To Flip or not to Flip?

flippedThere is an article in USA Today that rains on the parade of the Flipped Classroom enthusiasts.  The article, written by Emily Atteberry, examines the premature delirium of the “flipped classroom” model by its proponents.

Harvard university professors are testing the claims that a flipped model increases learning retention and improves the overall learning experience; their findings are that, so far, there is no noticeable difference between the traditional classroom and the flipped model.  (cue the applause and told-you-so’s from the anti-techies out there…) (who then jump on their dinosaurs and ride off into the sunset…).

I have tried the flipped classroom model in ESL; in fact, this was the whole impetus behind starting my blog.  You know, the one you’re reading right now.  In case you don’t know exactly what is meant by “flipping”, here it is, essentially:

The idea is that the teacher will have created a Learning Management System.  The instructor would prepare lectures on either a PowerPoint or video, and the learners would view this material at home or on their devices somewhere other than the classroom.  Learners then, having done the work, come to class prepared to demonstrate and practice the skills, with the instructor there to guide them as they produce evidence of learning.

Flipped Classroom – Positive Outcomes

Sounds good in theory, yes?  In practice, having a flipped classroom was not ideal.  However, there were some definite positive outcomes:

1.  The flipped classroom experiment opened up the possibilities of using an LMS in an ESL environment for me.

2.  The learners recognized the importance of this type of communication, and even though many of them struggled with the demands of a flipped classroom, they learned a great deal, and not just about the subject matter.  They improved their WPMs, their website navigation skills, mouse manipulation, and general knowledge of computers.  For adult ESL learners, this is no small feat.

So the flipped classroom is flawed.  I could have told you that.  Is a flipped classroom right for all kinds of classes and all kinds of learners?  Who in their right mind would make that generalization?  Of course not.  There is no one-stop shopping for ESL learning.  There is no one model that is going to solve everyone’s problems.  There can’t be.  We don’t work that way.

What Can We Learn from the Flipped Experiment?

What the flipped classroom model did was introduce the concept of a Virtual Learning Environment and the possibilities that lie within this technology.  Atteberry isn’t suggesting that the flipped model is just another trend that will die out.  The Harvard professors who have so far found that it makes no difference, well, they don’t have to use the model.  I wonder about instructor bias in this particular study.  Relax – I said I wonder about a bias, I didn’t say they had one.

From the Flip to the LMS

As for me, I doubt that I would use a flipped model in an ESL setting again – not unless we are talking about a program that is seeking to be inclusive of rural communities and the “flipping” is more a necessity than something fun to try.

I will, however, continue to build on and use an LMS in whatever course or program that I am teaching.  There is a place for technology in the ESL classroom, even for literacy learners, as this quote from Bow Valley College demonstrates:

“Best practices in the ESL literacy classroom include encouraging learner motivation,maximizing progress, preparing learners for the real world, and bridging learners into life-long learning. The incorporation of technology into the classroom allows a multipronged approach to achieve all of these goals”
– Bow Valley College, 2009

Flipping a classroom may not work for my learners, but that’s okay.  The “traditional classroom” doesn’t work, either.

What works is a well planned, inclusive, interesting, and safe LMS that provides learners with the chance to experiment and explore language learning opportunities using technology coupled with classroom activities that engage students with experiential learning.  I could wax on about the social constructionist benefits of Moodle, but I’ll save that for another rant.

To flip or not to flip – you decide.  There is more to heaven and earth than the “traditional classroom” – whatever that means…

lecture with audience

Should you want to look further into the flipped classroom model, there are plenty of websites on this subject.  A good overview can be found at the Center for Teaching at Vanderbilt University.

Also – a good article critically examining the flipped concept by Ian Bogost in the Atlantic can be found here.

A lively discussion on flipped classrooms can be found here.

Great article from an educator who tried the flipped classroom and found that it didn’t work for her.  A must read written by Shelley Wright.

Got a nod from LearnIT2Teach

In case you’ve arrived here fresh from the LearnIT2Teach December newsletter, just thought I’d fill you in a little on what I’m doing here.

