A Letter to Edutopia’s Guest Blogger: In-Class Flip Is Not A Version of Flipped Learning?

A few weeks ago @cultofpedagogy blogged about “The in-class Flip” and I tweeted a response.

in class flip conversation

Because of this so called “in class flip”, I have received and read comments from teachers curious and possibly confused about Flipped Learning. I started writing a comment to Jennifer Gonzalez @cultofpedagogy post and author of the article via @edutopia and discovered that it was just far too long for a comment. So here is what I have to say:

To Jennifer:

I think the biggest issue that bugs me about the article around this so called “in-class flip” is that it is trying to rename what already exists and has already been named. Teachers reading this post should have been told by you about the models of blended learning within Rotations. Flipped is one of the arms of a rotation model.  I see the word “rotations” was mentioned in your post and that is great but there is no reference, no link  to where this “naming” comes from or implies within the blended frame.  So, yes, there are different rotation models and the one you mention is ” station rotation” but you have renamed it “in class flip”. How is what you are describing as an “in-class flip” different from the definition of “station rotation”? Maybe it’s semantics, maybe am a nerd, maybe am totally wrong and misunderstood your post but what I am frustrated with is gimmicky new names like “in-class Flip” confusing newbies about flipped learning. Thank you for responding to my tweet but am not satisfied with the response that you are “just helping discouraged flippers realize possibilities”.  Flipped learning fits in with middle school and high school and other rotations should be considered for elementary. Is that your audience?

The name is not the only issue. You do a good job of referencing Flipped Learning, albeit “traditional” flipped. You indicate that this “version” is not the flipped learning they’ve read about, but your newer version which is different. It seems as though you are trying to make a name for yourself with some new model. And the moment you start using language referring to Flipped to the Traditional flipped, you are (perhaps inadvertently) trying to place it where tradition lives, where it’s not hip. There is no such thing as traditional flipped learning there is ONLY Flipped Learning. Your model is not the newer modified version of flipped.

Here is what I argue: Flipped Learning can Transform Instruction if done well. If it’s not working then we need to look at what is happening during instruction. Flipped learning is about Good Instructional Practices. Simple. Simply stating in your tweet that you are providing discouraged flippers with possibilities suggests to teachers that a cosmetic change to their class from traditional flip to the hip in class flip is a possible solution? What you need to be doing before throwing flipped into the recesses of tradition and administering a band aid to what is the bigger problem  is instead addressing how teachers are implementing their teaching and learning cycle within the flipped model? Or asking teachers how they are planning for their face to face time once stuff moved online? How about even addressing whether what’s online is engaging and do they have online assessments built in to build competency?  How about the homework issue? It was an issue before class started, it’s still an issue with flipping, right? How is that being addressed regardless of flipping?

I can tell from your post that you know that flipped learning can be powerful. But I’d like to recap why that is: Let’s talk about student at center of learning.  Moving content to an online space, and inverting instruction so delivery of content or low level procedural stuff can be accessed online places the student in the driver’s seat– students are able to personalize their learning. When students (assuming we are targeting middle and high school flippers only) control the path, place, and pace of learning it leads towards a more student centered approach. The station rotation you describe and acknowledge has some limitations in meeting blended learning that transforms since there are time restrictions within a class period clearly placed in an in class rotating model. So instead of those students listening to a teacher in person, now they are listening to it in class, online, right there, in class and still only have @15 minutes I assume to take notes and move along, right? What has changed? That pacing and place piece are missing which allows students to pause, reflect, take notes, rewind, come back. That’s the power of a flipped model. How about the opportunity to check for understanding, take a quiz, come back relearn, retake the quiz. When done away from class, at their pace, students come to class the next time and if needed the teacher clarifies the low level knowledge based stuff and moves students to digging deeper and thinking critically. I am not saying a station rotation isn’t a way to improve practices. It’s still an awesome model. I am saying it is not really leveraging technology to transform instruction- that is what Flipped learning does. So yes, “station rotation” works and should not be overlooked but you are confusing teachers by associating your version of station rotation with the power of flipped learning.

Another key to blended learning that transforms is online assessments: Once content is online and places students in the driver’s seat, online formative assessments help them personalize their learning. Online formative assessments are the game changer for teachers and students creating that step into competency based learning. Sure you can build that into the station rotation and the online content they engage in while in class but how can the teacher use the data from the assessments to make decisions that shape the rotation when the assessments are done in class during the time that we should be leveraging that face to face time to dig deeper ?  Online formative assessments within a flipped model gives us immediate results and feedback that translate to more engagement with the curriculum. Bottom line: high quality blended learning must allow for personalized learning and allow teachers to differentiate– how is that possible with the so called “in class flip” or as we all know it as station rotation? We need to be leveraging good online learning tools so that data is in-time and looped within student-centered feedback but we also need to have time to review the data so as to inform instruction, right? With that data, gathered prior to class, teachers are empowered to differentiate in real time, and now we are getting the most out of the promise of blended and flipped classroom.  Online formative assessments have allowed the teacher I work with to review assessment data BEFORE students arrive in class and thereby allowing her to tier activities based on that data and then continue to assess needs and adapt paths as needed. That is far more difficult to manage while instruction is happening and when the teacher should instead be taking advantage of small group instruction and ongoing formative assessments through observation and working with students.

