Home Educational Trends Seven Keys to Blended Learning

Seven Keys to Blended Learning

by Miguel Guhlin
old skeleton keys on a ring hanging from a hook in wood board

“We need an educational system,” shares Ken Kay, CEO of EdLeader21, “that encourages self-direction.” How do we accomplish this given all of the new tools we have available? In this article, we’ll explore some simple ways that MS Classroom can support elements of a blended learning environment. Rather than start from scratch, let’s breakdown key components of blended or flipped learning.

#1 – Make participatory learning expectations clear.

“The culture of education today is such that … only the most cutting-edge learning environments are really teaching and allowing kids to be self-directed. That’s a real misfire today.” Jobs of the 21st century are fundamentally self-directed, and education—pedagogy in particular—must change in response to that. (Source: Education Week)

Encouraging students to be self-directed can be a shift for many who have grown up with different expectations. For example, consider this list of roadblocks and detours for students (adapted from this source):

Roadblocks Detours
Students may think online means working only from home. Manage student expectations by explaining what you expect them to do at home and in class.
Students may be reluctant to take responsibility for their learning. Explain early and often what is expected and how it is beneficial to them.
Students may lack time management skills. Provide time for completion, and divide work into bite-sized modules.
Technology can become an obstacle for some students. Avoid high-risk technologies.
Identify technology requirements for the course and model technology use before making online assignments.
Rely on a learning management system (e.g. MS Classroom) and invite students to set up a “technical helpdesk.”
Students may watch videos or content, but not be sure how to share what they have learned. Take advantage of MS Forms to create web-based quizzes that work across multiple devices, as well as graphic organizers that can be filled out using OneNote drawing tools.

#2 – Create a digital textbook for student reference.

“It’s not the reader of a text who learns the most,” says Stephen Knudsen,  as cited in this TCEA TechNotes blog entry, “but rather the author.” While you may soon have students creating a digital textbook, encapsulating their learning, as the teacher, you can begin to organize yourself online. Using tools like MS Classroom and OneNote Class Notebook can make this organization painless.

Not sure about the benefits? Read this blog entry by Matt “Ditch That Textbook” Miller. He shares Garth Holman’s and Mike Pennington’s (two teachers) journey toward getting rid of textbooks. He also highlights some key ways that they worked together. Students were able to:

  • Write, collaborate and publish online. In today’s Office 365-powered classrooms, you can easily use Word Online to facilitate collaborative writing. And students can publish their Word Online directly to MS OneNote or take advantage of the collaborative space in OneNote to facilitate multiple editors.
  • Develop interactive content. With OneNote, students are able to embed a wide variety of content into a OneNote page. The list is ever-growing. Using the built-in drawing tools and audio/video recording, students can annotate text and images easily.
  • Take ownership of assessing their own work. Students can co-develop rubrics for creation of content or rely on a pre-created rubric available online. Students can copy these rubrics to their individual folders in OneNote and then fill them in for their own project or another student’s creation. With OneNote, you can easily embed an Excel spreadsheet, create tables, or add checkboxes to facilitate creation.
  • Create cartoons. Students can create cartoons using a variety of sources online, or surprisingly, Powerpoint (another tutorial), Pixton (works with Office 365), or using an app on another device.
  • Create videos and enhanced podcasts. Students can also rely on Powerpoint+Office Mix or Sway to create screencasts, narrated slideshows, enhanced podcasts (images+audio), documentaries, and more. Storyboarding can be easy using Powerpoint’s slide organizer or Sway’s card shuffling tools. Adding audio narration and embedding video is also a cinch.

#3 – Clarify grading overview.

While grading policies for every learning situation may differ, consider taking advantage of video annotation and quizzing tools that enable students to interact and reflect on video. While assessing learning resulting from pre- or post-video watching activities, remember that you need not rely on traditional paper-and-pencil approaches.

Here are a few you can take advantage of that you may not yet be aware of:

  • Microsoft Forms – Use this to create a quiz that checks for understanding. MS Forms can also be used to create “entry/exit ticket” type activities.
  • Office Mix – Use assessment features to embed multiple choice, true/false, or short-answer questions at key points in the Mix product (works only on web version, not with MP4 video version). In an Office 365 environment, students login and these checks for understanding are tracked. You can also embed YouTube video.
  • EdPuzzle – This web-based tool makes it straightforward to add notes and assessments to videos from YouTube, Khan Academy, Learn Zillion, and others. This enables understanding checks. There’s also an iOS app you and/or your students can use. A similar tool is VideoAnt.

In addition, students can also rely on video reflection tools that work similar to discussion boards, but use video instead of text. Two notable tools include Flipgrid.com (be sure to check the free Microsoft Education Community online class) and Swivl’s Recap. Finally, also take a moment to explore video annotation tools that your students can use to take notes about YOUR videos:

  • VideoNot.es and TurboNote are two tools that allow you to take notes off to the side of the video.
  • Vialogues, not unlike Flipgrid, allows you to create conversations that revolve around a video.

