Vision, Action, Reflection: Using online spaces for professional learning

This is Part Two of a three-part series. Part One, “Professional Learning as Construction Play,” makes the case for playful, nonlinear professional learning. In this part, we’ll look at how two educators do this work in online spaces. Part Three, “5 Questions to Ask Before you Travel for PD” explores in-person learning environments.

Challenges for the modern teacher.

How might online learning help teachers design innovative experiences for students?

We know that for professional learning to be effective, it must be ongoing, job-embedded, and relevant. Online spaces are ideal forums for this work: they offer a flexible, often less expensive learning experience that can be tailored to an individual teacher’s needs in ways conferences and workshops cannot. In addition, by weaving online learning into day-to-day planning, teachers not only engage in a way that works within their schedules, but also gain empathy for their students, who often live and learn in online and brick and mortar environments.

Amanda Wendt and Elena Cortés are part of an innovative cohort at American School Foundation in Monterrey, Mexico (ASFM), now in year two of a three-year exploration of blended learning. The school created a Personal Learning Community (PLC) with several dozen faculty and gave them a mission: to connect with resources, people, and organizations focused on innovative learning, including blended learning, eportfolios, and digital citizenship.

“Several of us are enrolled in courses and meet regularly to discuss what we have learned and how we can apply it here at ASFM,” Amanda said. “We will then focus on sharing this with the rest of the staff and providing support on how to blend learning in the classroom.”

As part of this exploration, Amanda and Elena joined two of their colleagues in GOA’s Blended Learning Design Studio (BLDS). BLDS is a companion to a teacher’s planning routine: GOA provides a coach; an online community; and challenges, competencies, and strategies that allow a teacher to design and test new experiences in their classrooms in real time.

Take a tour of BLDS.

The foundation of the program is six design challenges that focus on how to use technology to increase student agency, to connect students to people and networks beyond the classroom, and to introduce them to new modes of expression.

Participants choose a challenge, then work through the three phases of blended learning design at GOA: Vision, Action, and Reflection. In the Vision stage, teachers choose target competencies and design strategies; in the Action stage, they test their plans in their classrooms; in the Reflection stage, they analyze student outcomes and iterate their designs. They track their work on a Design Brief that, when complete, earns them a BLDS badge.

Since the beginning of October, Amanda and Elena have been weaving their online work in BLDS into their daily work with students. “The experience has reshaped my understanding of blended learning and opened my eyes to new ways of using technology as a channel to foster collaboration and creativity in the classroom,” Elena said. “My students have done a seamless transition to the new routines and feel they have more control (and responsibility) over their learning. It feels as if we added a new dimension to school.”

A closer look at Elena’s and Amanda’s designs

Elena Cortés, 10th Grade Math

How might students use online learning spaces to become investigators who find and create their own meaning?

At first glance, the quadratic formula might not be the best candidate for a student-driven inquiry project. Many of us remember memorizing it in high school, some of us may even be able to recite it, but probably few of us spent time researching the formula’s history, interviewing our teachers about its importance or teaching our peers how to use it. Elena’s design asked her 10th graders to take that deeper dive, building their research and communication skills in the process.

An essential component of inquiry-based learning is to increase student voice, choice, and agency. To do so, Elena’s Vision targeted two of GOA’s core competencies

  • Leverage curiosity to curate and create content that is relevant to real-world issues.
  • Reflect on and take responsibility for learning and that of others in an open forum.

The Action phase of Elena’s design pushed her students out of the classroom: to the library to learn research skills, to other classrooms and places to interview teachers and professionals about the relevance of the formula, and onto the internet to find real-world applications of the formula and to create quadratic formula lessons and presentations to help classmates. Importantly, students composed reflections on their learning in ASFM’s Learning Management System (LMS), Haiku.

Elena’s students recorded video interviews with teachers and other professional who could explain real-world applications of the quadratic formula.

But did this multifaceted, multimodal approach work? Elena’s students think so. As one wrote in her Haiku reflection: “At first the quadratic formula seemed impossible… but after learning how to use it in real life applications, getting feedback and knowledge from more experienced teachers/experts, and practicing it with Ms. Cortés, I really understand how to use it.”

“The majority of students can now use the correct terminology for the different parts of the formula, can calculate the discriminant and make predictions about the number and the type of solutions a quadratic equation has as well as how to solve it with the aid of the quadratic formula,” Elena wrote in her own BLDS Reflection. “Thanks to the interviews that they conducted with experts and the research that was done online, the majority of students can name a real-life application of the quadratic formula.”

See Elena’s complete Design Brief.

Amanda Wendt, 9th Grade Science

How might online learning spaces help students understand, reflect on, and build upon their own learning?

Personalized learning provides students more control over when, where, and how they learn, giving them opportunities to reflect on their learning in order to make appropriate adjustments. For this challenge, Amanda decided to personalize a 4-week unit on the reproductive system by asking students to plan, compose, and reflect on projects of their own design. She targeted four of GOA’s core competencies in her Vision:

  • Reflect on and take responsibility for your learning and that of others in an open forum.
  • Organize time and tasks to become independent learners.
  • Collaborate with peers who are not sitting with you on campus.
  • Interpret assignments and express yourself using a variety of learning tools.

To help her students generate ideas, Amanda created a Project Choice Menu using Adobe Spark.

She then asked her students to complete an adapted version of the BLDS Design Brief. Students collaborated in small groups to

  • Propose a project.
  • Complete it together.
  • Reflect on its success.

Each group designed something different: a picture book for a younger audience, a board game, a poster to be shared around school, and more. Critically, they had to track and reflect on their progress regularly, posting their ideas in Haiku.

The result, Amanda wrote in her reflection of the project, was that “students became much more involved with each other and less dependent on the teacher. They saw each other as valuable resources and were grateful for the feedback they received.”

See Amanda’s complete Design Brief.

How we design learning experiences for educators has an impact on how they design learning experiences for students.

“What is most impressive about Amanda and Elena is their growth from challenge to challenge,” said BLDS Coach Jamey Everett. “You can see them applying their learning from one design to the next.” And, just as these educators are engaging themselves in online spaces, designed to facilitate creation, collaboration, and experimentation, so too are they now building similar studios where their students are developing the same learning and collaboration skills.