School-at-Home…Two weeks later

Over the past couple of weeks dealing with the COVID-19 crisis, we have experienced both high and low points and a range of energy levels and emotions in our home.  Some of the low points included clearing out desks and lockers at school and realizing this may go on for longer than we originally expected. Discussing the new reality that we are at home now and there will be no playdates or inviting friends over during this time. Cancelling extracurricular activities, lessons, sport events, family events all at once has certainly been difficult.  Some of the high points included receiving messages from teachers and surprise messages from friends, gifts left at the doorstep and planning a virtual birthday party. Getting into somewhat of a rhythm for accomplishing schoolwork and engaging in activities such as dance lessons or piano lessons online has been positive. Connecting with family and friends online has also been an important part of the day for everyone but I also noticed the kids seek off-screen family time.  We look forward to cooking and eating dinner together.  This simple pleasure seemed like such a luxury only two weeks ago and is now part of our daily routine.  After dinner we play some games and I was even surprised to hear the kids preferred playing a board game instead of a video game since they already spent so much time online.


Here’s some further thoughts about learning-at-home and parent suggestions:

What’s a realistic home learning routine? Should we try to duplicate the school routine, or is the home routine a different thing?

Routines may look different and not the same for all families. Consider what might work best for your child and family.  For example, your teen may benefit from sleeping in and rising a bit later. I’m certain mine has grown in height over the past couple of weeks with some extra sleep.  I don’t think it’s necessary to duplicate the school routine at home and parents do not need to feel they are replacing the teacher at home.  Schools have been working hard to put together resources and supports for students at home.  Use the resources that work best you and your family. Also, take the time needed to rest and come to terms with what is happening.  Last week was also spring break for many students in Calgary and they are now starting to receive messages and instructions from their teachers and schools.


For some students, home learning is going to demand a higher than normal level of self-discipline. How do parents support their kids in getting their work done without falling into a pattern of nagging?


Have a conversation with children and make a plan together for what works best for you and your family.  Find a rhythm for balancing learning and family time.  We all need to adjust to a different working pattern then what we had before.  The reality is that children are not going to be able to sit and do work all day long.  Similarly, adults may not be able to work full 8-hour days from home.  There needs to be some flexibility and understanding from employers for parents working at home and likewise there needs to be some flexibility for children and learning time at home.  I also think it’s important parents remain as advocates for their children and if the work is too much for your child, then communicate with the teacher and together find ways to best support your child.


The Alberta mandated assignment time will work out to only an hour or 2 hours per weekday for elementary and junior high kids and three hours per week per course for high schoolers. How can parents support students doing their own self-directed learning to occupy the rest of the day?


Parents can support their children by helping to prioritize learning.  For example, working with your child to set up a work space. Let the child set up the work space.  Maybe it will be the same place they normally do homework or maybe it’s a different space.  Maybe it’s a shared space or moving space.  Have your child create a schedule.  Some children prefer to work on one task and for an extended time, while others may prefer to work on tasks for shorter periods of time.  Even young children can help make a schedule and can let you know what they would like their day to look like. Discuss how your child would like you to check-in.  For some this might be regular check-ins throughout the day or maybe one check in later on in the day.  This is also dependent on the age of your child.  Staying home and taking care of a young child is a full-time job.  Be kind to yourself and don’t expect to continue working at your normal pace for your full-time job while at home and also taking care of a toddler.  In regards to learning, a goal I learned from one of my child’s teachers was to be sure children are happy and learning.  Learning can be informal and can be connected to activities you are already doing around the house.


How important is it to draw a line between school time and play time?

I think families need to determine a routine and schedule that works best in their home. I don’t think there’s one single right way to do this.  The important part is to make sure there is play time and lots of time for breaks. Learning will go on through informal learning opportunities provided at home and formal learning suggestions provided by the teacher and the school.  This is an unprecedented time and will be forever remembered by our children.  Inspired by a twitter post I saw recently, we had a conversation with the kids imagining what our future selves would remember about this time period in future.  For my children, I want them to remember how much closer we became as a family, how we had family meals together and played board games in the evening, how we went for walks together, built puzzles, baked cookies, invented new smoothie flavors and even planned a virtual birthday party together. What will your future self and your child’s future self say about this time period?


A big part of school is the social part– how can students feel connected to their teachers and classmates when everyone is at home? 


