blended learning

pre-COETAIL blog post

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It’s like throwback Thursday (#TBT), only it’s Tuesday! However, I am doing a little digital housecleaning and have stumbled upon some great files from my past. One is a picture of a fave student who just graduated from university last month. In the picture he’s in 9th grade, slightly chubby with short hair. He’s now tall, thin, with long metal-rocker locks.

Among the gems, I found the following document chronicling a workshop experience led by a certain Mr. Jeff Utecht at the 2010 NESA Spring Educators Conference in Bangkok. Not a surprise that this document was submitted to SUNY Buffalo (with a check) in exchange for graduate credit. I was COETAIL blogging before COETAIL was a thing! Note the hyperlinks. Those were there in the original Word document. 🙂 (Only the NESA link gets an error message.)

I think this is evidence that my life could not have been complete without the COETAIL experience.


Christina Botbyl

NESA 2010 Spring Educators’ Conference – PAPER 1

Buffalo State University

April 24, 2010


Thoughts on the Changing Role of the Educator in the 21st Century

At the NESA 2010 Spring Educators’ Conference in Bangkok, I (finally!) had the pleasure of attending a workshop led by Jeff  Utecht of the International School of Bangkok.  I walked away from his workshop entitled “Building Student Centered Blended Learning Environments with a wealth of information.  The role of technology is changing the delivery of education in significant ways.  In truth, technology’s impact on the changing role of the educator is even more considerable.

Technology itself doesn’t change education, the classroom, or teaching practices.  The problem with any pedagogical movement is often that it is touted as the thing that will transform education.  This is the misconception that often sinks sound pedagogical ideas.  A laptop cart that sits locked in a storage room doesn’t change teaching.  Sparkling new computer labs that are used to teach PowerPoint don’t necessarily make for a productive learning environment.  Something more than just having the technology, or access to it, is required.

It’s not about having access to the technology.  The majority of my high school students carry around a mobile phone (mostly smartphones), an iPod touch, or a laptop.  They own technology, they use technology, but it’s not currently impacting their learning in positive and productive ways.  Students are left to their own devices (literally and figuratively) to make sense of the technology that surrounds them.  Their misguided and uneducated misadventures into 21st century technology often find them making a lot of mistakes (i.e. cyber/text bullying, copy-paste plagiarism, etc.).

I find that most of my students haven’t independently moved beyond very low-level educational uses of 21st century technology.  These misuses include:  reading Spark Notes or Shmoop instead of actually reading George Orwell’s 1984, following bizarre urban legends via their BBM network, texting gossip during classes, looking up words on, creating mash-up essays with excerpts lifted from various free essay sources on the web, and the list goes on.  In fact, there is even a small minority of serious students who seem to be anti-technology because they see it misused and abused by students around them as tools for distractions and gossip mongering.

Pedagogy must change to shift the focus of 21st century learning environments.  Educators must make the leap into the 21st century (hey, it’s already 10% over!).  Schools need to stop reacting to students’ misuse of technology in the classroom and teach them how to become better learners while using a smartphone, laptop, or iPad.  There is often an outcry from community groups when books are banned from libraries and classrooms.  It’s time to hear the outcry when students are deprived of using 21st century technologies to become better learners.

My experiences in education now span two decades.  I’ve been in the business long enough now to have seen my share of educational change.  I have a better understanding of those been-there-done-that veterans from my early days of teaching who always stated smugly, “This new bandwagon is just like the one from x years ago.”  One aspect of teaching that never changes, regardless of the bandwagon du jour, is that there is not one easy fix that will revolutionize education.  Technology itself is not going to revolutionize the field of education, classrooms, or instructional practices.  The key is how educators and their pedagogical practices must change in order to remain relevant in the lives of the 21st century learner.





COETAIL Final Project – IB French, Collaborative Writing

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cada macaca no seu galho
photo by mondopanno

FINALLY!!!! I am very pleased to announce that I got the COETAIL final project monkey off my back! I refer to it as a monkey in the most affectionate of manners. This was a really long process. The first step of just settling on a project topic seemed like an amazing accomplishment.

The next step was actually planning the tech integration project. True to the life of an educator, it just never seemed like there was enough time to get this thing done.

Then, the project was done. I had photos, video footage (MERCI Lissa!), student work, and student testimonial videos…which I sat on for too many weeks to count. It was tough work scripting and summarizing. Then the hours spent in iMovie seemed never ending.Until I turned that magical corner of no-turning-back. What a sense of relief! What a sense of accomplishment!