A teacher with whom  I have been working uses online work within a rotating station but that is embedded within the Flipped model.  Since we spent time thinking about the WHAT NOW of class time after we started the flipping process, we ended up framing learning around PBL so her stations were designed as a means to answering the problem. The knowledge based procedural learning did not happen in class. If the knowledge based procedural stuff is still happening in the station rotation or what you call the in-class flip, how is technology being leveraged to transform instructional practices?  How do we free class time to get at the deeper thinking? The ability to work with real-time data gathered from an online course significantly increased the possibilities for differentiation for the teacher and it is through the frequent opportunities for differentiation that teachers’ instructional practices will be transformed. That is the promise of Flipped Learning.

I would have loved to see you describe how the power of Flipped Learning is about  freeing up class time so as to build in opportunities for application and critical thinking– to deeper levels of thinking. Your description moves away from the integrity of flipped classes to in class stations that are scheduled to allow students to digest low level procedural knowledge based stuff in class. When do students have enough time to receive guidance towards working on the application of the concept? Most districts use unit plans and teaching and learning cycle model. The unit plans are recommended to be completed within time frames. How do teachers meet those time frames from unit to unit while honoring the teaching and learning cycle?  How does the reteaching and then the intervention on the TLC fit into the time frames?  Flipped Learning when done well opens up the opportunity to meet the teaching and learning cycle within district time frames. This time piece in your version of flipped is not just a challenge and takes time as you mention, it’s simply just not Flipped Learning. It’s a whole different rotation approach that should not have the word Flip mentioned in its name.


Differentiated and Personalized: Getting At The Promise of Blended Learning

Edsurge EdTech Index

Edsurge EdTech Index

So I started this post wanting to write something short and quick about a cool online resource and instead ended up analyzing the promised land of Flipped learning.  How did I get there?  Well it all started a few weeks, maybe a month ago while I was exploring online stuff…

I’m always exploring online stuff and if you’re like me, you are probably slightly overwhelmed by the amount of digital stuff that is out there. Just step into  Ed Tech’s Index or EdShelf and you’ll see what I mean (personally, I prefer EdTech’s and strongly urge you to check it out). So while researching resources for Anne’s (@anneathertonLHS) Flipped Class…  I returned to EdTech’s Index page hoping to find free open sources that Anne can use in her Flipped Anatomy and Physiology blended class which she is creating, curating, crafting with some help from me. While at the Index page,  I stumbled upon sources listed under EdTech’s “Other” index and housed under Digital Textbooks, CK-12 that I had heard about but never dug into.



From the CK-12  About page: CK-12 is an online educational content site sponsored by the CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit that desires to   increase worldwide K-12 access to high-quality STEM content. CK-12’s main offering is a collection of free digital textbooks (called “Flexbooks”) for high school age students, particularly on topics in science,engineering and math. As of September 2013, CK-12 has created a total of 88 Flexbooks that cover approximately 5,000 STEM content areas (from life science, like DNA vs. RNA, to sequences and series in calculus). Need more? Read through their vision here.

CK-12 digital Algebra

CK-12 is free and free is good. And in my opinion the content appears to be well-developed and thought-through open source content.  In my spelunking around, I landed on Algebra, where I could choose from 18 Flex books at various grade levels.  Yes, there are 18 digital textbooks and one of which is in Spanish! And as you can see from the linked image to the left, there are two ways to play in CK-12: one way is by browsing just by concepts the other by browsing entire Flexbooks.  I like that most have built-in videos, and the built in assessments, I like that I can search by CCSS and by content and grade level, I also like that I can  create a class and assign work to students! And I can even create my own Flex Book! And I liked that it is compatible on the iPad Mini. Not too shabby for free digital content. (There are some features that seem to work better on a computer’s browser than the App, and I have read they are working out kinks…)

Use CK-12 for your Class

Log in with Twitter or Facebook to Use CK-12 for your Class

But is it a good fit for blended learning? Yes, I think it is.  The CK-12 Flexbooks include digital text, built in interactivity with videos and assessments and what’s more, teachers can also build their own content right into CK-12. In my thinking, a digital text book that includes built-in assessments and provides immediate feedback so teachers can use that information to make decisions about students next steps makes sense for a blended setting.

It was about here, while thinking about the applications of this cool resource that I started wondering about the promise of blended learning to allow for differentiation and personalization and how this resource and others deliver on the promise of blended learning.  

