Friday, December 13, 2013

A View from the Field: Jean Bontemps

A View from the Field: Jean Bontemps

Read about Jean Bontemps journey into blended learning. Jean teaches sophomore English and contemporary literature at Dubuque Senior High School in Dubuque, Iowa.

Tell us about your interest in blended learning and how your building got started?
I became interested in blended learning for two different reasons.  First, Amy Burns, a co-worker at Dubuque Senior, began teaching a blended learning speech class.  I have always looked up to Amy and how she incorporated technology into her classes. She made a huge effort to research and implement technology on her own, and often shared her learning and ideas with the rest of the school.  When she began incorporating the ideas of blended learning into her classes, I knew that it was also something that I wanted to investigate.  On her recommendation I took the Moodle classes offered through the AEA and became hooked. (Information about professional development courses focused on blended learning can be found here.)  Second, as I pursued my Masters in Library and Information Sciences, I learned that there are many benefits to blending instruction. Students who receive blended instruction become more responsible and independent with their learning.  They are responsible for the same amount of work, or learning, but they can choose to do this on their own, work with small groups of students, or the instructor. Blended learning opportunities provide students with a lot of flexibility that can help every student excel.

What kinds of things did your district/building do as you got ready to start some blended learning instruction?
The district administration agreed to fund a demonstration classroom complete with three media: scape collaboration tables and Steelcase Node chairs and desks. These tables, chairs and desks created an environment conducive to blended learning. In addition to the demonstration classroom, each student in the class would receive a 1:1 device .  They initially started out with Toshiba Netbooks (which were not the best solution).  In August 2013 I received access to the demonstration classroom for my Contemporary Literature course and was able to receive Lenovo Thinkpads for use with the students instead of the Netbooks.  With access to technology and support from my colleague, Amy Burns, I was able to move forward with blending my instruction.

What are some features of Moodle that you find helpful?
I enjoy most of the Moodle features. I really like the incorporation of the themes and the new layout.  I’ve been able to incorporate our school’s colors and mascot. It looks great, and an appealing appearance is always easier to engage students with. I’m also able to organize the content into units that appear in tabs across the top of course homepage. Makes it easy for students to navigate through the content.

Moodle also has a lot of ways for students to interact with the content, other students, and myself. Not only do students have access to the text that they are reading, but I can also post documents and videos that support or expand on the course content. I also use discussion forums and wikis. These Moodle activities allow students to share ideas and collaborate. Finally, I use the Moodle quiz features to assess student learning.

Moodle allows you to incorporate online tools into your blended instruction. What online tools do you use?
For papers and presentations we are currently using Google Drive. For research, we regularly use the AEA databases, but the students also must have a Carnegie Stout Library card, so most of our research is done online in those formats.  Many students also use these for independent reading through the ebooks that are offered.  
Blended learning really provides students with a lot of independence. Most projects are also open for how students present their learning. Students have created Prezi’s, Glogster pages, and YouTube videos. They then share these projects with me and their classmates.

What were some of the ways blended learning impacted your classroom?  How did the students respond?
One of the things I like most about the blended learning format is that students can watch videos and begin work at home leaving more class time for discussions and questions.  The students, for the most part, have responded well and are excited about coming to class and working on the projects.  They also enjoy the additional technology that the district has provided to support the class.

What surprised you about the students' response to blended learning?  
I wouldn't say this surprised me, but some students had a hard time scheduling their time. They were used to the traditional schedule of classes and for the first month of school a lot of the students struggled with planning time to do work outside of the classroom walls. As the semester has progressed, students have become better at managing their time.

What knowledge-building and prep did you have to do with students, parents and administration in prep for your use of blended learning?
I spent time emailing, mailing letters, and calling students and parents to explain the benefits and expectations of the Contemporary Literature course in the blended format.
One key point that I have communicated to the district and to parents is that for a lot of students who are going to pursue any type of higher education after high school, blended or online learning is going to be a reality they are going to face in their post secondary experiences. The more we can prepare them for this reality, the better we are doing our job as educators.  

Any advice for teachers or buildings considering the implementation of blended learning?
It is worth the risks and time.  I have only taught this class in a blended format for one semester, and I am already planning ways that I will teach it differently and improve it next semester.  Trying new things in the classroom, despite the risk, can really pay off in the end. I am also willing to learn from other teachers and from the students themselves. Realizing that everyone can be a teacher and a learner in this format can really take the classroom to a higher level.

Note: Information on how access to AEA K-12 Online’s free Moodle hosting services/e-curriculum can be found here.

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