It looks a lot like the social media web site Facebook. Instead of sharing goofy pictures and playing games, however, they are reading about economics. They’re writing little essays and perusing other student assignments, discussing things they learned in class. They’re... Moodling.
Moodle.org is just one of many web hosting services for online learning, one that Winona Senior High School is testing out for more intense use during the next academic year, with several classes that will be offered in “hybrid” format -- meaning kids will not be required to be in class each day, spending some of the school week at an online setting.
Terminology (medical science), fundamentals of chemistry, challenge economics and economics will all be offered partly online through the hybrid program. Earlier this month, Winona Senior High School teacher Brad Berzinski showed the School Board what Moodle, and online learning, is all about.
“We have really just scratched the surface with this,” explained Berzinski as he projected the Moodle.org screen on the wall, showing an economics course he called a skeleton of what it will be next year. He and several other teachers are already using the online platform with regular classes now, building the program that will have kids working online instead of in the class two days a week next year.
Every teacher has the flexibility with the site to shape it uniquely to classes, said Berzinski. For his economics class this year, it has meant a discussion board where students can talk about the topics they are learning about, links to pertinent articles and web sites, as well as spreadsheets of data that students can study and work on remotely through the internet site.
Berzinski also teaches service learning, and until now that has meant a lot of individual student journaling about experiences with the course -- turned in in a thick packet at the end of the program. Introducing Moodle concepts has changed all that, said Berzinski. Now, he gives students a week, tells them to write something based on a reading assignment or other focus.
And then, they talk. Or write, rather, responding to one another’s experiences and written work, interacting in ways they did not before. “I’ve been extremely pleased about the depth [of student writing],” he said, adding that students catch on to the online site and how to use it much more quickly than teachers and other adults do.
The only problem that arose, said Berzinski, was that students at first tended to type in “text talk,” using extremely abbreviated terms and not proper English. Berzinski said all it took was one reminder, and students started spelling out words and writing complete sentences on the online site.
Students are engaged with this hybrid method, with a platform that draws on the highly technical world that they live in, he said. “As I look to the future of K-12 education, I think [there are] ways that we can break down the traditional brick and mortar structure,” added Berzinski. “This is a potential avenue to do that.”
The hybrid courses will also make room for “flipped” classes, a method in which the teacher creates a lesson plan with a video or written material, and students are expected to study it outside the classroom. Then, classroom time is used for more individualized instruction and troubleshooting, focusing on helping students understand and build on the concepts they learned at home.
Berzinski said more and more universities and colleges are using online platforms like Moodle. “I don’t know if we want to chase what the universities are doing,” he said, “but we have a responsibility to prepare students for the reality of what is to come.”
Students have signed up for the courses and school officials are working to ensure those who will take the classes next year will have the needed internet access and computer time to participate. “The vast majority of students, of course, do have computer and internet access at home,” said Berzinski. For those who do not, classrooms will be open during the days when the hybrid courses don’t physically meet, and media center computers are available before and after school, he said. “Yes, it presents somewhat of a hurdle, but not an insurmountable hurdle.”