It doesn’t matter how much I read on blended, there’s so much more to learn and am still learning and to be frank, sometimes am lost in the sea of information — And this is what has risen consistently:  high quality blended learning must allow for personalized learning and allow teachers to differentiate–  none of which are possible without ongoing formative assessment and in time feedback. As educators, we know that formative assessment is part of the learning and supports learning as learning is happening. As educators, we also know that with formative assessments teachers check for understanding and use data to inform and differentiate their instruction. Online content that has built-in assessments and provides immediate feedback is one way we can use online resources  to help teachers differentiate instruction, and personalize student learning- key components of exemplary blended models.

In a good blended model, teachers have and implement excellent instructional practices AND the model also integrates effective online tools and resources, well-developed online content that includes or allows assessment to be embedded.

When the online component can be used to administer and gather data which students and teachers can then act on and which empowers teachers to differentiate in real time, we are then getting the most out of the promise- now we can differentiate and personalize. We should leverage good online learning tools so that data is in-time and looped within student-centered feedback. Teachers and students need that data to differentiate and personalize their paths. I’m not saying embedded online assessments is the only way to assess formatively, but in a blended model it is certainly an advantageous component . Blended learning models allow us to build in face to face and online formative assessments which if done well allows teachers to be more efficient in reviewing assessment data before students arrive in class and thereby allowing  teachers to tier activities based on that data and then continue to assess needs and adapt paths as needed.

A blended learning model that supports this approach is The Flipped Model

where students complete lecture viewing and quick quizzes at home and in a well-designed system, the data is automatically generated and informs the teacher of how to tier activities before students arrive. In a Flipped classroom, students essentially get the bulk of  lecturing and information online and not during the class time. They  read, watch, engage with the lesson, pause, take notes, re watch etc as often as they want to. The Flipped class time is an opportunity for teachers like Anne Atherton at LHS who has Flipped her class to be able to use face to face time more thoughtfully (7 Things You Should Know about Flipped) . Instead of lecturing in class on anatomy and physiology, Anne will be spending time in class utilizing the best of teaching practices, driving small group instruction,  focusing on content, mind sets, skills, relationships, and instilling more student agency, “more time to implement more literacy and numeracy activities to align with Common Core.  Now I have an opportunity to include small group instruction so I can include more of the SIOP strategies  I learned about in my Masters classes, but have only had a little time in class to implement until now. So what has this flip done….it has given me the gift of time.  Time to engage students in critical thinking, apply content into real world case studies and to differentiate content with more small group instruction!” (From Anne’s blog post on Flipping her class, The Atherton Chronicles). With the data gathered from the night before, Anne can conduct small group instruction and rotate and listen and identify misconceptions and thus allow her to make decisions on how to move groups of students along that personalized path towards mastery of content . Because when Anne has data before her students come to class, she will be able to spend time on students critical thinking skills. She will spend time on assessing students needs, making decisions about appropriate intervention. And with her incorporation of a rotation class model in a Flipped class she has many opportunities to continue to assess formatively and she can use the data to make decisions that offer opportunities for students to advance or correct their understanding. The varied formative assessments that can now happen in class as a result of a Flipped class will give teachers like Anne a clearer picture into students learning and allow for differentiation and personalization. When learning is personalized, it is no longer fixed but flexible, and when it is flexible it means students are in varied learning places, so more than ever, teachers need to have effective ways to stay on top of measuring student learning so as to know how to tier future activities, how to move them along.

So here I am  with Anne, entering the promised land of blended learning, standing at the start of a Flipped world. Here we are  looking for the promise of the blended model to offer flexible learning pathways and along the way discovering first hand that to get the most out of that promise and get to that flexibility, we should be harnessing the power of good online stuff/technology, harnessing the power of exemplary classroom instructional practices, and in turn harnessing the power of using formative assessments to generate actionable data that informs and guides so that we can differentiate and students can personalize learning.

Part 3: Using Blended Learning to Build a New Culture of “Gritty” Kids!

“Adversity builds character” is something I have to keep telling myself every time  the helicopter mom in me wants to swoop down and rescue my children from everything, from too much homework to social issues. Letting my children, within reason and within supportive frame, learn to find their wings and fly has been the best thing I could have done for them. As teachers, how often do we allow students to find their wings and fly within our supportive frames ? Do we let them experience challenges in the range of optimal academic challenges as mentioned in Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow Theory  and force them to stick with learning a concept till it’s mastered?

In this blog post, I’ll explore that concept of stick with-it-ness in relation to blended learning and mastery-based learning. Blended learning can help us deliver on this promise to build this new culture where students stick with stuff, develop grit, and learn HOW to learn… for life.