I have been teaching online classes for the past 8 years and at first I was skeptical about developing relationships and connecting with students in an online environment as I had previously done in a classroom.  What I soon realized is that connections are possible in both physical and online spaces. Teachers may send out a quick video clip to students to provide a personal message.  Younger and older students appreciate seeing and hearing their teacher even briefly.  My child’s teacher sent a video clip the other day from inside her car.  She said it was the only quiet spot she could record a message.  My daughter loved the video.  Another teacher I know posted a Tik Tok video he created where he was lip syncing a song and doing some dance moves.  Teachers may send messages to students using tech systems they have in place for communications and sharing information.  I know some schools are phoning kids to make connections.


Student-to-student connections were already happening outside of school.  For example, in a recent study with 9-to-11 year olds, students reported using social media regularly outside of school to keep connected with their friends.  Have a conversation with your child to find out how they are keeping connected with friends.  It is important to keep connected and let your friends know you are thinking about them. Even though we need to be physically distant, it’s important to keep connected socially with friends and family.

School Closure – Tips for Parents

Schools are closing world-wide affecting millions of students due to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic. You may be wondering how to help your child continue their learning at home and also prioritize health and well-being as a family during this difficult time.

Teachers are experts in designing learning on a daily basis while keeping the individual needs of your child at the forefront for teaching and learning. Keep in mind that teachers may not have expertise in online learning, so it is not realistic to expect an immediate transition to a perfect online learning environment. Teaching online requires intentional instructional design that takes extensive time and expertise. Online learning also requires the readiness of the learner. So, let’s be kind and generous to all those working hard behind the scenes to make it all happen, including the teachers and technical folks that I know are working around the clock to make sure the systems can support increased online activity. Let’s be kind to ourselves and our children and be realistic and flexible about learning during this chaotic time.

Take time to stay tuned to changing conditions and events in your community.  Review the communications provided by the teacher, school, and district for directions on how to best support your child with their learning. Talk to other parents and find out how you can support and be supported by your community and networks. Take time to rest.  Kids may need time to talk about what is happening and may need some down time. Don’t feel pressured to turn your home into a home-school overnight.

You might be wondering, what remote learning techniques might be used by schools? Teachers, schools and districts are working tirelessly to plan and will likely use the communication tools they already have in place.  It could be as simple as sending out a weekly email to a class and providing direction on some key items students can focus on for the week. Some teachers may provide learning packets for students or assign readings or questions from texts.  Teachers might create brief video clips so the children can see and hear their voice. An emerging approach is flipped learning where teachers assign out-of-class activities, such as digitally-prepared lectures, videos or resources for students. Teachers who are familiar with and may already use a flipped classroom approach, may provide links to videos or other digital resources for students to help students continue learning while at home.

Communications from school-to-home will likely include applications the school already has in place (email, blogs, school website, etc.). Many schools are using applications such as Google Classroom, Desire2Learn Brightspace, Moodle and other programs to post assignments, grades and communicate with students.  They will likely continue to use the tools that students have access to and login information. For example, many schools have software applications, often referred to as learning management systems.  They may continue to use these.  In these systems, teachers can post messages and instructions for all students.  Documents can be posted to provide reading or activities for students to accompany instructions. The students may already be accustomed to these systems to check assignments and instructions from the teacher when away from school due to illness, vacation, sports, etc.  Parents may already be familiar with using these learning systems to check children’s grades and review teacher updates.  Many of these systems have capabilities such as discussion forums where the students and teacher can keep connected and have a text-based discussion in a secure-space.  Students can hand in assignments using a dropbox and teachers can grade and return assignments to students fully online. It is important to consider how screen time will be balanced with other types of activities.

Here’s some tips:

Set goals with children.

Perhaps, we can learn from international schools that have plans in place and guidelines for parents for transitioning from classroom to distance learning. I am working with many graduate students who have already transitioned to K-12 distance learning and have been sharing and leading the way for schools across the globe over the past few months.  For instance, the International school of Brussels recommends students read, communicate and engage in authentic experiences while continuing to be physically active. This sounds like a reasonable goal. As a parent, you can help by setting daily goals and discussing the daily routine. In Twitter, I noticed many educators posting sample schedules that could be followed at home. Consistently, all of the schedules have ample time for play, creativity and breaks.


Try to maintain a routine.

