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Guest post by Clint Bullock. Clint is an English teacher at Gilroy Santa Maria College in Townsville, Queensland.
We hear a lot about the SAMR model, which analyses how you actually use technology. At Gilroy Santa Maria College near Townsville, we’ve started using Office Mix, to turn PowerPoint presentations into highly interactive learning tools. Without realising it, we’ve positioned ourselves at the advanced end of that model: using Mix to ‘Modify’ how we teach, and then ‘Redefine’ what’s possible. This has transformed how I teach complex English texts.
There are more things in Mix …
My journey with Mix started twelve months ago with a demonstration from a Microsoft ambassador. With Mix, you can quickly create a video and insert it into a PowerPoint slide deck with a voiceover. Then you can add interactive elements, like a quiz.
But the interesting thing is you don’t just track quiz results, you can track engagement. In a school context, it means that when you share the deck with students, you can actually see how long each student spends on each slide and each quiz question.
When I took Mix back to the school, it had an immediate impact. My colleagues saw huge potential because it could breathe a lot of life into existing PowerPoint teaching assets. And the big attraction was easy adoption. Our teachers were already comfortable with PowerPoint. With relatively little effort, they could make their existing teaching assets far more powerful.
To flip, or not to flip
It’s early days, but we’re using the Mix tool to ‘flip’ our learning. We are starting to change the way a task is formulated – which conforms to the ‘Modification’ part of the SMAR model. With better video content and quizzes, we motivate students to learn course content before they arrive in the class. Then we check test results. This enables us to make sure our students are thoroughly prepared before class.
Incidentally, the devices we use are fairly mixed: I use a Surface Pro 3, and the students have a mix of Windows laptops and Google Chromebooks. We brought Office Mix into our online, cloud world a year ago, and it works equally well on all our devices.
Taking arms against a sea of text
So how does it work in practice? Currently, I’m using Mix to teach Hamlet to Year 12 students. This is a good test for Mix. It’s a huge challenge to just pound through the text and understand the language – and that’s before we even start talking about the themes and relevance of the play. Right now we’re preparing for external exams, so my big challenge is ensuring students know the text.
What I’ve done is to build parts of the play into a series of PowerPoint presentations. This becomes the class preparation. Every few slides I insert a quiz, which is very easy and takes almost no time to set up. The fact that the quizzes are there encourages students to engage seriously with what I’m trying to communicate.
Now for the analytics. I don’t just see students’ results, I see how long they spend looking at each slide, and how long they spend answering the question. This gives me a pretty shrewd idea of the level of engagement.
Given the challenges of teaching Hamlet, this brings big benefits. First I can see which parts of my teaching resource are working best. If I’ve put a video of a scene from Hamlet into the deck, and students are watching it over and over again, I know I’ve created a valuable resource.
Conversely, if students spend less time with a video than its run time, I know my videos are too long.
The point is, the analytics in Mix quizzes mean I get continual feedback on my own Flip techniques. I find out what works and constantly improve my materials.
Nobler in the mind
The effects are twofold. First, student engagement has steadily increased throughout the term. I think that’s a reflection of the fact that the course content keeps changing, as I build more experiences that I know students respond to. ‘Augmentation’, in the SAMR model.
It also a reflection of the fact students like working in Mix. When classes start they aren’t still wrestling with the text. Instead, we get straight into discussing the complex ideas they need to master to perform well in exams: in my case, class, power and politics in Elizabethan England.
The second effect is the power of early intervention. I don’t have to sense when a students is disengaged – I can see it. The analytics pattern shows it straight away, and I can intervene very early.
This is ‘Redefining’, in the SAMR model: doing something that was simply not possible without the technology. And with difficult subjects like Shakespeare, early intervention reaps huge rewards.
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