Just like a bird learning to fly, we’ve all been new learners  to something– learning to do something we have never done before. Hopefully, unlike birds, we are rarely thrown off the tree and hope the wings work. In fact, in most learning experiences, we start at a point with the intention of progressing through a number of points and moving up as you develop mastery.  For example, if you started a martial arts class today you would join the lowest belt and regardless of your age, you would begin at your skill level and once you showed mastery, you would climb the belt ranks. Michael Horn interviewed Scott Ellis of The Learning Accelerator in “What Education can Learn From Kung Fu” in which Ellis uses Kung-Fu as an analogy for thinking through what mastery-based learning would look like in our K–12 schools. If you were new to martial arts, you wouldn’t be placed automatically with your age group, you’d be placed with your  skills level group, nor would you be expected to stay with your skills group for a fixed time. If you did well, you would move up to the next skill level.  

So what does this have to do with blended learning?

A few weeks ago I started assessing  whether eCredit is truly living up to Christensen’s definitions of high quality and where we are as a district in regards to blended learning. I spent time in my 2nd blog post exploring in detail each definition of blended in context of our district’s eCredit Recovery. Here’s what I’ve learned and how grit fits in.

One of the components of high quality blended is a blended model learning where learning is mastery-based. What would happen if we required students to master concepts before being passed on to the next grade? What would we teach them other than the fact they learned the concepts? We would teach them a different mind set about themselves as learners, we would teach tenacity , grit and perseverance. Unfortunately, education is built on a culture of passing kids on even when they have failed (and we wonder why kids don’t know how to take charge of their learning). So while I thought I had cracked the code with building autonomous learner skills in eCredit as a way to build self-directed behavior, I was really missing a key ingredient, that of “perseverance” and the key to fueling the autonomous learner.

It is a given that the population we serve in credit recovery tend to lack a positive mindset, perseverance, and grit and as a result have ended up in credit recovery and, because they do not have that grit factor, they lack that self-directed ability to get through online content. “Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews, and Kelly (2007) refer to grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals” (p. 1087). They emphasize this long-term quality, noting that “gritty” individuals will work steadfastly on one significant goal over a prolonged period” (In Farrington et al,  21). I wonder this: while teachers in the eCredit program are doing those great things such as: building relationships, community,  modeling study skills like note taking and modeling habits like goal setting and having students put those things into practice in the belief that we will help them become autonomous learners and start taking ownership of their learning, teachers are faced with kids who have never experienced learning like this before. Teachers are working with students who have been pushed along since they first started failing in elementary and have never been asked to stick with something long enough in order to develop that sense of satisfaction that comes from accomplishing a goal and succeeding.

Most of us have had those students whom we feel we have supported in every way possible… But have we put everything in? Have we done all that we can do? I believe we haven’t worked on tenacity and endurance, and failed to equip students with a toolkit to use to face inevitable challenges. It is easy as a teacher to ignore the non-cognitive skills and some may even argue whether that should be their responsibility given all that they have to accomplish in a school year. In our blended learning environments, teachers use technology to diagnose, to intervene, to conduct small group instruction to model goal setting, positive mindsets with each individual child because online learning when leveraged effectively can free the teacher to individualize instruction for every student. When a school or teacher sets up online learning just right, learning online will yield tenacious learners.

So I sit here today fascinated with teaching adolescents to become learners, with teaching non-cognitive skills and intrigued with building that into our eCredit model. My dream is to have teachers embed researched based non- cognitive activities, those related to goal setting and positive mind sets in our after school blended A La Carte credit recovery environment in order to teach students to persevere and become learners who are self-directed. I envision a high-quality blended learning model that includes components of mastery-based learning that will teach the habits of perseverance by placing students in the real life situation of having to persevere mastering their learning in order to successfully recover their credit. In credit recovery we are already using the a la carte model where students work online and meet face to face with teachers, where students receive one on one instruction and data is used daily to inform how teachers will intervene. We build a sense of community and habits of learning to help students become self-directed learners.  Yes, blended learning models can be used to build a new culture of gritty kids!

My plan is to prepare our eCredit teachers to develop Grit– to work with students to persevere through mastery-based learning. We will design intentional activities to help students reflect on themselves as learners and set and reach achievable goals as well as develop positive mind sets so as to increase students’ perseverance and thereby develop student agency and self-directed learning. In my dream world, we would grow beyond eCredit. We would start with elementary schools, where each school would would have a blended rotation lab of some sort for students who need to stick with a concept a bit longer. Every elementary student moving into middle school will have mastered each grade level expectations.

How? Our online content is rigorous and engaging. It’s got tools such as allowing us to reset mastery, required completion until work is mastered, prevent students from progressing and require teacher attention when content is not mastered. With these online tools, we can enforce mastery-based learning in the credit recovery model, and students who have typically been passed on from year to year and have gaps that are many grade levels wide will be able to stick with growing their understanding of a concept.

