Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Benefits of Hybrid Programs

By Sean Scarpiello

To many education professionals, Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) appear to be overbearing as they make their way into the education spotlight. For those who do not know, MOOCs are essentially online classes taught by university professors and taken by thousands of students from all over the world. While there remains some apprehension around MOOCs, many critics further put down MOOCs due to fact that these courses are 100% online. For both students and teachers, this can be a bit scary as well. Students fear that they will not receive individualized attention and must complete all of the assignments on their own without any help or guidance. Teachers feel that students are missing out on the social and collaborative aspects of learning if MOOCs take over education. In light of all of this, many education professionals are coming up with a middle ground between traditional classes and MOOCs called hybrid programs.

From what I have read about hybrid programs, they sound great. While the majority of the class is taught online from any place with an internet connection, students still have the option of meeting up with other students and teachers during their classes. This student-student or student-teacher interaction can either take place at a formal location, such as a college campus, or take place online in a sort of open chat room set up like Skype or an online video conference. While designing courses for the future of education, it is often easy to forget about many of the latent functions of traditional education. The main objective of any school is to get students to learn material in a textbook. However, while learning in a traditional classroom, students are also learning how to discuss these course topics with others, communicate, collaborate, and debate with each other. These sorts of hidden objectives of traditional education would easy become lost in MOOCs. Fortunately, hybrid programs still afford student the opportunities to learn these skills which are essential in the workforce.

Beyond these latent objectives, hybrid programs also maintain the benefits that make MOOCs so appealing. Online course work significantly reduces the cost of education for students and teachers. By being in a class full of thousands of other students, institutions can decrease the amount they charge per student. For example, if a school $50,000 to offer a class, then 50 students would pay $1,000 each for the class. However, being in the same $50,000 class with 10,000 other students means that the school can charge each student $5 to take the class. Therefore, both the students and schools benefit from these retained aspects of MOOCs in hybrid programs. Plus, all coursework for students would be available online for much lower costs than traditional classes. For students, eBooks and other online resources are already significantly cheaper than buying heavy and bulky textbooks. Since hybrid program support this technology for many students, students can get more bang for their buck.

Overall, while many educators fear MOOCs, it is nice to have hybrid programs as another option. These hybrid programs are perfect because they keep the benefits of both MOOCs and traditional courses. They can even offer a good transition for today’s students and educators from the side of traditional schooling to MOOCs. Most of all, they are great because they offer a quality education to a large group of students at a low cost while utilizing technology.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Using Technology to Avoid the Summer Slump

By Sean Scarpiello

Within the past few years, there have been many studies looking at how summer vacation impacts learning. In each of these studies, students who practiced their math and grammar skills a little each day during the summer go on to do better in school. With all of this in mind, it is important to remember that this responsibility falls on parents. Elementary school students will not have the motivation to put an hour of each summer day towards worksheets. As a parent, it is already difficult to get children to do even a little bit of school work after they have had a school year full of it. However, with the dawn of technology, this task is becoming easier and easier.

When I was younger, my mother assigned a few pages of math to do each weekday during my summer break. Although I hated it back then, and she hated fighting with me over the work, it was for the better. Back then, the internet was in its initial stages of development, so we had to go out and buy a workbook of math problems designed for whichever grade in school I had just completed. These days, there are tons of websites that offer free worksheets for teachers, students, and parents. Now, with technologies such as iPads, laptops, and others, parents can simply pull up these worksheets and open them up in apps, and assign the work to their children. This makes the parent’s job easier, by simply logging onto the internet and finding a few worksheets. Also, the work isn’t as bad for students, as they will have a fun time using a stylus or their finger to solve math problems on a tablet or computer screen.

In addition to this, parents could even substitute formal worksheets of math problems with some of the new interactive education technologies. With programs such as LeapFrog or, parents can assign an hour of games such as Math Baseball and more. This gets students to more willingly practice math and grammar by giving them a fun and purposeful way to learn. Plus, students can try to beat their own score and challenge themselves. They are much less likely to do this with black and white worksheets that feel monotonous and tedious to complete.

Many schools also assign required summer reading books. Studies have as shown that these books are beneficial to students. However, not all schools assign them, so it is often up to parent to assign readings. It can be easy to assign or extend a child’s summer reading using technology. eBooks are available at reduced costs online and can be easily accessible to anyone with an iPad, Kindle, or other tablet or laptop. Plus, many children’s books come with fully illustrated pages. Some eBooks even come with interactive parts of stories where students can become even more actively involved with the characters and plot.

In all, while many education professionals agree that continued education during the summer months is beneficial, it is important for parents to supplement their children’s education during this time. With all of the resources available at low or no cost online, parents can easily find and check worksheets for their children to complete in math and grammar. Also, students are also benefiting from the technology, as their assignments do not have to be limited to tedious math worksheets. Instead, they can now have vivid and interactive assignments at their fingertips, allowing them to enjoy completing summer assignments.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Canvas: An Easy-to-Use, Online, Learning Technology

By Sean Scarpiello

All education professionals will agree that communication is the key to success in school. This not only means the communication between the teachers and students must be strong, but for younger students, the parent to teacher communication should be strong too. Canvas, a new online learning tool, aims at making strong connections between everyone in the educational process easy. This online program allows teachers to post assignments, tests, and updates for class. Also, it allows for easy and simple communication between teachers, students, and parents. While there are a handful of other programs similar to Canvas, you may ask what makes Canvas so special?

First, one of the largest benefits Canvas has is its design. Canvas has been specially designed to be used on devices other than laptops or computers. Its online layout makes the programs extremely easy to use on a tablet or smart phone. This design allows teachers and students to easily interact wherever or wherever needed. Many websites and educational tools have not yet been designed with tablet and smart phone users in mind. Therefore, sending emails, writing in textboxes, and checking updates can be extremely confusing, difficult, and time consuming due to a typical website’s layout. Canvas also allows students and teachers to access and add text, video, audio, and other types of media to the site easily. This data can easily be shared with other students as well as the teacher. With this strengthened communication, the teacher can address any individual problems students may have personally, plus students can privately and effectively ask the teacher questions whenever they arise.

One of the next benefits of Canvas is it parental co-enrollment capabilities. While education professionals throw a lot of money into expensive technologies each year, a child’s education is can considerably improve if parents are included in the educational process. With Canvas, the link connecting teachers and parents is easily and effectively made. This allows teachers to give daily updates to parents, notify parents of any problems, and give information to parents about future assignments. This makes it effortless for parents to understand what is going on in school and ask about homework and tests that need to be completed.

Some of the last huge benefits of Canvas are all of its applications aimed at making the teacher’s job easier. Canvas has a large program on it where teachers can track grades and class progress. Teachers can review how individual students are doing, as well as the class as a whole. Also, the SpeedGrader function allows teachers to easily grade assignments from tablets and other devices. There is also a calendar function where teachers can organize their lesson plan. Additionally, Canvas helps teachers with state regulated guidelines for education. Here, teachers can easily checkup, report, and understand each state’s required curriculum for each course and grade level.

Overall, Canvas excels as a technology for both K-12 and higher education because of its ease of use on all devices, integration of parents, and many benefits to the class instructor. With all of these benefits, teachers students, and parents can all communicate easily and effectively. By strengthening the communication amongst everyone in the learning process, we can guarantee that students receive a better and well-balanced education.