Thursday, August 25, 2016

Driver’s Ed: 7 Ways to Empower Students as Drivers

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In a blended learning environment, students are “in the driver’s seat” for at least part of their learning experience. The more personalized the learning environment is, the greater the proportion of driving time is for students. In order for students to succeed in as drivers, there are certain road rules and navigation tools we need to provide them. Here’s a list of 7 key driver’s ed learning objectives to develop responsible student driver habits.
  1. Establish the Roadmap: Take time to explain to students where all the important destinations are within the digital learning landscape. At the beginning of the process, these should be just a few sites which can provide practice for students to make productive learning choices in their journeys. Students benefit from having a clear understanding of where they can go and what paths are off limits during class time. Since students have a multitude of sites they can justify as “educational gaming” sites (often validly!) it would be helpful to generate a list together and identify those which have value for now and even perhaps those which could be allowed later.
  2. Make an Ethics Compass: Since the digital learning landscape is so vast, students will inevitably encounter decision points where they see something and have to act upon it in the most responsible, ethical way possible. While it is impossible to do a use case for every single situation, teachers can role play a handful of scenarios around the following “What if” topics to get a compass established on distinguishing right/wrong and productive/destructive in the digital world. These could include: negative interactions, inappropriate material, unauthorized sites, privacy concerns, or encounters that feel unsafe. This exercise will yield a sort of compass to help students navigate through challenging situations.
  3. Set the Speed Limits: Students sometimes have a tendency to rush through digital practice or tasks to get to the next point, or they spend disproportionate amounts of time meandering through certain sites or tasks. When introducing a new type of learning experience or digital space, students should have an approximate speed zone for how quickly they should expect to pace through that. This metric should be flexible and allow for variation in times on task as self-pacing is a hallmark of personalized learning. Thus, it should be more of a range. To help students flow through these different pacing zones, teachers can use cues like timers to switch between tasks.  
  4. Roadside Assistance: Students should have a clear understanding of how to ask for help when needed. This could be through chat, a digital backchannel like Today’s Meet, or through a visible cue in a face-to-face environment. When many students are learning at a different pace within the personalized classroom, there will be many times when more than one learner needs help. This assistance can range from debugging tech glitches to getting over a comprehension block. Teachers can help ensure they are available for the latter, where their expertise is needed the most, by creating a system for getting tech desk style help from peers. Just as there are classroom helpers for other tasks, students can learn to take on the role of help desk when needed and be available for minor issues during a digital learning rotation. This could also work for academic assistance, empowering subject area peer experts within the class.
  5. Quiet the Distractions: Teachers can help students understand which tasks require singular focus (like writing or assessment) and which benefit from multitasking (like project work which requires a flow between talking with others, researching, and working). Creating a list of digital tasks and how they should “look, feel, and sound” in both the face-to-face and digital space is helpful to limiting distractions. Students can also be prompted to make their “distraction minion” list of sites they find very tempting and which pull them off task. They could even use a tool like Self-Control to enter them and block them for the academic day. Teachers can also monitor on-task behavior through a tool like GoGuardian which allows teachers to view and take control back from all student devices at once to regulate the flow of activity in a blended setting.
  6. Traffic Signals: What is the red-light cue? What is the green-light cue? These are helpful signals to establish in a blended environment so that students know when to close or open their devices, and when to put full focus on the screen or on the teacher. In a rotation environment, where activity is flowing between stations or face-to-face and digital learning as a whole-group, these cues help to regulate the transitions smoothly.
  7. Be Kind and Avoid Road Rage: One of the most important rules of the road is the same whether navigating online or be a good citizen. Just as students can become frustrated with each other offline, so too can this happen in shared spaces where they may accidentally (or intentionally) erase each other’s work or take an idea from someone. Taking time to establish the right way to interact with each other online AND how to resolve conflicts (often by doing so offline in a face-to-face setting) is essential to helping students become responsible drivers of their own learning.

There are several factors to consider when planning for classroom management in a blended learning environment. Some of these, like those discussed by iSafe in “In the Classroom -- Managing the Digital Classroom”, are teacher-facing responsibilities to empower the teacher as the best conductor of personalized learning. But we also need to inform students of their responsibilities so that they may make the best decisions on the road, where they will be traveling to a different destination at a different speed than others around them. There is value in assessing student aptitude in each of the above areas before handing them the keys. In this manner, teachers can help students ace their driving test and hit the road to success with confidence.

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