As with anything new, digital reading has been met with hesitation. Mark Pennington, a reading specialist in Elk Grove, believes that digital reading can eventually be on the same level as reading print. He says that the trick to being a good reader is being an engaged reader, and that it does not matter whether students are reading digitally or through print. “It’s pretty clear that good readers are active readers engaged with the text,” he said.
While more and more schools adopt digital readers like iPads and Chromebooks, some research shows that students comprehend more from reading print. Even though digital readers allow students to interact with their text in new ways, a study done by West Chester University found that younger students may be overwhelmed by the multimedia environment that e-books provide (which can therefore overwhelm their limited working memory) and that older students find it difficult to take notes on digital readers.
Perhaps all it takes is a shift in perspective in order to alleviate these issues with digital reading. Hillview Middle’s principal, Erik Burmeister, says that annotating digital books is actually better than traditional note-taking, as annotating provides permanent notes whereas traditional annotating typically means throwing away the books at the end of the year. Despite these achievements with digital reading tools, more research still needs to be done about whether digital tools or pen and paper are more effective. In the meantime, schools like Elk Grove and Hillview Middle will continue to use digital tools to help students understand what they’re reading.
Nowadays, blended learning consists of iPads, smartphones, and laptops in the classroom. However, blended learning programs can use technology as simple as a television. MIT Blossoms (Blended Learning Open Source Science or Math Studies) provides free math and science video lessons for teachers to use in class. The program was inspired by “old-fashioned” blended classrooms that consisted of only a television and a VCR, which teachers used to play videos that accompanied their lessons. Blossoms’s founder Richard Larson, a professor of engineering systems at MIT, put his own spin on this version of blended learning by adding active learning sessions designed to be conducted by a classroom teacher.
Each video lesson consists of video segments, a teacher’s guide, printable hand-outs and a list of additional online resources that are relevant to the lesson. For example, Blossoms’s first video lesson featured Larson teaching about triangles, random numbers and probability, which featured him sawing a yardstick into pieces. Today there are over one hundred free lessons available, which are being used all over the world in countries such as the US, China, Pakistan, and Brazil.
It’s safe to say that the program isn’t popular due to new and innovative technologies. Instead, MIT Blossoms focuses on what classrooms really need – full attention on both the teacher and the lesson. Unlike most blended learning classrooms, Blossoms is not “student-centered” but is instead “teacher-centric”; the lesson are designed to avert student attention at both the teacher on the video and the classroom teacher. Furthermore, the program is not BYOD – in fact, students must turn off their laptops and smartphones once lessons begin to ensure that “students are looking at the video, at the teacher, or at each other, not at their own screens.”
While Blossoms differs from several other blended learning programs, it still focuses on the same outcomes: student-directed learning with guidance from an experience teacher, less distracted classrooms, and more student collaboration. Although the program may be much simpler than other programs, it is definitely seen as a “gentle bridge” to educational technology for teachers who are hesitant, and also enables teachers to play an active role in the classroom while bringing in educational technology to their students.
Interested in learning more about MIT Blossoms? Read the original article “Putting Teachers at the Center of Education Technology” (Slate) or visit visit the program’s website.