Tag Archives: Mikkel Storaasli

What Can You Expect When Moving Learning to the Web? [guest post]

The third post of a 5-part series on 1:1 at Leyden High Schools. This post is from Mikkel Storaasli, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction for the Leyden High School District.  This post is also cross-posted on Mikke’s blog, Surely You Can’t Be Serious.

Leyden High School District 212, right next door to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, has just gone 1-1 with the (mostly) web-only Chromebook. So that means that every student in our two high school district has a laptop with a full keyboard. However, native programs cannot be installed as on a a Win/Mac laptop; all applications that students have access to must come from the web. In other words, there is no MS Office for students, just Google Apps. Thus, we characterize our 1-1 model as “moving learning to the Web.”

There is power when you shift learning to the Web. For us, there have been two critical pieces to making this shift.

1.  A Common Platform: A Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle, or OpenClass (which is what we use) to provide a common electronic platform is an immediate shift in how school is done.

Look, I realize that this may seem like an obvious use of web-based tools to some, but providing a digital organizing structure for students is crucial. I cannot stress this enough: The LMS is HUGE. It’s the glue that holds together our digital work.

The immediate access to tools for posting materials, syllabi, calendars, assessments, facilitating discussions, and communicating with students immediately changes the educational landscape. Furthermore, the fact that it’s a common platform for students helps them keep it all organized and coherent.

For example, one teacher posted a lesson with an online presentation tool called SlideRocket  Complete with audio narration, students can view the material anytime anywhere. What’s even better is that the teacher sent the link to the presentation to his students’ parents. Having that lesson available online helps students who were absent, students who need to hear it (or just part of it) a second or third time, and effectively brings parents into the class with their students.

2. An Ethos of Sharing (rather than “turning it in”): Along with the LMS, the use of Google Apps has provided the foundation for communication and collaboration among our staff and students.

Again, in our district we are utilizing the (mostly) web-only Chromebook, which means that native apps such as the MS Office Suite are off the table.  Thus, Google Apps for education provides the platform for most of our productivity tools.

Think about this: The move to Google docs and the ethos of sharing files, of working with products that are constantly being revised by a team, is not a small one. Some of have been doing this for years and take it as second nature. Personally, it’s totally changed how I work and collaborate with others. However, it’s taken me years to build this capacity.

In this model, students and teachers are working together, constantly revising and sharing feedback on living documents. We sometimes forget how alien this may seem to many students, who have been largely trained to “turn it in” (or to “attach it”), and that’s the end of the assignment.  Short of receiving an assignment back with a few red marks scrawled (or typed) on it, the work was done. Dead and abandoned. Static. Time to move on to the next thing.

“Just” introducing Google Apps (or other tools which allow for cloud-based collaboration) is a big shift for teachers, students, and parents. It may not seem all that big of a deal to seasoned Google Apps users, but introducing these tools on a mass scale can be challenging.

Yet, it’s also critically important to our model. Institutionalizing a cycle of sharing and providing meaningful feedback between teachers and students has positive implications based on decades of research. Here’s why: according to John Hattie’s table of effect sizes, a vast body of educational research indicates that “Feedback” is the instructional technique that has the #1 biggest impact on student learning.

Never heard of Hattie? Perhaps you’re a fan of Robert Marzano’s “Classroom Instruction That Works.” You will of course know that “Setting objectives and providing feedback” is one of the nine high impact, research-based instructional strategies advocated by that Dr. Marzano. Incidentally, Marzano’s work is linked to Hattie’s research, so they’re singing from the same hymnal.

If you have a handle on Google Apps and a Learning Management System, you will have built the foundation for learning to be collaborative and dynamic in nature as well as available anytime or anywhere. As one of our teachers said, “Class doesn’t end at the period, it ends in the cloud.”

So, aside from these two foundational pieces, what else can you expect when you move learning to the web? Certainly, our teachers are using a multitude of other web-based techniques such as

Remember “Feedback” and Hattie’s effect sizes? How about this for increasing the amount and quality of feedback for students:

These are a few things off the top of my head.  Now, I realize that what I’ve been discussing isn’t full-blown Problem Based Learning across the curriculum or anything. I worry that teachers see presentations like the one given by Seth Godin here, and feel as though they have to immediately meet that standard. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Seth is saying but what he’s talking about takes deep learning on the part of everyone in the institution over a long period of time.

We are just scratching the surface of the pedagogical implications of the tools we have available and building the structure of our digital courses. However, that doesn’t mean what’s going on isn’t not effective and potentially transformative.

What is the unintended curriculum for students and teachers?

However, you should also consider the challenges this poses for students. For students, learning to learn in a 1-1 setting is HARD. Let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for interacting with a course and a teacher, for accessing materials, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Moving learning to the web immediately introduces a different prototype for student learning, and learning to navigate this takes time for everyone. Although we sometimes perpetuate the myth that students are “digital natives” and they innately gravitate toward electronic documents, presentations, syllabi, calendars, and to-do lists, this is certainly not always the case. In fact, some students have a very hard time in this new paradigm, and often it’s those who have succeeded in a traditional paper-based system.

Think of the student binders you’ve seen in years past, those that look like unstable nuclear paper bombs ready to detonate at the slightest nudge. Is it any wonder that students might have the same trouble organizing materials electronically?

Students need to learn HOW to learn in an electronic environment. Students have to learn how to deal with materials (previously tree-based) that are suddenly available electronically via a website or learning management system. Furthermore, they have to deal with a new expectation of responsibility: Your class materials are out there and available at any time, and you need to access them as you need them.

Although it’s fantastic that students no longer have to rely on the teacher to access class materials, that’s a double edged sword: with these tools, there is an expectation of personal responsibility on the part of the student. You cannot understate that this can be uncomfortable for them.

Similarly, learning to teach in a 1-1 setting is also HARD. Again, let’s not pretend it isn’t. It’s a totally new paradigm for organizing a course, for presenting materials, for interacting with students, and it presents a host of new classroom management issues, not to mention the inevitable technical issues that arise.

Teachers will try some things that work, and they’ll try some things that crash and burn. It’s all part of the learning process, and that needs to be OK. I certainly hope that our teachers will make the connection that this is how learning happens for students, too. We all need the space to be able to try things and fail.

But as one our teachers said to me, although this is tough starting out, this is all an investment in time and learning. Next year we will have built it a cache of digital materials and experiences, and this will get easier. As that same teacher said, “Come and see us next year.”

And there it is. I’ve always thought of education as a process of iteration, the repetition of a process creating an increasingly complex and beautiful result. In my brain, damaged slightly by several years as a math teacher, our experience teaching and learning in a 1-1, cloud-based environment like a fractal: beautiful images created by an iterative process.

Right now, we’re in the midst of moving learning to the web, our first iteration. We have just started 1-1, and as we repeat and refine our techniques, over the course of many class periods, days, weeks, months, and years, the investment of time and learning will produce an increasingly beautiful result.

One example of a fractal. Not to get too mathy, but it’s all about the beauty of iteration. From http://www.wisdom-earth.com

Our next post in this series will discuss our Tech Support Internship Class, which serves as our level one tech support for the entire district.

Previous posts in the series


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