I’m lucky.  I’m fortunate to be able to get to experiment with not one but two Learning Management Systems at my workplace.  I use my LearnIT2Teach Stage 3 platform for my ESL Retail course, and have had some great success with it.  Moodle has a lot of advantages; Moodle + LearnIT2Teach is even better.

Because I work for a school board, I have been granted access to Desire2Learn, another kind of a LMS.  I was able to use it last summer, and I was just now (as in last week) given the green light to use it for the SLT program out of my school.

I’m in the unusual position of being able to use and comment on two different LMS’s.  So while I initially set up this blog to record my foray into the virtual learning environment, I had NOT  planned to keep it going after the end of my summer blended learning course.  However, one thing led to another, and I decided to keep on blogging, if only to keep things straight for myself.  How did I resolve the SCORM issue in D2L?  Where is the blog tool again?

I have also been searching for others, like me, using LMS’s, to learn from them.  You all seem to be few and far between.  Or at least disinclined to posting your rants on a public forum.

So, in this blog, I write about the different features or functions of an LMS, and when I can, I compare the two systems with which I am becoming familiar.  I don’t have a tech background.  I’ve had to learn all of this stuff by doing it (ye olde experimental method) and through LearnIT2Teach.  They’ve been invaluable.  Much of the information that you can learn from them using the open source LMS can be transferred to a proprietary LMS,  many of the same bells and whistles.

Anyhow, I’m Jennifer.  Nice to meet you. Comment if you wish.

Hide (‘n’ seek??) or I Spy with my little Widgit

Round Two:  Hiding Content

Now, why would I want to do that?  Well, say you’ve got your course loaded up for the term, all topics or weeks laid out, ready to go.  Yes, it’s awesome to have learners so eager they dash ahead and complete readings and tasks, etc.  However, sometimes, you want to control what goes out to the group and when this info is released.

First, I have to say I like the “time release” function in D2L for news items.  V. useful.  Moodle may have this as an administrative function, but I haven’t seen it yet, as a non administrator.

(Time release lets you set up a series of instructions, or news items, that will only appear on a date you select.)

Hide It – D2L

Now, having done a search for how to do this on D2L, I thought that the solution was fairly straightforward.

Click on the little yellow pen that appears beside the content that you would like to hide, select “hide”.  So, the first problem was that I do not have a little yellow editing pen tool. Okay, there has to be a way, really…  There is.  You need to select the module you would like to hide, and then deselect “publish” and choose “draft” instead.  There is no time release feature for the modules; this exists for news items, and maybe some other features.  When an item is in “draft” mode, is is not visible to the learners.  When you want them to see it, just select “publish”. (see picture below of D2L)


Hide It – Moodle

Moodle does it like this:  make sure your editing is on.  See the content you want hidden?  See that there is a wide open eye for all currently visible content?  Click the eye.  You’ll notice that the eye closes, and the content to which it is attached is now greyed out.  Ta-dah! (Check out the Moodle pic; you can see how simple this procedure is.   Notice the greyed out topic with the closed eye… so easy, a trained chimp could do it. ) (Uh, my trained chimp is taking offense at that last remark, so disregard it.  You don’t want to get a chimp angry…).


Not to seem like I’m ragging on D2L, but why couldn’t they make these features a little more user-friendly?

Note: Yes, I see the little yellow pencils under bulk edit in the D2L pic, but these do not allow me to hide content at all; it allows you mass delete files.  Look above at the Moodle graphic; see how straightforward an action it is to hide something?  Yes, one can fairly easily select “draft” in D2L but one would have to know first that this is what one needs to do.  How would one know that a draft is not visible to all participants?

Got SCORM? Revisited.

Well, this will be short and sweet.  In the one corner, we have Open-Source Moodle; in the other, Proprietary D2L.  Even though D2L has the shiny new boxer shorts, Moodle is holding its own quite nicely in its functional, and well worn sweats.

Which one is going to win the battle of the SCORM?