Discuss the routine with your child. Try to maintain other week-day routines (bed-time, reading, etc.), take breaks, physical activity is important.  Think of it similar to project management – set age-appropriate and realistic goals with your child (daily, weekly, plan check-ins with children). School hours might normally be from 8:30-3:30 or somewhere in that time frame. At school, different types of activities are planned through the day, so at home you may not follow the exact hours. Maybe your teen would benefit from sleeping in and starting a bit later. Designing a personal schedule may be of interest to some children.


Create a learning space with your child.

Set-up a work space for your child.  This might be the same place children already use for homework or may need to be different. Ask yourself – is this space in an open area and Internet-accessible that can be monitored and is it comfortable for doing work for longer durations. It also needs to be a quiet space. It’s important to set-up a routine and learning space that works best for your family. When I’m teaching online, my family knows that the door closed means I’m online teaching or meeting with students and should not be disturbed. My family has become accustomed to keeping down the volume during these times and limiting other intensive use of Internet.  This has taken some time to get into a good routine that works for our family, so may take some time for you to figure out a plan for your family especially if you have multiple school-aged children.


Discuss the communication plan with your child.

Find out what the communication plan is for communicating with teachers and peers. It’s possible teachers could be overwhelmed in responding to parent and students questions.  You might recommend your child assembles a list of questions and reach out to peers for help, then review the list of questions with you or older sibling first before sending the questions to the teacher.


Discuss responsible online activity.

It may be tempting for children to immerse themselves in games, social media or other activities they typically engage in at home during the weekend or evenings. With more time at home, it may be tempting to dedicate too much time to screen time. Plan for time to allow children to connect with friends (online, keep social distance) and enjoy game-time or other activities they normally engage in outside of school hours at-a-distance. Discuss how much screen time might be too much screen time. A good question to consider might be – How will your child self-monitor their online activity and balance leisure online activity with online learning work and physical activity?


When working on school assignments, it is likely your child may be accessing online resources for assignments, so remind children about the importance of writing ideas in their own words and avoid simple copy/paste.  When using other sources, it’s important to note the source and provide proper attribution. Remind children to focus on cyber kindness and if sending out messages it’s a good idea to have it checked by someone else in the family to make sure the message will be received as intended. Ask children to consider how their messages and actions may be promoting or limiting health and well-being for others in your family or their friend group, and school.


Balance screen time with physical activity.

Balance both learning activities and activities of interest. It’s okay to build a snow fort (since there’s still snow in Calgary!), it’s okay to paint, and it’s okay to take time to sing and dance. Take breaks, drink water, eat healthy snacks, balance your schedule, and avoid excess screen time. Children may also need time for solitude – sitting alone in the quiet.


Check-in with your child. 

Whether you are at home with your child or on the job, it is important to check-in regularly and monitor how they are doing. I also encourage you to be kind to yourself and your family. You might be worried that your child will fall behind or may not learn sufficiently to keep progressing when they return to school. All students are out of school and may need some review when they return to school. I can assure you that your child will keep growing and will keep learning. Check in each day by having your child journal, set goals for 3 things they will accomplish each day, and at the end of the day reflect on their learning and remember to make time for gratitude.


Be mindful of children’s worries.

It might be exciting for the first few days when school closes, but it might also cause worry for children. Take time to discuss any worries.  Talk to your child about the virus. If your child is really interested in current events and wants to learn more, then build this into their schedule and take time to have a discussion with your child. It may not be a good idea to have the TV on and news channel continually reporting on COVID-19 updates playing in the background while your child is trying to do their school work. This would be distracting and also may increase tensions around the uncertainties of this pandemic. Dependent on the age of your child, you might sit down and watch the news together at a set time and have a conversation about the events and talk about continuing to practice good personal health habits.


Reach out to family and community for support.

Help each other.  I always say we are better together and we are stronger together.  Reach out to others, there might be a neighbour that might be able to help out.  Some help with check-ins could also come from phone calls or face-time with grandparents or other relatives throughout the day. Find what works for you and your family. You don’t have to do this by yourself, reach out, and ask other parents for suggestions.


Other questions you might have:

 What do I do if my child runs out of school work?

