DTS Review - TRETC 2013- eLabs and Touchcast

At Wheeling Jesuit University’s Challenger Learning Center, they have started a program geared toward k-12 students that uses the idea of a “flipped” classroom to teach kids important science concepts, such as “What is matter?” and other such fundamental ideas. A “flipped” classroom is a new type of learning environment/construct that relies on the principles of learning individually at home or in a quiet classroom environment, usually through a video or interactive material source, and then the concepts discussed in the material are reinforced and amplified through directed classroom activities or practice. At Challenger Learning Center, they use a program called eLabs. This is a process of their own creation where they use a combination of web-apps and telepresence to teach and subsequently reinforce the topics presented. At their presentation they gave us a live example of this called “Why Matter Matters.” It began with a (web)app called Touch-cast, which presents a video alongside synchronized interactive content. This touch-cast led us to a video that went through (in a fun, goofy way) the concepts of matter and its properties. After the video, we were connected to an actual laboratory setting in which we virtually observed experiments regarding the identification of various properties of matter. This kind of learning-facilitation-expansion model is a great example of the “flipped” concept. The use of multimedia is, in this writer’s opinion, necessary to capturing the disparate attentions of modern children and adults alike. The only negative part of their presentation, which is really just a learning opportunity for those looking into this type of education, was that the content they relied on was all web based, and yet they didn’t bring their own mobile hotspot to connect with. Instead, they relied on the fact that the convention venue’s WiFi would satisfy their needs and it severely disrupted the quality of their content. This was especially true when it came to the telepresence section of the lesson. The connection was so poor that we couldn’t actually observe the properties of the chemicals we were intended to identify. From this we learn to make sure that when a connection to the internet is necessary to the lesson, then we should always have a backup, or at least test it to make sure that the connection will be acceptable under stress conditions.

As part of the presentation they also had a teacher who has been using the “flipped” model in his classes for a couple of years. From the questions he was asked, a couple lessons about implementation of this model could be learned. First and foremost, the content that the students consume on their own time must be engaging and worthwhile. A recorded lecture will not do, it must be worthy of the time that they are spending instead of doing homework. This means for videos, it must be fun to watch, or at least intriguing. For interactive presentations, the “interactions” must be easily usable, any major difficulties in using it and the value of the lesson itself will be lost. Second is how to deal with the students that still won’t consume the content out of class, despite its ease of use or interactivity. The idea that the teacher presented was simple, if they don’t watch it at home, then they get placed at a computer in the corner and have to consume it during class. The punishment for this becomes the exclusion from learning, an idea that he claimed, worked fantastically. Students may not want to always learn, but they always want to be included in what their peers are doing. The fact that they have to miss that makes them turn right around and get engaged with the proper format of the class. Third, it is vitally important that this process and content be flexible, modular. There is increasing evidence that the traditional “learning styles” aren’t necessarily true or applicable anymore. There should be more focus placed on how quickly students can learn individually and accommodate for that. The “flipped” classroom teacher must be able to identify who in the class is a faster or slower learner and try to help each individually. The benefit of the majority of the content being presented at home is that the teacher is left with more time to learn his students and facilitate their learning process.

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