One more note about assessment in a blended learning classroom. While you can create and grade assignments and quizzes students complete, alternative assessment may play a role. “Flipped learning” often permits alternative assessment, as indicated by flipped learning creators:

In our Flipped-Mastery Model, we required every student to pass each summative assessment with a 75 percent. I was very rigid on this. A 74 percent was not good enough. But as I embraced alternative assessments, I was pleasantly surprised at how students were able to show me what they had learned without having to prove it on traditional tests. I had students designing video games, making videos, and doing art projects (Source: Jon Bergmann, Edutopia).

#4 – Set up an online presence to share instructional resources.

Using MS Classroom and the OneNote Class Notebook add-in you can easily create an online presence that is available to students, regardless of what mobile device they happen to use. This can become a digital repository for class resources, audio/video presentations, linked content, and assignments. More importantly, it becomes a digital space you and each student can use to exchange information and discuss growth around learning objectives.

#5 – Select a screencasting tool to record instructional videos.

A host of screencasting tools are available, including Office Mix‘s built-in tools, MS Snip, as well as browser-based recorders like Screencast-o-Matic, Screencastify, and Nimbus Screencapture/Screenrecording add-ons for Chrome browser.

For example, a framework you could model for students:

  1. Pick out five photos that are about a particular event, a situation, or topic.
  2. Write three to four sentences about each of those photos. (Sample storyboard | ACMI Generator)
  3. Combine sentences and photos into a digital story.

Remember, Powerpoint provides a built-in storyboarding tool with its slide organizer and slide notes that students can use. They can then create an Office Mix viewable on the web or exported as an MP4 video that can be shared via YouTube or Vimeo or placed on a Classroom OneDrive account.


3 Little Pigs Story (Edinburg 12/13/2016)

#6 – Create class videos online for easy access across devices.

Whether you’ve created an instructional video, screencast, or Mix, you may want to find an easy way to host it online. Few options work as well as YouTube.com, but some educators may not have access to that. Did you know you can insert a video into MS Powerpoint, then upload that PPTx to Mix? Once there, you can copy-and-paste the address to your Office Mix into a OneNote page and it will appear as embedded content (size of the video does not count against your OneDrive storage). (Access the sample shown here.)

#7 – Implement engaging classroom activities.

When in class, students need to take advantage of hands-on activities. Some approaches can certainly involve paper slides to capture student learning, using Minecraft: Education Edition to have collaborative student groups implement learning concepts garnered via video.

Here are a few activities adapted from multiple sources (click title for source, template for sample, if available):

      1. Emoji Puzzle (template): As your students enter the classroom, hand them an emoji puzzle piece that will match one other student in the class. After all the students are in the class, have them walk around the classroom and try to find the other student that has the matching emoji puzzle piece. (via  @diben)
      2. QR code (template): Print QR codes and cut them into four pieces. Give each student one of the four pieces of the code. Next, have your students find their group based on their category. Once in their group, have your students scan the QR code to reveal if their category word is correct. (via  @diben and @preimers)
      3. Conversation Starter Stones (template): Use inexpensive clear stones with a glued on task to get kids moving and engaged. (via  @diben)
      4. Padlet: Have students create a slide about themselves in Powerpoint, use MS Snip to record audio annotation, then copy-and-paste the link to Snip into a Padlet with the picture.


Individual (F2F or Online)
      1. Create a graphic organizer of concept. This can be created in a OneNote page using Draw tools or a web-based tool such as Bubbl.us.
      2. Use Kahootor Quizizz to assess students’ grasp of material.




Find more specific and elaborate examples online

    1. Think-Pair-Share: This activity, focused on dyads, allows students to process content and then share their reflections.
    2. Round Robin: In this activity, each student shares one concept from a source. Combine with TodaysMeet, Word Online, OneNote Collaborative Space, or Padlet for large group sharing. MS Classroom Conversation can also be used to organize student exchanges around each topic.
    3. Question Cards: Create cards about various aspects of a topic in advance and then share them with groups of 4-6. Each person reflects on their response, then shares it with the small group. At the end, one person from each group shares what the group came up with in regards to question cards. Combine this with a Powerpoint Online presentation that students can add commentary to.
    4. Team Matrix: Give students access to a Powerpoint Online they can edit, then ask them to match characteristics relevant to a particular word, phrase, or concept.
    5. Fishbowl Discussion: Inner/outer circle type discussion. Students can record summaries of discussions into the OneNote Class Notebook using inserte audio or Learning Tools Dictation option (speech to text conversion).
    6. Case Study: Students are challenged to come up with a solution to a real-life problem or scenario using the information they were to have processed previously. At the end of session, they share their solution responses.


As you can see, there are a variety of ways to blend teaching and learning with MS Classroom and Office 365 tools like OneNote Class Notebook, Learning Tools, and more. The purpose of this article was to suggest a few ways that might tickle your imagination and facilitate self-direction for you and the learners in your care.


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