've upped the ante by informing the students that I am going to present the information on their wiki at a Board of Education meeting on Monday night. There is nothing like a surprise deadline to instill panic  make students productive.  We shall see.

I have to remind myself that the basic concept of Blended Learning is one of student responsibility.  Students learn through mistakes, and learning is messy, just like the wiki.  As the teacher, I need to give them room to figure things out, with gentle nudges in the right direction from time to time.  Sort of like a shepherd dog.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="400"] This is EXACTLY how I look when I'm herding ducks. Or teaching wikis.[/caption]



Interested in Blended Learning?   Follow me on Twitter @itibrout !


Monday, September 23, 2013

Banned Books Week

The week of September 23, 2013 is Banned Books Week.  This affects every reader, but as a teacher of literature, I take personally any attempt to ban books, especially books that I currently teach.

In celebration of Banned Books Week, a North Carolina school board banned Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison.  Read NPR's report here.

Ralph Ellison's novel is a bildungsroman about an African-American who gradually loses his naivete about racism during the Harlem Renaissance.  My students find it to be a difficult read, sometimes because of Ellison's highly-descriptive and poetic style, sometimes because of the frustrating innocence of the protagonist.





[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Invisible Man in his apartment with stolen light.
Photo: Jeff Wall[/caption]




We spend weeks unpacking the novel.  My students learn literary criticism through their research on Ellison and the Harlem Renaissance.  They learn how to analyze a work for its motifs.  They learn that syntax can be symbolic.  They learn that writers can be eerily prophetic.  At the end of it all, we are exhausted but better for our journey through Ellison's graphically-depicted world.

I hope that my students will better appreciate literature knowing that there will always be authority figures who wish to keep it from them.  I hope they ask questions, many questions, of themselves and the authority figures in their lives.  I hope they find at least one book that makes them think, grow. . .and want to change the world for the better.


Stephani Itibrout

English Teacher

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Armchair Quarterbacks in Education

We all know Armchair Quarterbacks.

[caption id="attachment_246" align="alignnone" width="250"]My husband is a card-carrying member.  Are you? My husband is a card-carrying member. Are you?[/caption]


Those are the people who can solve all the problems of education with a wave of a magic wand.  The Armchair Quarterback has the brilliant ideas that NOBODY has EVER thought of, and without any research or understanding of education, he has just figured out what you were never smart enough to know.   My husband is an Armchair Quarterback.  His priority is usually saving the Browns (why won't they call him????), but on occasion, he graces me with his wisdom about what is wrong with education and what should fix the problem.  His solutions involve lots of uses of "they" ("Who are they?" I ask.  "You know, the people in charge.  Them," he replies, as if I am especially simple-minded during this conversation), and he talks at length about budgets.  I find it incredible that a man who can't drive past a Sears Hardware without dropping fifty bucks talks to me about budgets.

This post isn't about publicly ridiculing my husband.  I can do that the next time he tries to beat me at euchre.  This post is about people who think that there are simple, quick fixes to problems in education.

Our district has a school board election coming up.  For reasons that you have probably heard on the news or read about in the newspapers (if you live in Ohio), there will be many people who feel very strongly that they can "fix" the education in our district, more specifically the budget.  One of the candidates has stated publicly that online education will be the way to fix our budget. This disturbs me for many reasons, but I only have the space to explain one of them.  I am a Blended Learning Teacher.  I teach Blended Rhetoric and Composition on a rotational model.  The students come to class at least three days a week, and they can choose to "flex" the other two days by working on their projects from home.  They can also choose to come in to class during that time for conferences, help, or just because they would rather be in school at that time.  I monitor their flex time through Blackboard, our LMS, and they frequently communicate with me when they aren't in school.

My first thought is this:  If my course goes to full online instruction, how will that save money?  Will we require students to come to school and use our computers?  We need new computers, if that is the case.  Who will teach the children?  Will the board buy canned online courses and replace me with a "computer monitor" (see what I did there?) who makes eight bucks an hour and watches the students to prevent vandalism or other discipline problems?

On Friday I looked at my class, and I took a deep breath.  I had thirteen different projects going on all at once.  Some students were researching blogs, some were editing their previous writing, some were collaborating on a new project (a suicide prevention campaign), some were writing literary analyses about "Little Things" by Raymond Carver, and some were reading the next section of 1984.  All of them were practicing relevant, real-world skills that they will need when they leave high school.  All of them needed my guidance, direction, re-direction, and encouragement because they are still in high school and not ready for the real world.  Can a prepaid online course give them all of that?

It all boils down to this: when we devalue the role of teachers, we devalue our children.  My students deserve the best, and I want to do my best to give it to them.

Look, I don't know the answers, especially when it comes down to budgets.  For me, starting a Blended Learning class is one way that I can try to be a part of the solution.  You want students to be better prepared for life after school?  I'm trying to help.  Armchair Quarterbacks, I think it's great that you want to help.  Just know that the Facebook status of education right now might best be "It's complicated."  Please do some research, really think about the pros and cons instead of just dismissing or ignoring the parts you don't like,  and then share your ideas.


Stephani Itibrout

Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Sunday, September 15, 2013


In the seventeen years I've been teaching at the same high school, I've had three superintendents, eight head principals, and too many associate principals to count.  I should have abandonment issues.  When I think about how unstable a teacher's job really is, I am sometimes tempted to crawl into the fetal position and rock while sobbing.  That's hyperbole, by the way; I'm not entirely sure that I could actually arrange my body into the fetal position.



With each new leader, whether it's at the district or building level, comes a new-and-improved great idea, and believe me, THIS time it's going to make a big difference for everyone.  I have learned to filter out the details and get right to the point, "How is this good for kids?"  If any leader can satisfactorily answer that question with a minimum amount of bullshit and a maximum amount of know-how, I will gladly follow him or her.  If the answer comes with a whole lot of bluster, and I sense very little preparedness, I throw down the gauntlet.

The best leader I've ever known in my district began or ended every conversation with me by saying, "What can I do to help you as a teacher?"  Whenever I gave him an answer, and I always did, he would honestly tell me whether he could give me what I wanted or not.  We sometimes didn't agree, but he always did his homework, and he always welcomed my challenges when I didn't agree with him.  That's a leader.

The primary responsibility of a leader is to take care of those she leads.  The secondary responsibility is to create as many potential leaders as possible.  A true leader raises up the people who follow her, encouraging them to take more responsibility, learn, and grow.

