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Published May 6, 2012 | Physics

A Toolbox for a Blended Learning Pilot

In June 2011, an interim report on eLearning at John Abbott College recommended that the college undertake two blended learning pilot projects. I have been conducting one of them for the course Physics NYC – Waves, Optics and Modern Physics.

Presentation about this project made during the 2012 John Abott College Educational Technology Week

Presentation about this project made during the 2012 John Abott College Educational Technology Week

A Toolbox for Blended Learning

In this article, I touch upon the tools that I have used to blend information technology and traditional teaching. My toolbox includes the following :

  • Online assignments, using a tool called Lon-Capa
  • The website ePhysics.ca which I made to provide my students with some resources not available elsewhere
  • Video Solutions which are posted on ePhysics.ca
  • Online webinars which are similar to the Video Solutions but interactive
  • Online surveys which confirmed that my students were quite comfortable with the internet
  • The Moodle platform which I am testing for John Abbott as part of the pilot project.

The Evolution of an Approach

In my first semester, I was plugged into Lon-Capa for online assignments through a colleague Michael Dugdale, who has helped a number of teachers with this system.

For these problems, as well as weekly problem sessions, I knew that my students would benefit from being able to watch solutions rather than try to interpret a static pdf solution. Since it involved minimal work for me to make a tidy computer solution and record it, I used my screen tablet to allow students to see me solving the problems and hear me going through the reasoning for that solution.

Video Solutions at ePhysics.ca

Video Solutions at ePhysics.ca

Unfortunately, I couldn't post videos on the LEA Omnivox system at Abbott, and since I have a background in web and graphic design, using one of their templates, I created a WordPress website, ePhysics.ca. It's a repository for my students to be able to log-in and see the video solutions for each different chapter. If I want to add things, it's pretty straightforward. Sometimes we also put Physics questions of the week for the whole department on this. WordPress is free, although I elected pay fifteen dollars for the domain name instead of using something like "myname.wordpress.org". I figured for a minimal amount I would make it sound fancy and went for ePhysics.

These video solutions have turned out to be pretty helpful for me because I don't repeat myself during office hours for the same problem. When there's a problem that students come to me with, I just make a video solution of it and then, they can just rewind and rewatch it as many times as they need. In a worst case scenario, if they still don't get it, they can then come to my office hours.

All content including webinars is hosted at ePhysics.ca

All content including webinars is hosted at ePhysics.ca

Online Webinars

Anyone can do webinars, and if you have it, you can use Moodle for posting video solutions. At John Abbott, we have an account with GoToMeeting which allows us to schedule webinars. I just give my students the meeting information in class or I post it online for them. When they connect, I'm shown a panel that allows me to see who's in the webinar and who has microphone access. I can mute if people are playing music, and if you have twenty-five people in a webinar, it can get loud fast, so you can just mute everyone. Although they can type their questions in the Q&A Question Panel, usually, if students want to ask me a question, I'll unmute them and let them talk. I repeat the question that was asked so that everyone can hear it. I can also let them see my screen as I write out solutions using a Wacom tablet.

I record my own webinars so that I can post them online after. GoToMeeting doesn't let you record from a Mac, but on Windows you can record it directly. To record my screen I now use Camtasia which I just recently bought. Before that I was using Screenium on the Mac. I had to combine the videos using another system which was a bit of a hassle.

I take out the chunks that are a specific solution to a problem and save those as separate videos which are posted on the website. In the end, these wind up being just like the video solutions but less polished because I can insert a title slide and the problem number in the video solutions, whereas the webinar ones are sort of on the fly. The entire webinar lasts about two hours and contains a lot of chatting. Now that the students know that all the pertinent solutions will be posted online after the webinar, I've seen a drop in the students that attend a webinar, so it is something I will need to rethink.

The Future

Right now my resources seem to be approaching a steady state. I don't want to keep on going with brand new things just for the sake of novelty and not polish up what I'm doing now. I give my students surveys, and I ask for advice. Eventually I think if the college decides to adopt it, I want to continue to explore Moodle after the pilot project and perhaps phase out the ePhysics website, although now there's a colleague of mine in the department who uses it regularly to post her content as well.

We're trying to use certain technological tools that are at our disposal to improve what we already do but continue doing what works.

We're trying to use certain technological tools that are at our disposal to improve what we already do but continue doing what works. I've used new tools to enhance my students' understanding, and for me, that is the essence of blended learning. When other teachers see that we're not trying to reinvent something and make education a whole new thing, they are more open to adopting the technology that suits them.

Have you experimented with blended learning? What new tools have you used?

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