The bell rings. Moodle is off like a flash.  Turn your editing on.  Add SCORM.  Upload file. Make a title. File is now in your “moodle file locker room.”  Select it.  Save and display.  Test it out – works.  No browser issues, all plugins working fine.   Moodle has D2L backed into a corner.

moodle scorm

Now let’s look at D2L.  In order to upload your SCORM, follow these steps:

Click course, click content, click manage files.  Wait – no “manage files”?  Okay, then you need to “edit course”; it’s on the top of your toolbar.  Now, import/export components.  Browse and select your SCORM.  Type a folder name.  Select “overwrite existing file”.  Not sure why, just do it. Now select “all components” to import, or you won’t get all the stuff you need to properly run your SCORM.  Got it?  Okay, catch your breath.  Select “next”.  Now, wait for it… go back to the folder you created.  Test your SCORM.  What?!  It won’t run?!

d2l scorm

Note: this is the same browser that runs the exact same SCORM activity on Moodle.  It works on Moodle.  D2L – adding SCORM is not very user friendly.

TKO – Moodle is the champ in the battle of the SCORM.

Note:  This was driving me nuts, so I made a call to D2L and had a nice long conversation with Rajesh.  There was something going on with the volume control at the D2L headquarters, because he was v. unclear, and when he adjusted the volume, I could clearly hear the advice being given by his rather loud female colleague in the background.  Anyhow, after a few questions back and forth, Rajesh figured it out.  It seems Firefox was blocking the SCORM content in D2L for some reason, but does not block the same SCORM content in Moodle.

Rajesh showed me how to allow the content – just click on the little shield symbol in the http bar at the top of the screen.  Now I’ll just have to relay that to the students and hope they remember that when they are at home trying to do a SCORM activity.

d2l scorm browser block

Resistance is futile… or at least, annoying.

Not All Are As Excited As I

I am, at this moment, gearing up to start an exciting new project at work:  I get to develop an LMS and train* two other instructors who are in the same SLT group as I.  I am super excited about this because I know that learners need these skills, and not only that, these are skills that effectively are transferable to the workplace.

There are some details to sort out before we dive into this project for January, but I was interested in feedback from the two other instructors with whom I’d be working.  One is similarly excited, and keen to learn about how to use an LMS with her program.  In the lunchroom, we talked briefly about how she’d use it, and how my role would be to help her develop and support her in the smooth functioning of her platform.  The other, not so much.  She believes that her course is fine the way it is, and that she can’t see how an LMS could be worked into her schedule.

That got me thinking.  Now, I know that learning a new tool can be daunting.  I also know that instructors are wary of the next best thing.  This instructor has said it would be a challenge to make the time to learn and to use this tool.  Her 5.6 hours per day are solidly booked. She asked “Are they paying me extra to learn this? Are they giving me more hours?”.  No.  They’re not.  And she’s an employee, not a volunteer.

She’s got a point. But it’s disheartening all the same.  At this point in time, I believe it would be doing our learners a disservice not to include an element of technology in a workplace SLT program.

An LMS is a  REAL WORLD Tool – Why not Introduce it?

If any of our learners are moving onward and upward in their education, there is a good chance that they will encounter a Virtual Learning Environment.  In fact, last I checked, 90% of colleges and universities in the US have some kind of LMS. (Jon Mott, 2010  I’d hazard a guess that Canada is up there too.

I’ve read before that one of the biggest obstacles facing the development of a LMS is instructor resistance.  Why?  Really, why? I’ve got some thoughts on this:

  1. An LMS makes you accountable, both to the learners and to your employer.  Your program becomes transparent to everyone enrolled. Your program, then, is much more open to feedback for development and improvement.  Transparency does not appeal to everyone; in fact, it makes some nervous.  I can understand this.
  2. Time and effort:  anything worth doing takes time to sculpt, create and maintain.  If you don’t have the time, you don’t have the time.
  3. People in general can be creatures of habits.  If you’ve been doing the same thing for many years, why change?  Opting for something new can often mean dropping something that has worked effectively for the instructor.
  4. Technology can be intimidating.

If You Force it, You Will Fail…

I’m not about to try to force anything on anybody who has already decided against using advanced technology in the classroom (by “advanced”, I mean more than just PowerPoint).  If you want to find a surefire way to fail at a project, impose it on someone.  Give them no choice.  Then watch them dig in their heals and all your efforts go up in smoke.

