What I’m Thinking About…
Over the last couple of years, I ‘ve been experimenting with the “blended” classroom. This means some instruction is face to face and some instruction is online. Even though my school still does not have a 1:1 program, we have Chromebook carts, iPad carts, and computer labs. This means I can expect my students to have access to technology at least two days a week.
I don’t believe seventh graders should have much homework—independent reading being the major exception—so, instead of “flipping the classroom” or having students do online work at home, we do the online work in class. Besides the homework thing, some students still do not have reliable access to the Internet at home. I don’t feel comfortable asking twelve-year-olds to just “figure something out” on a regular basis.
Using technology is not new to me, but the blended approach is. When we had a single computer lab to share with the whole school, I saved the time mostly for digital publication. Students wrote first drafts in class and went to the computer lab to type them out. Later, we went to the computer lab to publish writing, using tools such as Google Sites or Google Slides. Now, instead of using technology solely at the end of a unit, with the blended model, I weave it in throughout instruction.
The bottom line is I am looking for ways technology can enhance learning throughout the lesson instead of simply being the “glitter on the poster” at the end.
Multimedia Text Sets and HyperDocs
Two and a half years ago, I attended the Google Teacher Academy in Mountain View, California. I learned a lot during those jam-packed two days, but one idea that particularly resonated with me was Lisa Highfill’s workshop on HyperDocs. A HyperDoc is a system of linking resources and activities to a single lesson—usually with Google Slides, Sites, or Docs. According to The HyperDoc Handbook, “A HyperDoc shifts the focus from teacher-led lectures to student-driven, inquiry-based learning allowing students to actually learn through exploration” (Highfill, Hilton, & Landis, 2016, p. 8). HyperDocs can link to virtually any tool, resource, or text. Students work at their own pace and collaborate with each other as they go.
The multimedia text set part comes into play when you think about how to compile resources for the HyperDoc. Most of us are in the habit of making packets when we want students to read multiple texts on a given theme. With a HyperDoc, not only do you skip the copy machine, but you can add nonprint media as well. Add a Crash Course Video from YouTube videos. Add images from Google Arts & Culture. Add a link to Google My Maps. And don’t worry about how much space to leave for students to write. Since this is all using digital tools, they have as much space as they need.
Why Use HyperDocs?
- HyperDocs encourage collaboration: Multiple students can work on a single Doc. Instead of responding on a worksheet for the teacher to check off, students work together, asking questions, responding to texts, or summarizing what they learned.
- HyperDocs are flexible: Lessons are not static. If a lesson is too long for a class, make it shorter. If a resource is out of date, change it. Did one part fall flat with students? Delete it an move on.
- Students can work at their own pace: Anyone can re-read, re-wind, or re-do without advertising it to the whole class. If a student doesn’t finish, she can work at home (without the danger of losing the handout). Advanced students can read further, watch more, or study additional links as their curiosity moves them. Students who are absent can access what they missed.
- Lessons seamlessly incorporate multiple tools, resources, and apps: There are so many resources on the web—TED-ed, BrainPOP, PBS Learning Media, CommonLit.org, NYTimes Learning Network—and many, many more. Teachers can use HyperDocs to link to media AND to publication tools. For example, students can watch a YouTube video and then post their thoughts to Padlet. The HyperDoc holds it all together.
What Are the Potential Problems?
- Inconsistent access to technology: This is both true and not true. Yes, students can learn to go back and forth from digital tools to paper. That’s what most of us have to do. However, students need a lot of technical instruction about how to operate the technology when they don’t have daily access. This can slow things down.
- The possibility of increasing the digital divide: This part is depressing. I’ve noticed students who have internet access at home not only do more work independently, but they are faster when we are using digital tools in class. Students who do not have internet access at home need more support in how to use the tools and that puts them even further behind. However, the answer to the growing digital divide is not to stop using technology. Actually, this means we have an urgent need to make sure all students have class time to access digital tools.
- Time to create a HyperDoc: I know. This one is obvious. Everything good in teaching takes time. This one is worth it though. The best scenario is to work on a HyperDoc lesson within grade-level teams. Divide and conquer. Plus, the final outcome will be better because more minds were involved.
- What about verbal collaboration? One of my colleagues noted that when HyperDocs are working, students are often complete silent, absorbed by the task. This makes us wonder where talking fits into the picture. Students need practice with that too. I’ve tried to make up for this pitfall but encouraging students to talk about their findings before typing on the collaborative Doc. This has had mixed results, and it is something I’ll continue to look at.
My Initial Attempts
Check out the first few multimedia texts sets I created using HyperDocs. They aren’t perfect, but I am happy enough with what I saw to keep trying. Students appreciated working at their own pace, and being the social creatures they are, the collaborative aspect motivated them to respond.
- Outsiders Library Stations—Students researched the setting of The Outsiders prior to reading it. This lesson was created in collaboration with our librarian and seventh-grade English teachers across our school district.
- Identity Multimedia Text Set—I created this as a way for students to explore the concept of identity and how it relates to a person’s name. Later in the unit students research their names and different aspects of their own identities.
- Tech Tutorial 1—At the beginning of the year, I had several technology-related minilessons for my students. This simple tutorial takes students through the steps without me having to see their eyes glaze over as I try to show the whole class at once.
Until my school district employs a 1:1 program for student devices, I will continue to use HyperDocs one or two times per unit. One worry I have is that once a lesson is online, students need devices every time they want to see the texts. This is not possible in my teaching reality yet. However, the benefits still outweigh the drawbacks. I truly believe HyperDocs and multimedia text sets are an engaging way to give students choice and ownership of their learning while at the same time encouraging collaboration with peers. I suspect I’ll be blogging about my successes and challenges with this method as the year progresses. I’m intrigued.