The COETAIL journey was well worth the time and effort. I now have a solid base of information on which to build my approach to technology integration. In addition, I have a phenomenal PLN to consult for further information, developments, advice, and examples. I am certainly a better educator as a result. 😉

Necessity, the mother of…flipping instruction?

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Call !
photo by redwood 1

The week of March 3…fully booked during teaching time to record Individual Oral Assessments.

The awkward part of a week of Orals is that only one or two students become the focal point of my attention during class time. This leaves the rest of the class to their own devices (literally and figuratively). Talk about a teacher’s worst guilt trip on so many levels.

This week through a combination of using Edmodo and Google Drive apps, I am going to attempt to flip instruction. Although, is it still flipping instruction if students are left to work independently during the regularly scheduled class time? 😉

The biggest challenge is that they are beginning a new unit on the environment. I have been scouring the internet for resources that they could use to independently learn the vocabulary and expressions necessary.

The first theme will focus on Recycling.

  • Preparation: I sent students a notification via edmodo to bring a device to class and to be sure that they have a Google account. I also posted a Youtube video for them to watch either before, or upon, arriving in class, their choice. The beauty of the Youtube video is that students can turn on the subtitles in French to follow the dialogue. They are not 100% correct, but should help to support students as they begin.

  • Class 1: Today’s success hinges on a couple of factors that I can’t necessarily control: student motivation/engagement, devices present, and internet connection. I was able to snag Lissa, the French speaking tech coach to support students and help them with troubleshooting.

I posted two flipped assignments and scheduled them to open just before class begins. One is a collaborative presentation in which student are to add 3 slides each representing a different vocabulary word or expression. The other is a document that students will copy to their own Google drive and use to work with new vocabulary. There are two internet-based reading activities linked in this document with simple comprehension activities. It’s a lot of learning for them to complete in 60 minutes, even if everything runs smoothly.


  • Class 2: Not convinced that too much is getting done during class time…
  • Class 3: First student shares completed assignment via Google doc. I notice that answers about reading article were often copied and pasted from said article. Not what I really wanted, but kids often answer questions by copying by hand from text. Maybe not the end of the world, as students also need to comprehend in order to choose the right text to copy/paste.
  • The night before class 4: Second student shares a completed assignment via Google doc. Not a total surprise that I am receiving requests from many students regarding sharing the Google Presentation with them so they could add their slides. Numerous edmodo messages asking for details and clarifications on various expectations. (Without technology, students wouldn’t be able to get answers from me outside of school hours.) I am compiling a survey in Google Forms for students to provide feedback after tomorrow’s written formative.
  • Class 4: Today students will complete a formative assessment based on the previous three classes of flipped instruction/independent learning.

Well, this was an experience for all involved. The majority of students did not complete/submit assignments in the time frame allowed. Flipping instruction. It’s like flipping a coin. Will they? Won’t they? On time? Late?

Is Handwriting Threatened by Technology?

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Handwriting! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing????? Well, it seems to be good for producing tears.

Crazy conversation this morning with a colleague that began as a discussion about my 10th grade son’s handwriting. It was his French teacher (a French native) who brought up the subject. We discussed and debated the subject all in her native language, my second language. Oh, là, là!

What is the Role of Handwriting?

Oh, là, là! I enter the French classroom and immediately recognize the handwriting of my 10th grade son.

Her concern was that his handwriting needs work practice. This was certainly not the first time I have heard this in the almost 16 years since my son entered my life. At this point, it’s hard to know if I am approaching the handwriting conversation as a mother, a colleague, a tech enthusiast, or an active member of the 21st century. Whichever hat I wear, I have some very strong feelings about handwriting.

Very quickly I sensed that the conversation was becoming a debate, mostly because she and I were coming from different vantage points. She began by seeking my support in handwriting practice, that having nice handwriting is important. She argued that handwriting is important and students should be required to first demonstrate neat handwriting before being allowed to use an iPad or a laptop. (Have I mentioned she is of a different generation than mine? A younger generation than the one I belong to.) She even complimented me on my lovely handwriting! <Blush> (At that moment, I slightly regretted handwriting those sub plans for her back in January.) I may have burst her bubble when I told her that I often prefer typing since I can type much faster than I can write (neatly) by hand.

Handwriting refers to a person’s unique style of writing characters created with a writing utensil such as a pen or pencil…Because each person’s handwriting is unique, it can be used to verify a document’s writer.