Recently our Administrator of Technology Integration took a job as a Blended Learning Consultant for an educational consulting group.  She could have left us in the lurch, as some leaders have done, but she didn't.  She kept us informed, and she has continued to ask what she can do to help us develop our Blended Learning program in the district.  We realized when she left that she has given us the necessary tools to continue the vision of moving the district forward with technology integration.  Thank you, Stacy, for all of your leadership.  She made us want to step up and lead, and that is just what we have done.  As a matter of fact, I'd like to be the first to announce on this blog that our new Technology Integration Coach is. . .Christina Hamman, whom you know as The Math Teacher on this blog.  Christina has many exciting ideas to move us forward, and she is making good on our commitment to district leadership.


[caption id="attachment_239" align="alignnone" width="300"]t_shirt_slave_driver-r8543e04fd8ab4d7aab229c484c31b5dd_804gs_324 This is the t shirt we are making her wear when she visits our classes.[/caption]

Christina is smart, driven, and responsible.  She has earned the respect of her students and colleagues.  She will ask us what we need to be better teachers, and if she can make it happen, she will.  She will challenge teachers to learn with the students and to think about their needs.

A teacher is that kind of leader.  I,too, want to begin or end every conversation I have with my students by asking, "What can I do to help you grow as a student?"  I want to listen to their answers and give them what they want if it will help them.  I want my students to challenge me.  If I can't answer the question, "How is this good for kids?' about anything I do, then I shouldn't be doing it.  If I do my job correctly, my students will be future leaders who will raise up those they lead.


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Julie can't give a speech, and her 504 says that I must find a way to accommodate this.   It would be an understatement to say that this is problematic in an English class.  I was immediately frustrated, and I consulted Julie's former teachers.

"What should I do?  We start the year with an introduction speech!" I said to my friend the speech therapist, with whom I run in the mornings.

"Can she submit a speech without giving it in front of the class?" she asked.

"Will Julie submit a speech on YouTube?" I asked her former English teacher.

"I offered that possibility last year," she said.  "No go."

I truly wanted to accommodate Julie's needs, but I wasn't sure how to do it so she would be successful.  Typing and sending a paper isn't the same as a speech, and speeches are a required part of the Speaking and Listening Standards.  Furthermore, I was worried that Julie wasn't going to attempt anything I suggested.

I took a deep breath and jumped. . . I told Julie that she could submit her speech using any web tool of her choice.  I suggested Sock Puppets because through the app she could scrub her voice, but I said any tool would do.  I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

This morning I opened my email and found a link to Julie's Voki.  Voki is a free web 2.0 tool that generates avatars that can speak whatever words you give them.  Julie had typed her speech into the Voki, and her avatar spoke the words she gave it.

I use Voki for my introduction pages on Blackboard.  I like it because I can use different avatars for each purpose.  Here is my Voki for my Blended Rhetoric and Composition class:


And here is my Voki for my AP Literature and Composition class:

Which one looks the most like me?



I realize that technically, Julie only typed a paper, but she had to make that paper sound like a speech, which I think is a big step.  These are the moments that I thank God that I took several workshops on free Web 2.0 tools.  What would I have done without Voki?

The point is this:  let go and take a chance.  Sometimes an app will work, and sometimes it will blow up in your face.  Sometimes a breakthrough will come from the use of an app or a tool, and that erases all the other epic fails (as long as you learn from them).

How do you use Voki?


Stephani Itibrout

Blended English

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

VoiceThread Revisited

Here I am, setting up for another year!  I have decided to use VoiceThread as an opener to my course again this year.  I recorded three slides to this year's Thread: my definition of sportsmanship, my daughter's experience lying down on the clear glass in the Willis Tower, and my son just goofing off.  If you don't remember my previous post about Voicethread, it was a realization that VoiceThread could be a valuable tool to teaching my students how to reflect and share narratives.  It was a great jump start to my year, so I'm giving it a shot again.

My students will view my examples, and they will respond to each one by comparing similar or different experiences or ideas.  In the learning module I've built on Blackboard, I've given them examples of substandard and acceptable responses.  They can respond by phone (voice or text) or computer (video or text).  Next, they will build their own VoiceThreads and respond to each others' posts.  Lastly, they will use their Threads to write a reflective narrative.

Here is my VoiceThread example--enjoy!


How might you use VoiceThread?  Include your suggestions in the comments.

Stephani Itibrout

Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Real Value of a Conference

I had the opportunity to attend some amazing conferences this summer, the most recent of which was BbWorld, the annual Blackboard user BbWorld_Blogger_badge_2013conference. As I look back over my summer, I started to reflect on the real value of attending professional conferences. Sure I got to visit some neat locales, but I was also away from the office (meaning more work to catch up on) and I missed some valuable summertime with my family (kids are in college so the summers are fleeting). Of course, I attended some really interesting sessions and keynotes, but now I have pages of notes (digitally) to sort through and decide how best to integrate in my real life. But neither the change of scenery nor the sessions are what I carry with me everyday as a reminder of my conference experience...

It’s the relationships that I formed while attending the conferences that are constantly on my mind. The real learning didn’t happen in the sessions* and keynotes (Adam Bellow’s (@adambellow) #ISTE13 keynote is the exception here), the real learning happened in the halls between the sessions, at the social events, in the exhibit hall, during meals, anywhere that people who were fueled by the same interest as me to attend the conference were congregating, talking, and networking. It’s the tweet in the morning from someone I met at #BbWorld13 that gets me thinking about how I can be a better educator, not the weeklong workacation in Las Vegas in July (heck, I’m still trying to clear the smoke from my lungs).

No, the real value in attending a conference is the opportunity to get away from our home base, our comfort zone, and expand our thinking by networking (and yes, that means no more #tweetfrom10ftaway). Sure, it’s totally awkward to speed date with a guy wearing Google Glass (@jdferries), or be interviewed by a puppet (@wokkapatue), or scream C-A-T-S** (@shanodine) in a public place when you are a diehard D-A-W-G (that’s SEC humor for those Big 10 folks I know), or just walk up to someone you know from an online persona (@tweetsbyvivek and countless others) and say “Hi”, but in every case it’s totally worth the risk! These are experiences and people that I carry with me everyday and they challenge me to be a better educator and leader back at my home base. It’s in these unique moments that I built relationships with folks who challenge me, inspire me, help me, and in return I get to do the same for them - they are my superpower, my #PLN!

So I have a few recommendations for future conference planners and educators from my conference epiphany:

To conference planners: Stop using the cookie-cutter conference mold. Build in more networking time and opportunities. And no, I don’t mean lame ice-breakers!!! What I mean is have an un-conference track for those who are willing to make the conference experience more intimate and personal. EdCamps (@edcampusa) are a phenomenal success because they capitalize on the needs of the attendees and place networking and relationships in the foreground of their planning.