And just when I thought I had it all figured out I paused when I started reading about the self-control in connection with perseverance. While research studies indicate that grit, an indicator of success, exists in students who lack self-control,  students who stick with “it” are having to get unstuck from the other distractions. Getting unstuck requires self-control. Distractions interfere with perseverance. The marshmallows in the famous marshmallow test that was used as the “treat” in a 1960’s study on delayed gratification, is today’s Facebook, Instagram, emailing, and for our learners, requires just as much self-control to put it aside and persevere through the work that requires attention:

              “  In essence, Twitter is the new marshmallow. (Or Facebook, or Foursquare. Pick your poison.) At any given moment, a host of such “treats” await us. Emails, social media messages, text messages — discrete little bits of unexpected and novel information that activate our brain’s seeking circuitry, titillating it and inciting the desire to search for more. Our ability to resist such temptations, and focus on the hard work of creative labor, is part and parcel of pushing great ideas forward” (The Future of Self- Improvement, Part I: Grit is More Important Than Talent).

Additional studies around  delayed gratification explore how much trust and confidence play into students who exhibit self-control and delay gratificationWith that in mind, coupled with the fact that students in eCredit have experienced a system that has moved them along regardless of mastery of concepts thereby robbing students of the opportunity to build grit and tenacity and stick with-it-ness of the learning until it is mastered, we as teachers working with at risk students have our work cut out for us in building trust, study skills, positive mind-sets, self-control in the hopes of developing perseverance and self-directed behavior. If districts, schools, teachers such as ours embrace blended learning and embrace blended models, we can  explicitly design experiences that teach non-cognitive activities (including factors that will support and develop student self-control) as well as expect learning to be mastered, perhaps we will build perseverance and in turn build self-direction for the online learner who will not only find success in mastering concepts but will find their wings to fly for life. 

Want to learn more? I just started browsing through these papers and I strongly recommend that anyone who works with children, learn everything there is on building grit. Here are a few I am exploring:

  1. Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners 2012
  2. Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century from the U.S. Department of Education Office of Educational Technology  2013
  3. School of hard Knocks “How Children Succeed”
  4. Children Succeed with Character Not Test Scores


Part Two: How St Vrain’s eCredit A La Carte Blended Learning model meets The Clayton Christensen’s Institute Definition of High Quality Blended

I have this vision that one day in our district schools will be reformed to include opportunities for blended learning.  Since starting the district’s eCredit Recovery program which runs after school, I have been on a mission to take what I know is a great model to the next level.
After my last blog post Part One: Should Blended Learning be Disruptive? From Emerging Sustaining Hybrid to Disruptive Blended Solution. Where are we in St Vrain? I found myself having to explain how eCredit meets the Clayton Christensen Institute’s definition of quality blended. According to the Institute, high quality blended is personalized, mastery-based, with student ownership,  Here’s how we meet that criteria:

Before I start, let’s clarify that the eCredit model comes closest to the A La Carte blended model and considered by the Institute to be a disruptive model of blended environments since it does away with the traditional classroom structures all together.

eCredit learning is personalized. Students are assigned the course they need to recover. They have twelve weeks in which to complete the work. They can start on any unit and progress though at their pace. Students can work through as much or as little as they choose but they do have 12 weeks to do it in. The twelve weeks involve face to face meetings with teachers for up to 2 hours a day twice a week. Because of my budget in paying the teachers after duty pay I cannot extend the time beyond the twelve weeks. This year however, we are running eCredit over winter break and into second semester, so while I am still technically only paying for twelve weeks, students get additional time.
Students take diagnostic tests in the presence of a facilitator. The tests identify what they already know and it shows up as stars on their grade book. The content then automatically generates a learning path specific to that student, eliminating what they already know. Students can take assessments at any time and if they fail it will push them though the folder again. Students can enter numeric code in their learning platform and rematch a lesson if they need to. Students can take their assessments whenever they are ready so even at home but are aware that teachers can administer pop quizzes that students must take in the presence of a teacher to validate that they did their learning.

eCredit builds autonomous learner skills: Our students are disengaged with learning and their schools and we are often their last hope for graduation or graduating on time. Teachers spend time in the first 6 meetings building students’ autonomous learner skills. Online learning requires that they are self-directed and so we thoughtfully build that into their learning experience. We start with community building activities that are also goal setting and time management embedded activities. We empower students by giving them a good orientation to the courseware and from there build the habits they will need to take charge of their learning. We model how to use the gradebook feature to manage their learning, to set goals on a daily, weekly and 12 week basis so that students know from the moment they have their learning path what their plan is. Students get to schedule what they want to do, how many how little and from there adjust their goals as they move through the course. But we don’t just leave them to their devices, we closely monitor their progress while they self-monitor as well and build in follow through and one on one conferencing. You would think a senior with one class left to graduate would be motivated, and self-directed, but that isn’t always the case.  We also build study skills. We do intentional direct instruction on note taking skills – so rather than assuming everyone knows how to take notes, we build in the skills.

In eCredit, Mastery is required to earn credit: Now this is a tricky area. Most activities are scheduled to have students repeat a quiz if they failed. If they fail it more than once a student is locked out and must seek the assistance of a teacher. This is an opportunity for the teacher and student to discover what the learning gap is, reteach, differentiate and so on. Sometimes, students have moved though without showing mastery on a quiz yet still earning an overall passing score. However, students cannot earn credit unless they show mastery on their course overall and some have refailed their courses for a second time.