How to Get Instructor Buy-In

Idea: I’ve got to sell this.  I’ve got to use what I have been doing in Moodle & D2L, show examples, and sell it to my colleagues.  I can’t just stand at the front of a meeting room, blathering on about engaging learners with technology – I’ve got to take pieces of my platform, throw it up there on a screen or whiteboard, and show them how it can be used.  I need them to recognize the benefits, and want to develop this in their CALL times.  I need to show them that it’s not rocket science.  Well, maybe the grader tool is a little rockety, but most of it isn’t.

You’ve heard the expression “if you build it, they will come.”  In my case, I very well could build an LMS, and the instructor will choose not to use it.  The thing is, if you want an LMS to fail, you can find a way to do so.

On the flip side, if you want an LMS to be successful, you can make it happen.

* Note: I can’t actually “train” my colleagues.  This would be in violation of our Collective Agreement.  What I do is part of something called “PD Partner Model” which calls the action “sharing” and claims no expertise on the part of the sharer. Am I training or sharing?  That’s the rub.  Resistance comes in many forms, and a skilled Resistor employs whatever resources she can.  In this case, that’s the Union.  Big sigh.

Thoughts on the First Group – My Test Pilots

The learners I had in this MOODLE have now finished their classroom component of their program; they still have 10 weeks of co-op placement to complete.  For the first time ever, the learners in this Retail SLT program will need to continue to keep up their skills by completing weekly online tasks.  I’ll tell you why I think this is awesome.

Why I Think This Is Awesome:

In the past, when the learners left me, that was it.  When they left my classroom to spend 2 weeks at a local employment agency and then their 6 or 8 weeks at the retail partner, my role was completely finished.  They would only see me at the very end when they returned to the employment agency for their performance evaluations and their certificates of completion.

Learners would not need to do any review, reading, writing, etc because it was assumed that since they were at the retailer’s, they would be getting plenty of listening and speaking practice.  In addition, there is also a considerable measure of reading and CBT (computer-based training).  What we found was that learner’s spoken prowess increased significantly over the weeks of customer service and workplace interaction.  We also found that reading and writing skills either stayed the same, or, more often, weakened somewhat.

Thus, for my pilot group of retail ESL learners, I proposed to the Big Guy (aka my boss) that we keep the learners engaged in a self-study program aimed at improving reading and writing skills through weekly tasks and assignments, with a workplace/CLB focus.  Then we can offer the learners the opportunity to write their Reading and Writing outcomes at the end of their placements knowing that they have been exercising these skills throughout their co-op placements.  We have only been offering the Listening/Speaking outcomes up until now.

So,  the following list is why I think this MOODLE is awesome for my particular situation:

  1. learners get the chance to strengthen their reading and writing skills through weekly tasks and activities
  2. learners get to maintain the classroom relationships that they have developed (learners get split up into three different locations)
  3. learners get the chance to discuss in a safe and private place what their workplace experiences are like, and can get feedback from their instructor and peers
  4. learners can share their expertise with their peers in “spotlight” group forums – i.e. if learners are working in “Paint” and have learned a new skill or something particular important about a product or service, they can share it with others who are in the same department but at a different location
  5. learners can share their thoughts and ideas about customer service in Canada, and how best to serve the diverse population in which they live
  6. learners will get feedback from their instructor with regards to their writing and reading assignments (oh man, learnIT2Teach crew, if you can find *ANY* way to allow feedback to blogs, I would love you like a brotha from another motha…)

Now, my pilot group has just flown the coup – they have been at the employment agency for this week only.  I have checked to see whether or not they are looking in to the group, and only one member has checked and done his assignment this week.  They still have time – they can get caught up at the end of next week.  I have put these instructions in big, BOLD, letters in the news, so I am certain that they all know what is expected.

Also, this group has an advantage in the timing of the program.  I am presently on a non-teaching assignment, so my time is more flexible and I can maintain the site and produce and grade assignments.  Now if I had been given a regular CLB class, I am not sure how this part of the program could be maintained.  It is something that we need to look at, especially if the learners take advantage of it and use the program.

P.S.   As an editing teacher, I *really* like that we can track participants in MOODLE because this is going to be a deciding factor at the end of the program when we determine whether or not learners can do the Reading and Writing outcomes.  No logins, no activity, no chance to advance a level.