To educators: If the real learning happens, for adults, in the relationships, don’t you think the same can hold true for your students? Are you building in time for them to collaborate, discuss, and connect their learning with their peers? Think about how you can make your classroom into more of an unconference experience to improve the relationships and learning within your classroom. Remember, it’s not about how much we teach in a 50-minute period, it’s about how much they take with them and use over a lifetime.

With that I will leave you with my new mantra:

*Please note that this isn’t to say that if I attended your session I walked away with nothing.

** Couldn’t bring myself to mention my new BFF (@shaylamsb) is an Alabama girl for fear of losing my official UGA license plate!

Stacy Hawthorne

@StacyHaw on Twitter

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Relevance of A Teacher

The Keynote Speaker for the last day of Blackboard World 2013 was Dr. Sugata Mitra, inventor of "The Hole in the Wall" project, an experiment which places a computer in a wall in a very public area of an Indian slum (among other locations later) in order to prove that children can teach themselves through natural curiosity and reliable access to technology.


[caption id="attachment_189" align="alignnone" width="300"]Dr. Mitra's credentials Dr. Mitra's credentials[/caption]




[caption id="attachment_191" align="alignnone" width="300"]Children can access computers placed in an Indian slum. Children can access computers placed in an Indian slum.[/caption]


He also invented "The Granny Cloud," based on the idea that children can better learn with an encouraging, non-judgmental adult (like a grandparent) watching and praising their progress but not actually guiding it.  For more information about Dr. Mitra's projects, check out his Ted Talks.


[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignnone" width="300"]Children have real-time access to retired British schoolteachers, who encourage them in their language acquisition skills. Children have real-time access to retired British schoolteachers, who encourage them in their language acquisition skills.[/caption]


Dr. Mitra's presentation blew me away.  How could a teacher not love a man who wants to tap into children's natural desire to learn?  How could I not appreciate a man who wants to bring education to children who may have no access to technology or education without him?  When talking about the problems with education today, Dr. Mitra said that we need to release teachers and students from excessive testing, and that's where I burst into applause.

When I got back to Ohio after BbWorld 13, I started thinking, and as many of you know, that is where the problems begin.  Dr. Mitra's theory is that given access to technology in a very public way, and given the proper amount of encouragement (but not guidance), students will learn more quickly than in a traditional environment.  I can see where this is a fabulous idea for areas of the world where children do not have regular access to technology or good education, but now Dr. Mitra is using some public schools in England for his experiment.  This leads me to think that he believes those students don't need a teacher, just a computer.  Here is where it gets weirder for me:  Dr. Mitra says that the roles of his "grannies" in his "cloud" are only to observe and praise, but he specifically chose retired teachers to do this, and the video he showed us featured a granny instructing children (not just observing them) in reading in English.  Doesn't this contradict his original theory?  Now I'm wondering if this is another push to get rid of face-to-face instruction in favor of online instruction because it will always be cheaper to stick kids in front of computers than in front of live teachers.

One thing I've learned from pioneering a Blended Rhetoric and Composition class is that I am essential to the equation when it comes to student learning.  I teach students to learn; I point them in directions where they can find the rest of their way, and yes, I am like the "granny" who tells them, "That's amazing!  I could never have done that when I was your age!  How did you do that?"

Does Dr. Mitra think that my students would be better off without me?

BbWorld Blogger 2013Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter: @itibrout


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Learning is Social: Using Social Tools in Blackboard

"Get out your phone or tablet, take a picture of the quote you'd like to use, and send it to me with an explanation."

"What?  This my PHONE.  I use my phone to text my friends or take pictures of stuff I like.  I DON'T use it for school stuff."

I have this conversation with my students more times than I can count.  Even though I have an open BYOD policy in my classroom, and I encourage my students to use their phones to research and share information, the students are very reluctant to use a tool (the phone) that they consider purely social for academic purposes.  Today in the Social Learning session, led by Terry Patterson, Melissa Stange, and Francesca Monaco, I heard a statement that validated my struggle with getting students to use their phones for my class.  Francesca Monaco said that students want to network with their classmates, but they want a strict separation between their academic networks and their social networks.  I get very nervous when I think about students connecting online in a social network because of a requirement from my class because the minute a student posts to Facebook, Twitter, or Google + (yeah, that might happen) on behalf of my class, I feel responsible for what happens next.  I can't control those interactions, and I can't fully protect my students.  Students want to connect; what should I do?

This is where Blackboard Social Learning comes in.  Students and faculty post profiles in the tool, and they can use the search function to find groups that share their interests and concerns.  The tool offers profiles, walls (on which to post information), spaces for collaboration, and messaging, and the best part is that it is protected because you can monitor the interactions, something that would be very difficult to do in Facebook or Twitter.  Check out the video for more info:


Clay Shirky talked about using technology to make connections with the world around us, and I think the Social Learning Tool is a good way to teach students how to make and use these connections responsibly.



BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition


Clay Modeling: Lessons from the Keynote Address

We are facing an educational landscape which is about to be formed by student demand.--Clay Shirky, Keynote Address, Blackboard World 13

“Boy, did we make a mistake.  We did not listen to our students,” Howard, a Stats professor at a local university told me.  “We thought our Blended Learning and online courses were popular because of the use of technology, but our surveys did not reflect this idea.  We assumed that students of online courses were commuters who were working from home.  When we checked the login times and places of these students, we realized that they were doing their work in the early afternoon, even though the classes were scheduled in the morning, and they were working from their dorms.  When we changed the class times to afternoon, the students flocked to them.  The data showed us that students didn’t want to think about statistics courses in the morning, and we didn’t fill their needs in a face to face class, so they used what they could to get the learning they wanted.”

Clay Shirky's words have been whirling through my mind.  My first takeaway from his address was to remind myself that students DO want to learn.  In a sad time where many school districts are limiting class choices due to financial constraints, students are still looking for ways to educate themselves.  Many high school students are signing up for Advanced Placement, Post-Secondary Option, Dual Credit, and Language courses on their own, and these classes aren't always connected to their schools.  I've come to see that my role as a Blended Learning Teacher is to help them accomplish these goals by training them to "learn to learn."  My primary purpose is to teach them to take responsibility for their own learning because they may need to pave a "road less traveled" in the journey to their education.  I want to empower my students on their journey, and so I make a resolution:  I will listen to my students.






I will let them show me how they want to learn.  I will remember that I am not always the potter, rather I may sometimes be the clay.




BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

BbWorld Keynote Reminds Us to Challenge the Status Quo

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300"] BbWorld Blogger[/caption]


Welcome to BbWorld Keynote

Entering a BbWorld keynote is an amazing experience. The energy is contagious and you know that you are in store for an incredible experience. With over 50 countries represented at BbWorld the number of networking opportunities is mind boggling. This is my first foray as a BbWorld VIP Blogger. Tweeting and meeting the other bloggers makes me feel like I’m at a class reunion where only the cool kids are invited.

Key takeaways from Clay Shirky

Clay Shirky takes the stage and promises not to be the guy who tells you how to do your job when he’s never done your job. Score +1 for Clay!

Education is collaborative - having a conversation and carrying on. We produce and publish to start a conversation which leads to more learning. If what we are producing and requiring students to produce does not spark a conversation and continued inquiry, then does it really have value?

Clay draws laughter when he reminds the audience that many of them may be too young to recognize the Napster logo. While the moment was funny, it reminds me that technology is rapidly changing the landscape of our world. As education professionals we have to change and adapt to the world in which our students live. This means embracing new technology, showing relevance the content that we teach, helping students identify and embrace their passion, trying new pedagogies, and NOT teaching to the test!

The world is full of people who have challenged the system and found their own solutions to problems that they discovered. Are we preparing students to discover problems and solve them creatively or are we relying on the traditional structure of our educational systems and the government mandates to dictate what happens in our classrooms? I can almost guarantee that you chose to be an educational professional because you wanted to inspire students, not assess the hell out of them. Find your passion and get back to it before you lose your soul.

Clay reminds that audience that “there is no way that things have always been that we can rely on to know what to do next.” We have to be creative and and use our prior knowledge to help us recognize contemporary problems and devise new solutions.

We are facing an educational landscape that is about to be changed by student demand. We have to make our classrooms, both face-to-face and digital, places that encourage authentic and engaging learning. We need to encourage students to ask questions, discover their passions and create authentic content that leads to continued conversations.

Thoughts during Jay Bhatt Welcome

Jay Bhatt reminds audience that the core of Bb is learning and teaching. The BbWorld hashtag goes wild with comments reminding audience that Jay has not yet joined Twitter. There are so many education professionals that have connected and grown through Twitter and it becomes increasingly difficult for them to listen to education professionals who are not embracing the medium. Since Blackboard is a corporation that is in the business of education their leader should connect with his clientele where they are, including Twitter.

Stacy Hawthorne









Twit or Tweet: Using Twitter to Engage Students

Psst.  There are a few things you need to know about me.  I'm giving you some personal info, so let's just keep this between you and me, ok?  Here we go:

I don't own a cell phone.

I just got into Twitter about three months ago.

I know; it's ridiculous.  I am the source of much ribbing among my friends.  I have to have a "texting secretary" whenever people want to communicate with me.   I was probably the only person at the Ohio eTech Conference who didn't have a phone or Twitter account, and my Administrator of Instructional Technology made a point of shaming me each time we presented at a conference.  Twitter-shaming.  What has the world come to?

I see the light now.  Twitter allows me to connect with people I admire in my profession.  It allows me to see into the thoughts of colleagues, researchers, innovators, and influences in education.  It also allows me to make connections in the running community so I can learn from runners I admire and so I can promote my running blog.

Today I saw the 2:00 presentation Twitter: Micro-blogging to Increase Engagement, and I am eager to take my tweets to the next level with my students.  I intend to use the ideas of Cheryl Boncuore (@cherylbonc) and Aurora Dawn Reinke (@AuroraReinke) to engage my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition students in their research of colleges and career choices.  How exciting will it be for my students to connect with a professional in a field they are considering?

There are problems to consider.  How will I make sure to keep my students safe in the TwitterVerse?  I keep my blogs gated through Blackboard, but I can't control what students do through Twitter; I can only control what they choose to show me.  Hashtags are a great way for me to think about monitoring and assessing what they do  for my class.

My takeaway from this session is that Twitter can work for my Blended Students, and eventually I can extend its use to my younger f2f students.  I am getting with the program; rather than be a Twit, I choose to Tweet.


BbWorld Blogger 2013


Stephani Itibrout

Blended Rhetoric and Composition


Monday, July 8, 2013

Don't Tell Me What to Do: Using Templates to Improve Course Design

How do you balance standardization of templates with freedom of expression in teaching?

Certain administrators, supervisors, and bosses have told me that I am a challenge.  Why?  Well, it may be that just about every conversation I have with a "boss" begins or ends with me saying, "Don't tell me what to do."  Even if I WANT to do whatever someone requests of me, I want it to be completely my idea and my decision.  It is no wonder that my mother laughed her butt off when I complained about my son's newly applied "assertion of his independence" because she has been waiting all her life for this payback.

My resistance to standardization of templates kicks in when I think that it might inhibit my creativity.  Even if I grit my teeth and agree to a template, I want it to be a template that I designed, and herein lies a huge problem.  I am the Queen of Control Freaks, but I am not naive enough to believe that I am the only control freak in my district.

How deep should we go with templates?  Building-specific?  Department-specific?  Course specific?  I have seen some good course designs in classes at my school, but their layouts do not reflect the way I think or teach.  For example, some teachers organize their content by standards, and they train their students to think about the course that way, too.  It works for them, but it doesn't work for me.  Some teachers like to group their content thematically--what do they lose when someone forces them to convert to organizing by standards?


On the other hand, what about the students and parents who try to navigate our LMS?  As a mother, I know how frustrating inconsistency of webpages and online lessons can be.  I want my audience to be able to easily navigate my class lessons in Blackboard.  Does this mean that I should make my class page look like every other page?  Does this mean that I should separate my content into  standards, themes, or genre?  Where is the balance between ease, consistency, and freedom of expression in teaching?

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  My takeaway from the pre-conference session Using Templates to Improve Course Design really gave me a lot to contemplate.  See what I did there?


Stephani Itibrout

English Teacher, Blended Learning

Follow me on Twitter: @itibrout

BbWorld Blogger 2013

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

True Grit: What My Blended Learning Students Taught Me

Nancy (not her real name) was a star student in my Blended Rhetoric and Composition class.  She did EVERYTHING I told her to do, she made as many attempts as necessary to achieve mastery on every assignment,  and she tested into Honors English at her college of choice.  This story is not about her.

This story is about Sam (not HIS real name either) because through him, and other students like him, I found my focus in this blended class.

Initially, I thought I was going to teach students how to analyze rhetoric and persuasion so they could see the forces that manipulate them in their lives.  I thought I would inspire them with a comparison between modern and “old school” literary and informative text.  I thought I would help them to see that reflection, especially in written form,  is one of the most valuable tools in learning.  I did accomplish these goals (to some extent), but Sam helped me to see that the most important lessons my Blended Learning classroom could teach were “grit” and independence.