So, his handwriting is challenging to read, but by definition handwriting is “unique.” His just happens to be uniquely challenging to read. 😉 Because his penmanship style is not aesthetically pleasing, the expectation is that he change. I digress and head off into questionable territory here…The Land of the Mama Tiger! 😉

Kids These Days

Of course, it is important to note that technology was blamed more than once during this conversation as being the cause of the downfall of handwriting and of a growing inability to give handwriting its proper respect. It’s the age-old “kids these days” argument, that is rarely really about “kids these days.” As the BBC news magazine video above reveals, hanging onto handwriting may be more motivated by nostalgia than anything else. Is it more important for my teenage son to increase his fluency in the French language or that he write neatly in cursive? As a parent and and an educator, I know which one requires greater cognitive ability.

I know that I have very strong feelings about the role of handwriting and the role of technology in the lives of kids and how each enable us to communicate our ideas. Some of these feelings (o.k., maybe all of them) are definitely shaped by my experiences as a parent. My son’s handwriting has been a bone of contention with teachers ever since he began school at the tender age of four. Despite his manual agility with the tiniest of Lego bricks, the dexterity required for handwriting and using scissors has always seemed to elude him. We worried that maybe he just didn’t try hard enough, so spent summers forcing him to work in handwriting workbooks. He has suffered a few poor scores from teachers who couldn’t get beyond his handwriting to uncover the ideas that he was trying to communicate. Luckily this has been rare. Sometimes, he can’t even read his own handwriting. His handwriting has become a point of many jokes in our family. He owns that his handwriting is a cross to bear.

a handwritten note from my son, age 10
(I still carry this in my wallet.)

The biggest problem is that his handwriting only serves as a handicap to his ability to communicate his ideas. He is a fast processor with lots of creative ideas that come to him at a speed that his handwriting could never support. Technology has become his best friend in this regard. He is very passionate about writing and produces a daily average of around 2000 words between blogging, writing his first novella, and various projects and assignments for school. Most of his teachers over the past few years have been very understanding and he uses an iPad in class to take notes, produce journal entries, and complete assignments.

Without technology, I wonder how his life in handwriting Hell might have been different. Would his handwriting have improved eventually? Would he be in a constant state of frustration? Would he have creative ideas left unshared and undeveloped? Would he actually love creative writing and blogging?

Straddling Two Worlds

If we lived in the States, I’m sure we would easily be able to have an IEP (Individual Educational Plan) that allowed for the accommodation of technology to assist him in written assignments. That would be nice for the times when he has to write a summative essay by hand in class or when he has to write exams by hand. Using an iPad or a laptop is not yet accepted as a means for exam writing due to potential academic honesty hazards. That said, he never complains and his teachers seem willing (maybe even able?) to decipher his handwriting. Some even joke that it really hurts their eyes, but they make sense of it, and I’m sure that he is able to make the shift to writing as legibly as possible because he realizes the necessity.

Many of us, adults and adolescents alike, straddle two worlds. We live a hybrid existence in which we use technology to facilitate numerous tasks in our daily lives, while still reaching for a print copy and a highlighter or jotting a to-do list on a Post-it note. Yes, I believe in handwriting. It’s not as if we’re talking about the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus, here. Handwriting exists, we learn how to do it, we teach children how to do it, we use it to communicate. However, it is not the end-all be-all format through which we must communicate our ideas. For that, I know at least one 10th grade boy (and his parents) who are very happy!

Device Management

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What are ways to manage the use of devices in a classroom environment?

I have typically functioned as a 21st century educator on the BYOD model, since I teach in a school where the vast majority of students have some sort of portable device from smartphone to netbook to iPad to personal laptop. Managing a variety of devices in a classroom has quite a range of interesting challenges. I cannot say that I have a particular set of rules or guidelines that I have reiterated with my students. However, my BYOD events have typically been successful, with a couple of exceptions. I will chalk the successes up to working with students in grades 11 and 12 and to having a very specific lesson/task in mind with clear outcomes.

Here are some considerations that I have found helpful when inviting student devices into the classroom.

  • Redesigning classroom setup

I have preferred a horseshoe set up since my early days as a university teaching assistant. This is a great layout for a discussion based classroom. I can also move around with ease to provide assistance or re-direction depending on what a situation requires. When devices enter the lesson, I have had students turn their desks around 180° so that their backs are to the inside of the horseshoe. While walking around the classroom, this setup allows the teacher the ability to quickly scan screens of laptops, netbooks, and propped up tablets to get a visual of what is going on at each device.