We build relationships in eCredit : From day one, the eCredit recovery program was my baby and so it was something i had the opportunity to set up my way.  I wanted the relationship piece to be at the center of our work with students. So every time teachers and students meet in eCredit, there is always a community building component as well as brain breaks that involve movement that also fosters community. We introduced a parent orientation this year which we wanted to do to connect with families and empower parents to support their students at home.
We want students to attend after school and so based on best practices we know we need to build relationships with them as soon as they start.

Some eCredit locations will serve students from 5 different schools and the teachers may not know any of them so relationship building is what will carry us through the next twelve weeks and ensure students attend the blended setting because when they do, magic happens, we are able to build the habits, skills, and when that happens, they start to care about their learning and then something more happens which shocks them, really, they are shocked by the fact that they can be successful and that they can learn something they have struggled with for years … when you get a disengaged student shout out, “I get it now!” or “Take that!” to mastering a concept , we know we are doing more than instruction– we are building tenacity and grit that disengaged students cannot magically, automatically reach without the intentionally designed building blocks of our eCredit Recovery blended model.

Part One: Should Blended Learning be Disruptive? From Emerging Sustaining Hybrid to Disruptive Blended Solution. Where are we in St. Vrain?

In my last post I mentioned ” high quality blended learning” in reference to eCredit. What exactly makes a program high quality blended learning ?

Think about personalization and mastery-based learning in classrooms. Do we expect students to master concepts before progressing? Yes. But what happens when students don’t master grade level concepts at the end of the seat-based, time controlled learning experience? Are we holding students back each grade level or how about advanced students, are we allowing them to test out of concepts and move forward? Is learning personalized for each student? Unfortunately, students are not in control of their learning and cannot move at their own pace and on top of it will be passed through to the next year whether or not it’s the best thing for them. According to the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive innovation in their white paper “Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive”, published May 2013 , high quality blended learning is one that is personalized, one that is mastery based, that has high expectations and a level of student ownership.

In eCredit recovery we’d like to think we come some what close to meeting the criteria of high quality: learning is indeed personalized with Compass’s individualized assessments and automatically generated learning paths and from there students can work at their pace yet within a specific time frame. I have worked to design ways that teachers will build autonomous learner skills that yield increased student ownership of learning  which include things like modeling study skills such as note taking and habits such as daily review of goals and goal setting while all along building community and forging deep relationships with students. The online content used is rigorous, diagnostic, and because of that teachers can work individually with students to intervene and reteach concepts in conjunction with the software. But that’s eCredit; a small district program that’s doing big things beyond just helping kids recover credit! It can be done! What about steps in the district to start implementing blended learning solutions?

And wait a second, do we even understand what blended is and isn’t?

Adding technology to a classroom is just that, a layer of technology- a technology-rich classroom. We know that. Some are still shocked to think that showing students an instructional video from Khan Academy  or Compass is still not meeting the definition of  blended learning. But am not shocked. How can we expect to share in an understanding of blended learning when we haven’t come to the table to discuss what that is in our district. It is safe to say that as a district, we are not offering high quality blended solutions. And the few who are are blending do it this way: taking the old way of doing things layering with new. While it appears that it may be blended it’s actually considered the “hybrid” model of blended learning. Think of hybrid as the marriage of old and new to create a new solution that performs better but because the old way of doing things is still there at the core, not much changes in the logistics of teaching and learning practices and policies –and so we don’t see a shift.   So let’s take the flipped classroom model that is thrown around a lot ; this is an emerging sustaining hybrid solution and while it is a good one, according to the Clayton Christensen Institute, it does not meet the definition of high quality blended learning that disrupts. Models that disrupt are the Flex models, A La Carte, Individual Rotation and Enriched Virtual which basically is online enriched with added traditional classroom experiences, such as working with a teacher on as needed basis. Perhaps the district’s one to one iPad roll out will allow us to try those emerging hybrid models though still married to the traditional practices, at the very least any hybrid model is a step in the right direction and will help us perform better such as implementing a Flipped class or the Station rotation model. It is clear that with the hybrid model, schools essentially attempt to improve the existing traditional classroom with the new product which while is an improvement, is not disruptive.

But should blended learning disrupt?

In the disruptive model of blended learning we see a scheduling and staffing change, we see students pacing themselves, and learning is more personalized. I’ve got a side job writing professional development courses and I’m working on a course on blended learning and this past weekend I checked in online to do some reading at the Clayton Christensen Institute. I focused especially on their recent article on whether blended is disruptive and clearly the impetus for this blog (that and the Coursera that I’m enrolled in on Blended Learning). I was tickled to see that the Institute is using the word hybrid to suggest the marrying of old and new and blended to indicate a departure from the old rather than using blended and hybrid interchangeably! So on the one side we have the sustaining option: a hybrid solution where we have the best of both worlds, where the advantages of online learning are  combined with the best of the traditional classroom. On the other side we have a disruptive blended option. In the disruptive option online learning is deployed “in new models that depart from the traditional classroom” so learning isn’t tied to seat time but to mastery of content and learning is personalized. Why should you care about whether you are teaching and learning in a blended solution that is sustaining or one that is disruptive? Well, according to the research, “disruptions almost always become good enough to meet the needs of mainstream customers who, delighted by the new value propositions they deliver, adopt them. In other words, the disruptive models almost always supplant the sustaining models over the long term.”