My passive-aggressive boxing match with Sam started very early in the school year.

Am I Homer Simpson or Bugs Bunny in this fight?

I say passive-aggressive because most of our conflict was through email, posts to the class discussion board, or his mother.  He was a shy boy, and he was used to flying under the radar.  He was also used to his mother solving his problems for him.  After reading several lengthy explanations from Sam’s mom about his inability to submit his work on time or at all, I decided to have it out with him.

Me:  Sam, why is your mom emailing me and calling me?  Why aren’t you talking to me?

Sam: I don’t know.  I thought you wanted to know why I couldn’t do the assignment on time.  

Me:  We are going to establish some guidelines right now:  First, you are seventeen.  You are almost an adult.  Next year in college your mom will NOT be permitted to talk to your professors about your work, so we are going to break both of you of this habit right now.  When you have a problem, I want you to contact me in any way you want--email, discussion board, phone, video--but YOU have to do it.  Only you can be responsible for your work.  
Second, I don’t care about deadlines.  I care about mastery.  I want you to do EVERY assignment, and I want you to really learn from every assignment, and it doesn’t matter how many tries you attempt or when you get it done, but you will get it done, and you will know you are finished when you hit the mastery column in the rubric.

This is me when I'm laying down the law in class.  Word.
This is me when I'm laying down the law in class. Word.

Ok, this part about deadlines was quite a departure from the way I usually operate.  I often stress deadlines, telling students that they are an important part of the “real world,” and I penalize students for not meeting my deadlines.  My frustration with Sam led me to change this policy for the whole class.  It was as if the Standards-gods had smacked me upside the head, and I finally saw the light.  Why should I penalize a student for wanting to re-do a blog five times?  Don’t I teach students that writing is recursive, and we are never truly finished with a project?  Don’t I want my students to WANT to achieve mastery, even if it means more work for all of us?  Why should anyone accept only achieving about 70% of a standard if the student can do better?  Maybe I can train the students to WANT to do better if I could eliminate the constraint of time.

I have been listening to interviews on NPR in which “experts” are saying that the most important determinant in a child’s future success is not testing or grades, but “grit,” that is, determination, drive, and the will to do whatever hard work it takes to accomplish a goal.  I have always followed this philosophy (instilled in me by my own “expert,” my father), and I started to see that by emphasizing mastery outside of deadlines, I was teaching my students grit.

 I'll be reading this book very soon.

For the students’ final exam, I gave them an article about “grit,” called “Mastery is  Pain,” and I asked them to respond to it by defining grit and pinpointing where they might have shown grit this year.  This was Sam’s response:

The term “grit” means perseverance and passion for long term goals. Everyone has goals in their life, but sometimes people have the hardest times achieving those goals. Whenever people have a bump in the road, they throw in the towel and give up. I have to admit sometimes this was the case for me, but sometimes I’ve had grit, and achieved my goals.

School hasn’t always been the simplest thing for me, and has created some stress over the years.Yet this Rhetoric and Composition class has really taught me some skills that will later help me in my life. The way this class was set up really forced us to be an individual and responsible for our actions.Time-management was a skill that I really learned to value through the process of this class. With everything going on outside of class, it made it really hard to meet the deadlines when the papers were due.

I know that in college time management will probably be an even bigger issue, and this class has taught me how to focus in and use all the hours in the day to complete a paper.

Other students had similar responses:

Since we did not have to come to class every day, this required us to get things done on our own time, without that constant push from a teacher. At first I found this extremely difficult and struggled a lot. Nearing the end of the year, I started managing my time better and getting things done when they needed to be done and on time without the midnight deadline rush. I also have learned organization during this course. We practiced this through various projects that had to be organized on our own with different types of media, and saved successfully where we would be responsible for it.

Lastly, this came from a student like Sam, who struggled all year with deadlines and mastery:

Over the course of this year this class has given me many skills not just academically but also outside of school and the classroom. Building projects online that the whole world can see like the video and our blogs has given me confidence in myself to not be scared of what people think. This class has given me the confidence to go out and talk and not be worried about what I am saying, I am no longer worried about sharing my opinion whether it be what everyone else thinks or whether it might offend others, this class has given me that confidence. However this class has also taught me that there is something I need a lot of work at, and that is time management, throughout the year I had struggled with this aspect, and I know if I do not get that in check it is really going to bite me in the butt next year.

In conclusion, this class is still a work-in-progress, but isn’t every class?  My students helped me to realize that sometimes I have to let go of something (timelines) in order to get something better (mastery, grit).

This is me when I'm trying to let go of deadlines.
This is me when I'm trying to let go of deadlines.

I intend to use this lesson to my benefit and keep working on my goals for my students, no matter how many attempts it takes, until I can achieve mastery.

Stephani Itibrout

Rhetoric and Composition


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wanna See a Movie? How to Conduct a Meaningful Discussion about a Movie while WATCHING the Movie



I don’t particularly like to show movies in class.  I never feel that I have the time.  I do realize, however, that movies have an important place in instruction; after all, movies are now a part of the Common Core.  In my AP Literature and Composition classes and in my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition class I alternate clips from Branagh’s and Zeffirelli’s versions of Hamlet to illustrate how literary critique affects the interpretation of Shakespeare’s themes.  Students can compare both directors’ versions of Ophelia, Hamlet’s madness, and of course the final fight scene. The problem I have had with this lesson is that unless the students and I talk over the actors, or unless I constantly stop and restart the scene, there is little opportunity for me to guide a discussion of what we are watching.  This year, through experimentation with my Blended Learning Rhetoric and Composition class, I discovered Today’s Meet.


Todaysmeet.com is a back channel discussion board (a bit like Twitter) that allows students to post from their mobile devices or computers.  The advantages of using Todaysmeet.com are the following:

1.  Students can post their thoughts in real time.  They don’t have to wait for me to stop the movie.

2.  I can archive all the posts and use them in a follow-up discussion (or the students can use the archived notes in a paper).

3.  Students post in a safe environment, which I consider the most important point.  I can create a different back channel for each class if I think students will feel more secure sharing their ideas with just their classmates, or I can combine classes if I feel that students will benefit from reviewing their peers’ messages.