  • Clear guidelines for the task objective
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The successes that I have experienced have happened when the task, outcome, etc. was very clear and well-laid out for students. Explaining it before students are tuned in to devices is perhaps one of the most important parts of setting a successful environment that involves devices. Also, posting a short list of steps/expectations either via the LCD projector or on a blog that students can access serves dual purposes: 1) keeps students mindful of their responsibilities during the lesson and 2) frees the teacher up to provide support and answer bigger questions than “What do I do next?”


  • Have students used the app or tool before?
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No matter how many times I integrate technology into a unit, I always seem to forget to determine if students have any experience with the tool(s) that they will be using. Personally, I have dismissed the whole myth of the “digital native”; however, I am still caught off-guard when I learn that students have never used a Google doc, nor understand the possibilities that Evernote offers. This inevitably leads to providing “time to play.”


  • Time to play
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This is the one I always seem to forget. Many times when I introduce a new app or online tool, I realize too late that students haven’t used it before. It is necessary to plan 5 – 10 minutes for them to play. Recently I shared a Google doc with a group of students and began to use the chat feature. Since these students had never really used a Google doc, I lost their attention as they began to type in the document and watch different colored cursors appear. Then they began using the chat feature. Allowing students a few minutes to mess around provides them the opportunity to test drive the features and be better prepared to use the tool more effectively.

Integrating technology in the learning environment is a necessary part of education in the 21st century. However, a break from technology and devices is also important for successful device management. Too much of a good thing can be wonderful, but it can also lose its appeal.



How Do You Like Your Learning?

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Blended? Shaken? Stirred? Flipped? Reversed?

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I am a huge fan of blended learning. I love online learning, mobile learning, and classroom learning equally. This could be because I have always been eclectic in my approach to teaching. I like to have lots of options to consider when determining how best to meet the demands of the curriculum as well as the needs of students. I love 21st technology and its implications for learning. But I also love the face-to-face part of getting to know my students, looking them in the eye, and laughing together. What can I say? I’m a balanced, open-minded risk-taker! 🙂

Falling under the umbrella of blended learning is reverse instruction which is a teaching strategy that has a place in most, if not all, classrooms. The ultimate goal of reverse instruction is to “leverage the learning in a classroom, so a teacher can spend more time interacting with students instead of lecturing.” Rather than teachers lecturing during class time, lectures are consumed by students outside of class time through podcasts and/or video lessons. Ideally students consume the lecture independently and show up during class time ready to do something with the information delivered in the lecture.

Although I do recognize that current use of such terms as reverse instruction, blended learning, and flipped classrooms implies the element of internet technology, I would argue that there has been a fair amount of reverse instruction used by English teachers well before the advent of computer and digital technology.  The homework assignment: “Read chapters 5 – 12 and be ready for discussion” requires students to work independently outside of the classroom to get the background knowledge of plot and characters required to actively participate in a class discussion on theme, a Socratic seminar, or a group analysis of the author’s use of diction.

I wonder about the time factor in the creation, presentation, recording, and uploading of lessons for distribution. Anytime I think of the creative process that I go through that results in a recorded presentation, I shudder. This is a process that sucks a serious amount of time from my life. I spend hours on these types of projects. However, I have had a lot of success letting someone else do the work for me. I have used the work of others to serve as the resource for background knowledge. I have used TED talks, podcasts, and news clips as the outside of class lecture. If I were a Math or Science teacher, I would regularly use the videos available at the Khan Academy.

I find myself wondering if reverse instruction is actually an exercise in substitution. The substitution of one type of homework for another. In the end it’s still homework that requires a certain degree of student motivation and self-management skills. Watching that video or listening to that podcast can still be procrastinated off until the last minute. Reverse instruction requires that students possess a certain level of independence as learners. However the level of learning required to build background knowledge through instructional videos and podcasts may be far lower than that required to wrestle unsupported with a difficult task or problem to solve. In the end students might feel less pressure and stress while learning independently outside of class.

Time Regained

In the end, reverse instruction provides teachers with the variable which is the most elusive of all in the learning equation: TIME. Time gained for students to apply knowledge and to practice skills. Time to support struggling learners. Time to observe what students know and can do as a result of learning. More time to develop 21st century skills like Creativity and Innovation, Communication and Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Problem Solving, and Decision Making.