Getting to high quality blended learning is the goal and while eCredit isn’t completely there, we are very close and we are constantly working on the model. For true blended learning to emerge, a change in policies and practices and philosophies around the logistics of teaching and learning would need to occur. If we do not move away from the sustaining hybrid models, history shows that these hybrid models which allow us to hold onto traditional practices and policies will eventually be ineffective and will inevitably be supplanted by the disruptive models.

To better understand this theory of hybrids and disruptive blended learning, spend some time with the white paper: Is K-12 Blended Learning Disruptive? 

And as you read, consider the specific steps that need to be in place at schools to first get to the hybrid zone of blended learning that will allow us to implement one of the models  and/or transition from the emerging hybrid zone to a disruptive blended solution.

eCredit Kicks Off

We finally kicked off eCredit and what an incredible start! We started on October 10 and will go through early January. Teachers have received initial preparation, policies, practices were discussed, revised and updated and we are feel we have  something that is as close as it gets to a great high quality blended program!

We have some new faces joining our eCredit crew this year with whom I am especially excited to be working. They are excited, dedicated people who are committed to seeing our learners succeed!

New this year in eCredit was a required parent orientation and which had a wonderful turn out!

Our two eCredit locations this semester are at FHS and LHS after school. FHS is also running eCredit during the day with a few students.

If you are unfamiliar with eCredit or would like to learn more, check us out at www.ecreditrecovery.com


District Owned Compass Content Wins Prestigious Award

eLearning has been subscribing while purchasing to own content from Compass Learning Odyssey. That said, we feel it’s important to let you know when the online content we’ve invested in receives a prestigious award :

CompassLearning Odyssey Wins the 2013 SIIA Education Technology CODiE Award for Best K–12 Course, Sets the Standard for Digital Learning in Today’s Classroom 

Prestigious Industry Award Recognizes Compass Learning for Innovation and Student Success in K-12 Education Market

What is being judged in the SIIA CODIE Best K-12 Course Category?

Recognizes the best digital learning environment/system designed for K-12 educators to manage curriculum-based content, student access and use, diagnostic and remediation programs, data management and reporting tools. Includes course and content-based learning management systems used by students.
Judges will be looking for:

  • Customizable for different user needs and education outcomes
  • Produces useful reports to intended users
  • Provides easy access to student and/or course data
  • Provides straightforward methods from bringing in curriculum, content, data, or standards information
  • Recognizable and positive impact on course development and implementation processes
  • Short learning curve”

Source: http://www.siia.net/codies/2013/categories.asp

What is the SIIA CODiE™ Awards?

The SIIA CODiE™ Awards, originally called the Excellence in Software Awards, were established in 1986 by the Software Publishers Association (SPA), now the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), so that pioneers of the then-nascent software industry could evaluate and honor each other’s work. Since then, the CODiE Awards program has carried out the same purpose – to showcase the software and information industry’s finest products and services and to honor excellence in corporate achievement.

What is SIIA?

The Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) is the principal trade association for the software and digital content industry. SIIA provides global services in government relations, business development, corporate education and intellectual property protection to more than 700 leading software and information companies. The SIIA Education Division serves and represents more than 200 member companies that provide software, digital content and other technologies that address educational needs. The Division shapes and supports the industry by providing leadership, advocacy, business development opportunities and critical market information. For more information, visit www.siia.net/education.

Source: http://eon.businesswire.com/news/eon/20130513005173/en/Compass-Learning/educational-software/CODiE

 Initially considered for credit recovery use, the district is now exploring other instructional possibilities with Compass. 


RTI & eCredit use of Compass

I’m an eCredit teacher after-school and a Biology teacher at Longmont High. I am also one of the people in my building who is on the RTI team. You can read more about me and the other teachers in the eCR program here

This fall I started teaching for eCredit and I immediately saw the connections for using the online software as an RTI support mechanism. Research shows that the best RTI programs have credit recovery opportunities during school or outside of school for students to make up failed classes and our district’s eCredit recovery program and content show great possibility. eCredit uses Compass Learning Odyssey software and it’s mostly beneficial because it is standards based.  Here’s what i mean: if a student has a high knowledge base, they can test out of topics or units that our district has customized. Then the Compass system generates what they didn’t show proficiency on. This way, they only need to focus on the work that they maybe missed in class due to absences or topics they just did not understand.