Each day of my Dueling Hamlets lesson I start by reminding students to log into the back channel.  I provide the url on the board, and I also Chirp the link to any students who use an Apple device. (See the Apple App Store for this cute, free method of sending links, pictures, and notes to a large group of people all at once.)  When the movie starts, I can monitor the discussion from my iPad, and I can guide it by sending leading questions:  Does Hamlet love Ophelia?  Does Ophelia love Hamlet?  Notice the frame of this version; what is most important about this movie?  Sometimes I allow the students to take on characters’ identifications when they post, and I get little gems such as these:



Yorick:  Hey, put down my skull.  Everybody, he really didn’t kiss me that much.


Ophelia:  You want ME to go to a NUNNERY?  How about you go BACK TO COLLEGE?!


Sometimes I find more treasure than I ever thought I could:


Student A:  Why is Hamlet clowning around like that?  Laertes is the better fighter.  It seems like a stupid thing to do.

Student B:  I was reading about ancient Samurai warriors and how they used to purposely mock and humiliate their opponents in order to make them lose focus.  Do you think Zeffirelli wants Hamlet to do that?


Are you kidding me?!?!  Student B was a quiet kid in my class who seldom felt comfortable sharing any of his opinions with his peers.  With one comment on the back channel, he managed to blow away the whole class, and he never would have shared his opinion if I would have made him wait for the end of the scene.  The affirmations he received after his post really showed me that students were better able to appreciate this sort of interaction because they perceive it as risk-free.  Even better were the arguments that students had about each interpretation.  Because they were able to debate in real-time, they didn’t have to remember specific lines from the scene to share later.  Their opinions were passionate but respectful, and my favorite part was when they challenged each other to support those opinions.


My discovery of Todaysmeet.com really solved a problem that I have had for years.  I can now show a clip or a movie and know that the students are engaged.  My next step will be to open a back channel during student speeches and my own lectures.

 Stephani Itibrout

Rhetoric and Composition

Follow me on Twitter @itibrout

Friday, May 10, 2013

Blackboard will want me to be a BbWorld VIP blogger!

I am the kid in the candy store when it comes to BbWorld; I want to experience everything.  When you are the kid in the candy store, you are not cynical about anything, even the lemon drops.

I will show you the same wonder as I describe my experiences; I will make you laugh, cry, and possibly crave lemon drops.





I might even bust a few moves:

This isn't me, but it could be!!



Stephani Itibrout

Blended Learning English Teacher




BbWorld Blogger 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Snookledorp Means Camaraderie

Jack:  I'll bet you anything you like that half an hour after they have met, they will be calling each other sister.

Algernon:  Women only do that when they have called each other a lot of other things first.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

It is 9:34, and I am ready to go to sleep, but I know my night isn’t quite over yet.  Wait for it. . .I open my iPad, balance it on my stomach while lying flat on my back, and now:

“I’m so upset about my class today.”

“What is wrong?”

And the conversation begins.  My blended learning support group consistently meets at this time most nights.  Our iPad/texting/computer conversations sometimes continue for hours.  We are keyed up, and while we are exhausted, we can’t sleep.  Sometimes we are flush with victory:

“My students completed their group presentations, and two principals were there to observe them!”

Sometimes we are flush with shame.  .  . and booze.  Lots of booze.

“Seriously, does anyone know what proofreading is?  $@#!SNOOKLEDORP!!!!!”

“I told you not to use the ALL CAP SLAP!!!!  STOP YELLING AT ME ONLINE!!!!”

I’m just kidding about the booze part.  Maybe.

One day last year Fate threw us four women together, and as Erich Maria Remarque would say, “Camaraderie is one of the best things to come out of the war.”  By necessity, Christina, Shannon, and I would discuss our lack of knowledge about Blended Learning, and we soon (again, by necessity) came to a place where we realized there was no judgment, no competition among us.  We realized very early in the game that we are all deer in headlights, and this idea of Blended Learning was a huge Mack truck that was quickly bearing down on us.  We realized that the only way to survive this experience was to stick together, and that is what we’ve done.

Stacy is our biggest supporter.  She is more than a tech administrator; she is the lifeline for our program.  She encourages us in our growth, she keeps us from making foolish decisions along the way (“No, you really can’t punch your administrator.”), and she of course gets us whatever tech support we need even before we know we need it. Stacy established our Monday afternoon meetings right from the start,and we certainly didn’t realize how much we would need or look forward to them.  In these meetings, we complain, we argue, we cry. . .we innovate, we create, we experiment, and we laugh.  Thank goodness, we laugh a lot.

Christina, Shannon, and I are lucky in the fact that our classrooms are very close to each other.  Every fifty minutes, I know that I will step into the hall (to monitor the class changes), and I will be able to talk to one or both of them.  Sometimes it’s a quick reassurance (“Get in there--you’re doing a great job”), and sometimes it’s a technical problem.  I can’t tell you how many times one or all of us dropped everything we were doing to help out with a Blackboard, iPad, or Apple TV issue.  Our students believe that we are a package deal.  Beware; if you complain about one of these teachers in front of the other two, you will get an earful.

At one of our Monday meetings, an administrator wanted to discuss Christina’s course with her alone.  He meant it in the kindest, most considerate way; he didn’t want to embarrass her.  Christina got up from the table, closed the door to the classroom, and said, “These are my sisters.  What you say to me, you say to them.  We are a team.”

She is right.  We are sisters; we are a team.  We share our pain, our joy, our defeats, our victories.  This is the only way to create a Blended Learning course; this is the best way to teach.

Those of you who know me have figured out by now that I am writing this post under the effects of an eleven mile run (see my running blog post about endorphins).  Do not worry; in a few hours I will be back to yelling at you, shaking my finger at you, and telling you what to do.  Then, I will turn on my iPad at 9:34, and I will wait for our next collaborative session.  I might have a drink first.

Monday, March 11, 2013

What's Right with Education

What’s Right With Education

Originally published on ohedchat.wordpress.com on March 8. 2013

"Let's start a conversation about what is right with education." Earlier this week, I tweeted that we should focus more on what is good in education instead of what is wrong with education. Little did I know when I sent that tweet that I would be challenged to write a blog post on my thoughts. But it is this exact challenge that is central to what is good in education. We all know teachers who come to school every day to challenge and inspire students. They put aside the politics, the testing, the outside pressures, and choose to challenge and inspire students to become lifelong learners. If you know a teacher like this, and I suspect that you do, today would be a great day to let them know that they are central to what is right in education today.

Recently the school board in my district made a decision that angered many parents and community members. As a result there has been a contentious board meeting, negative press coverage, and a flurry of comments flooding social media. Through all of this, the staff in my office have come to work each day with a positive attitude and continue to strive to do what is best for students in our district. Today, a few of us decided to bring in breakfast and jot down what is great about education. Some of the positives that made our list included:

  • Teachers on Twitter

  • Collaboration and sharing ideas

  • Authentic feedback for improvement

  • Teaming with parents to meet the individual needs of students

  • Involving students in goal setting

  • Celebrating student success

  • School garden projects

  • Technology that engages and enables creation

By all means, our list is not all-inclusive. As a matter of fact, we hung the list on the wall so we could add to it everyday.

A few weeks ago Leah Lacrosse (@LLacrosse) from Huron tweeted that she was looking for another 5th grade science class that wanted to collaborate virtually. We immediately accepted her offer and Debbie Hicks’ (@FennHicks) 5th grade science class will be using a Google Hangout to meet Mrs. Lacrosse’s students. Jolene Speckman (@JoleneSpeckman) joined Twitter last month and has already had Twitter conversations with new Apple Distinguished Educator, Rebecca Wildman (@RebeccaWildman) on how she can integrate iTunes U in her second grade classroom. These two examples show the power of Twitter, collaboration, and technology – all of which made our list. These examples also exemplify teachers who are willing to challenge themselves and students to learn and grow. These teachers decided to do what was best for their students and to expand the walls of their classrooms to challenge their students.

So I conclude by challenging you to sit down with your colleagues, students, parents, or any other group of folks who are passionate about teaching and learning to write your own list about what is right in education. I encourage you to share by adding to this list (Google Doc). Together we can grow the conversation about what is right in education.

-Stacy Hawthorne (@MedinaTech)

Sunday, February 3, 2013

File Transfer Incomplete

This has been a year of reflection. Actually, every year is a year of reflection, but this year is different. In fact, I have reflected so much that at one point (and maybe still), I felt as though I was (am) having a bit of a teacher identity crisis. You know, like that friend who hits 40 and suddenly she cuts her hair, starts working out everyday, and quits eating carbs? Yeah, you know who you are. My identity crisis has come from not knowing who I am or what I am as a blended learning teacher; I do not know how I fit into this new teaching world. I know exactly who I am in the face to face classroom, but I cannot seem to translate that into blended learning. My colleagues and I keep going back to the analogy of being a student teacher or a first year teacher. As a first year teacher, you had an ok idea of who you were as a teacher - what your teaching style/philosophy was. You were a risk-taker because you were young and unafraid of taking risks, and most importantly you had an older and wiser veteran teacher there to keep you in line and offer guidance. This veteran teacher didn’t have to have the same philosophy, mine didn’t, but he knew what good teaching looked like based on how the kids responded. In our case, there is no older, wiser veteran teacher to keep us in line. We are rookies, but other teachers and administrators tell us we are brave and amazing and brilliant... what about our students? This past week almost 40% of my enrollment dropped; I have lost more students this week than in the previous 10 years combined teaching my face-to-face courses. Those around me have been supportive by making up every excuse possible, that doesn’t involve me being the problem, to try and make it seem like this is ok. The fact is, I have failed to translate myself digitally. “File install failed. Parts of the program may not function properly”; we have all seen this error message and now I am living it.








So now this weekend, looking at my reduced student roster, I am trying to find a way to fix this. I need to experience some sort of success so I can look at myself in the mirror again and not feel as though every student I walk by in the hallway is thinking, “There’s that shitty teacher who teaches that horrible online math class.” I need help from an older and wiser veteran who knows what the heck he/she is talking about to give me advice and guidance. Criticism does not hurt me; no, please do not be afraid.  I have 15 weeks of student journals full of information about everything I did wrong, so a faceless person offering criticism will not hurt me a bit.

Here is who I know I am as a face-to-face teacher. I teach students to learn how to think, how to learn. I do this through discovery and inquiry - when I learned about the constructivist philosophy as an undergrad, I salivated at the mouth. After my students have explored, questioned, and  have developed a good idea about the topic being learned, I follow it with the formal presentation of the concept and theory. Then we learn together by doing problems - the students practice basic skills at home and solve rich problems in small groups. I have flipped my classes intermittently to allow for more of the rich problem solving to be done in class. My favorite time of year is actually right now when my AP Calculus students are finally over the “I can’t answer your questions out loud, because I risk being wrong;” instead, they come to class and offer strong, firm feedback to each other.  They have learned to not give each other the answers; they guide each other through the thought process of finding the answers, and in special cases, they encourage each other to find the best way to the answer or even extend that idea to a bigger one. I literally had tears in my eyes this past Thursday when I heard a quiet, “never outwardly participate in the thinking process” student say to another student, “Yes! That’s right and why did you decide to do that? What is ‘y’? Ok then, plug it in! What do you see?” At the end of the year, my kids are successful - nearly 90% of my students earn a 4 or 5 on the AP exam.  Part of this is because they are good kids trained by highly qualified and amazing teachers before me, and part of it is because I think I do an ok job.

So why do I not translate digitally? Maybe the better question is, why would I want to? How can I do what I do better, or at least as good, in our chosen rotational blended model? 40% of my students have spoken. Yes, I know there are many reasons that students might drop a 5th level honors math course (especially if they had not taken an honors math course previously), but at the end of the day I did not deliver; I did not engage them. I did not teach them to think and I did not teach them how to learn in their digital space . So what does it take to be a good teacher in a blended environment? Tech savvy? (check) Successful in the face-to-face environment? (check) A risk taker? (check) Open to change and experimentation? (check) How about this list:  25 Habits of Highly Effective Teachers (from the blog TeachThought)? (check).

I had big ideas for this course and what I wanted it to be; my students and I were going to explore the unexplored together, but it is just not working for me. Maybe all highly effective, tech savvy teachers just do not translate to the blended learning environment to be effective blended learning environment teachers...file transfer incomplete.

Christina Hamman (@hammanmath on Twitter)
Mathematics Teacher

Monday, January 28, 2013

Starting Fires

Remember Billy  Joel’s song “We Didn’t Start the Fire?” My seventh grade Social Studies teacher Mrs. Hadgis used it to teach the Cold War. I don’t think I exposed too much of my nerdy self at such a precarious age to my peers, but I distinctly remember cramming the lyrics down my mom's throat. Without so much as an eye roll  she would countlessly repeat the memories of her childhood as they applied. And after catching a glimpse of the video, I understood why she wanted to replace the avocado refrigerator! Accidentally and unconventionally I learned the social revolution of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. By design, Mrs. Hadgis created an intentional process for meaning making.  She did the culturally relevant: she met us on our pop music-loving playing field and designed an environment in which we could learn deeply without minding too badly. Csikszentmihalyi refers to this in Flow (1990), “As long as we respond predictably to what feels good and what feels bad, it is easy for others to exploit our preferences for their own ends.” This was my Blended Learning vision: exploit my student’s desire to use computers. My vision has evolved. Luckily for my students, I attempt to model my approach with the good heartedness of Mrs. Hadgis.