Using Compass as a math intervention especially can be very beneficial and something we have discussed at LHS for 9th grade RTI. Students could be working on Compass class they failed concurrently with the math class. This would allow them to make up the topics right away instead of falling further behind. If teachers had some training with Compass, they could assign pieces to students to use at home for re-looping purposes. This would be so great to use with students that missed class for an extended absence or to reteach materials that were not proficient on Unit tests. It is so hard to find time in class to reloop and that is such an integral part of the teaching and learning cycle.

But it doesn’t end there, we could use Compass as an evaluation tool to see where students are at and to diagnose needs of students. Since compass can be individualized per student, teachers could assign different concepts to students based on the diagnostics.


We can serve students way before they need eCredit. So why don’t we?


Our eCredit teachers are passionate about students learning;  however, it’s difficult to assess whether students learning eCredit impacts their achievement in the next grade when the majority of students are our 12th graders looking to graduate by May. What’s even more frustrating is getting 12th grade students enrolling in eCredit  to recover a 9th or 10th grade course. If  we had helped them sooner, imagine what they could’ve done with their learning over the four years? Can you imagine if eLearning was able to support schools beyond eCredit Recovery and inject some of the programming as intervention not as recovery? What do you think would happen? These credit recovery students who are typically at-risk, disengaged students, often close to dropping out students, may have had a more successful academic career had they been targeted earlier on to receive credit intervention rather than recovery. Rather, they come to eCredit at the end of their K-12 experience when they are exiting the system and desperately looking for options to recover credit and earn a diploma; unfortunately, it’s too late for their high school experience and a missed opportunity in that child’s life .
I would like to see eLearning and eCredit serving our students when it matters; when they can take their learning to the next year and be able to be successful in the next grade level– and maybe, by doing this we will open up doors for them by preparing them sooner than later to take, for example, advanced courses which can become a realistic and encouraged one. So instead of waiting for eCredit, when we see a student failing mid-semester, we give teachers access to Compass Learning and allow them to use it with their struggling students. I’ll bet that those students will not fail that course that school year. Teachers and students should have access to the content that eLearning is sitting on… it can be used for MORE than eCredit. And I will continue to push to make this a reality for our district’s students.

eCredit Survey: What our toughest customers are saying about eCredit

Monday March 4th marks the start of the sixth week of the eCredit Recovery spring session and while we have 4 more weeks to go (not including Spring Break) in the after-school program and just 3 in the during the day, we already have about 14 students who have successfully completed and recovered their credit, and are back on track for graduation! Since we kicked off this past fall 2012, we have had 229 students enroll in eCredit alone and an additional 21 students at DLA accessing Compass Learning Odyssey content for supplemental use. So far this year, 94 students have agreed to take an anonymous exit eCredit survey. (Keep in mind that not all students who have completed eCredit this year took the survey):

Let’s start with a basic demographic: students grade level this year. Take a look at the percentage of students who are seniors and juniors enrolled in eCredit: 88% (not unusual) and look at that in relation to the courses recovered:
Grade Level

Grade Level

The image below shows at least 65% of courses recovered are 9th and 10th grade level courses. Just think about what that has meant to a student’s academic success over the past four years if he or she didn’t get the content in 9th and 10th grade and is only NOW recovering that freshman course!
Courses Recovered 2012-2013

Courses Recovered 2012-2013

Also interesting are the number of students who selected “didn’t understand content” for why they failed the course the first time round: 35%…  Meanwhile,  29% who selected “didn’t pay attention” as their reason and 24% who selected “didn’t come to class” and the 45% who didn’t complete homework, selected behaviors that were probably a result of them struggling with the content and subsequently checking out of learning it the first time.
(Note: you’ll notice for some questions, students were able to select more than one checkbox so numbers do not add up to 100%. It’s indicated on the image if it is)
course the first time

Reasons students failed the course the first time

In fact, it’s supported here with 74% selecting that before taking the credit recovery course they had struggled understanding the content in the regular classroom.
Struggled understanding the content

Struggled understanding the content

And here’s the exciting part, 97% of students who completed the survey selected that after taking the course their understanding of the course content improved. This coming from students who have rarely felt academic success most of their lives is fantastic and exciting feedback!
After taking eCredit, understanding of content improved

After taking eCredit, understanding of content improved

This improvement in learning didn’t merely happen via Compass. It happened within the context of our eCredit Model. While the content is online, 87% of students selected that they benefited from the presence of an instructor. Wow!
Students benefited from the presence of an instructor

Students benefited from the presence of an instructor

77% selected they had a positive experience in eCredit and dare I suggest it’s likely related to their teachers of which 80% described eCr teachers as knowledgeable, 64% said they were approachable, 55% selected fun, 79% said instructors kept them working through the course and 48% described them as helpful and supportive.
How students described their eCredit Teachers

How students described their eCredit Teachers

It’s good to hear our toughest customers attributing some of their eCredit success to a combination of quality content and quality programming!