Every teacher does this: we all try to connect with students. I harshly argue that teachers who don’t are ineffective. Yet, reflecting on my first semester Blended Local and American History course, I don’t believe I have done it.  At first glance, I thought I accomplished the connection to student lives easily: students were engaging online. Students love to be online. Simple. Done. Box checked. However, the blended student does not seem to want online as much as they want a unique experience. And this is what I am beginning to understand: Mrs. Hadgis didn't choose a song because we liked music; she chose a particular song because it fit her purpose. The same is true for the design of my course. Learning online will never replace being online for students. However, I must thoughtfully design the experience so that students choose my class over YouTube

So, how am I going to do this? My most direct answer is: better in the second semester than in the first. My intentions moving into second semester are twofold: create an engaged learning environment and create a unique space to explore historical content. Not terribly different than last August, but I move forward with clearer intent. In August, I was motivated by hope: I have learned that hope doesn’t cut it. I must move with intent in my design if this is going to be successful.

First, I must reorganize my own online space. I need to make the visual design of my course more appealing. My blackboard course remains messy and cluttered. I must approach this with more consideration for student interaction. This will be tricky for me in an online space since I fail re-positioning my own household furniture. When building in the Medina Historical app, I tell my students they have seven seconds to convince a mobile app user they should continue reading and investigating the site. I need to hold myself to the same standard.

Secondly, I liberate myself from the chronological events of which Billy Joel sings. I intentionally approach second semester in a non-linear structure. I purposefully embrace the three dimensional thought process that is critical thinking. I am steadfast in my belief that each of us has some element of ADD in us and that isn’t always a sign of weakness. I thoughtfully allow my students’ minds to wander so that more informed opinions and conclusions of what has been and what should be can be cemented. My intention is to allow my students to stumble upon (pun intended) their own historical interests and investigate multiple concepts in the historical structure of our country. I release the timeline and embrace historical thinking skills.

Moving forward from a very rocky and precarious first semester, I reignite my energy for taking this journey. History can no longer be the boring class. In the second semester, students should begin to build their own fires. I know that I should probably take credit for starting the fires, or at least providing the match, but only one thing is for sure at this point: unintentionally my students are learning a thought process that will serve them well in the 21st Century workforce because I intentionally teach skills not content.

I also intentionally empower myself to ignore the fact that I am bumping up against a well established educational paradigm that at times vehemently resists a non-linear, organic approach to history, but I will hold off on lighting that match: too much kindling results in a quick burn.


Shannon Conley-Kurjian

Social Studies Teacher

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Is 1:1 the New One Size Fits All

“Is 1:1 the New One Size Fits All”  by Stacy Hawthorne was originally published on Getting Smart http://gettingsmart.com/cms/blog/2013/01/is-11-the-new-one-size-fits-all/.

Earlier this week I was having dinner with some fellow educational technologists. The conversation took the inevitable turn to discussing 1:1 philosophy. 1:1 is most typically defined as the ratio of one student to one device where that device is provided by the school. During our discussion, the question was posed as “1:1, Chromebooks or iPads?” While I am a fan of both Chromebooks and iPads, I was troubled by this conversation. Not, of course, because I am opposed to the student use of technology, but because I am starting to realize that 1:1 is a parallel philosophy to “one size fits all.”

Sure the reasons for adopting a 1:1 program are laudable. I understand that 1:1 levels the playing field for all students, that teachers appreciate 1:1 because every student has the same device, that maintenance and networking becomes easier when the device is standardized, and many other pros. People preferred the iPad because it was so much more than just a computer while others chose the Chromebook because they were easy to manage, were more affordable, and could virtually replace PCs. My internal conflict over 1:1 started to develop when I realized the technological needs of students are just as diverse as the students themselves, meaning that a school-wide 1:1 decision meant to benefit the students could be very limiting to some students.

I asked myself, “Would 1:1 would be right for my school district?” Our district recently implemented a blended learning program at our high school, funded in large part by a grant from eTech Ohio. This year we are offering three blended learning classes, Advanced Quantitative Analysis and Mathematical Modeling, Local and American History, and Composition and Rhetoric. Because of our grant, we have the funding to make our blended classes 1:1. The problem is that each of our classes has specialized needs when it comes to technology.

Our math class is focused heavily on statistics and uses statistical analysis software. This course was designed based a summer internship experience that our teacher, Christina Hamman, participated in at 3M. She wanted to be able to teach non-engineers and non-math majors some of the more practical business applications of mathematics that she saw utilized during her internship. The downside of this software is that it only operates on Windows-based machines. This meant that for students in her class they needed access to Windows machines, preferably laptops. So, we used some of our grant funds and bought a classroom set of laptop computers that students could both use in class and take home as needed. For this class, traditional laptops were the right answer to the 1:1 device question. Problem solved?

Definitely not! The students in Shannon Conley’s Local and American History class are capturing and digitizing the history of our town. This means that they spend a lot of time taking pictures, scanning historical records, recording videos, and interviewing local communities members to create content for their app discovermedina.org. It turns out that students do not like to lug around heavy laptops nor are these devices well suited for video capturing and editing. For these students, the iPad is exactly what they need. The iPad is perfect for original content creation, which is what these students are doing. But wait, we already bought laptops. If we were a traditional 1:1 school, these students would have to adapt to our one-size-fits-all decision. But that is only two classes; we have three in our blended program.

Stephani Itibrout’s Composition and Rhetoric students need a web-enabled device with word processing capabilities. The Windows-based laptops or the iPads could suffice, but neither was the perfect tool for the job. The Windows devices are slower to start up and again, are bigger and heavier than the modern student likes. The iPads are not the ideal device for composing long documents. For this class, it looks like the Chromebooks are the tool of choice. Sure, these students could make either the laptops or the iPads work, but why should they have to make do? Just like a carpenter chooses the right tool for the job, our students should have the opportunity to choose the right technology for their needs.

So, three different classes and we clearly need three different devices for our students. As I listened to the conversation this week it struck me how much we handcuff students and teachers when we tell them what technology they are required to use. If my district made a 1:1 decision we would clearly not be able to choose one device that is right for all students and all classes. 1:1 should not mean “one size fits all.”

If we are truly designing a student-centric learning environment and putting the students in the position to make meaningful decisions about their education, how can we justify deciding which device they are required to learn on?  When I look at my daily use of technology, there is no one device that could get me through the day. I’m not “one size fits all” and neither are my students.