Brainstorm ideas about their passions and have them design their own project.  This could be a time to explore an area of interest or passion. If they are interested in learning more about another country, maybe they would like to create a travel brochure.  Perhaps, they are interested in learning more about dinosaurs, cars, trains, etc.  They could create an infographic to summarize key ideas that everyone should know about their passion topic. They could create a survey and gather data by asking a few questions to their friends. They could prepare a graph or chart summarizing their analysis. Facetime with a grandparent and practice another language. Go on a virtual field trip and tour museums and other places around the world. Mix-it up with off-line activities too. Encourage your child to maintain a reflective journal, do some cooking, recreate cupcake wars, be creative, gather materials around the house, assemble a 1000-piece puzzle together, build lego, play board games, sew, read a novel or poetry out loud). There are many open educational resources, read, write, color, have fun!  For example, Scholastic Canada


How do I help my child with anxiety about being at home and the uncertainties around us?

Reach out to your community supports.  This might be a good question for the teacher, school counsellor, they will provide you with supports that can be accessed through the school and district or other services. This may also be a good question for health providers in your area.  I know we want to be cautious with the types of questions we ask our family doctors or other health providers at this time.  However, if needed, please seek support from health professionals.


Will I need to oversee the “homework”?

Don’t treat any work assigned by the teacher or school as work that you need to oversee, correct or do for your child.  I know parents feel pressured to help children with their homework but it’s not intended to be parent-work. Be supportive and help children find ways to seek support from their peers, their teachers or online resources when having difficulties. Communicate with your child and help them express what they need help.


With more time online, I’m worried my child will not be responsible and may get into trouble other engage in activity that I can normally monitor outside of school time (cyberbullying, unauthorized app download/purchases, sexting, etc.)?

Keep communications open with your child. Ask lots of questions about what they are doing.  You may also refer to some great sites with tips about communications, such as:

Media Smarts

Common Sense Media


How will I support my child with special needs?

Reach out to your school and community for supports and advice. The school may be able to share strategies they use as part of your child’s individual education plan.  Perhaps, some of the same strategies could be helpful at home to help set up an environment conducive to learning.  For example, at school they may have noticed that your child needs to switch to a new activity every 20 minutes or maybe your child has difficulty with transitions and would be more successful in spending longer durations and fully completing a task before moving on to another task. Also, consider how might you incorporate some of the same successful strategies you already use at home to help your child. These same strategies will likely help with their “remote” school work as well.


How do I support my child without access to the technologies needed for learning-at-a-distance?

Reach out to family, friends or a neighbour to see if there’s options to borrow a device.  The school may also suggest alternate resources or low-tech options to help support learning if you are without access to technologies.


What other questions do you have?

Moving to Online Classes

In light of the recent requests for resources and help with moving to online classes, I thought I would share some freely accessible videos and links to publications.

Article about providing audio/video feedback to students:

Brown, B. (2019). One-take productions for student feedback. Education Canada, 59(2), p. 10. Retrieved from

Article about instructional design in online courses:

Brown, B., Eaton, S. E., Jacobsen, M., & Roy, S. (2013). Instructional design collaboration: A professional learning and growth experience. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 9(3).

Article about using a flipped model that can also be useful for designing online coursework:

Mazur, A., Brown, B., & Jacobsen, M. (2015). Learning designs using flipped classroom instruction. Canadian Journal of Learning Technology, 41(2), 1-26.

Chapter in eBook offers suggestions for designing group work that can also be applied to fully online environments:

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning (pp. 82-97). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

Resource prepared to help support a themed conversation about designing active learning in online environments:

Brown, B. & Ayala, J. (2018, February). Active Learning in Online Environments. Teaching Academy Themed Conversation, University of Calgary, Calgary, AB.

Videos about teaching online created in Adobe Connect transferrable to other programs used for synchronous sessions:

  • Schroeder, M., & Brown, B. (Producers). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part I: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary.
  • Schroeder, M., & Brown, B. (Producers). (2016). Adobe Connect in Action, Part II: Teaching in an Online Classroom, in collaboration with Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary.



Start your MEd degree with 4 courses in Leading and Learning in a Digital Age

Learn with instructors and invited guests who are internationally recognized in the educational technology field and experience a highly interactive online learning environment. This is not what might be considered a typical distance-learning course where students work on their own through a packet of resources.  Meet with your instructors and peers in a variety of online spaces, including live sessions where you will see and hear everyone through an easy-to-use web conference platform. Engage in weekly asynchronous activities during times you choose and when convenient for you. Take risks and learn how to use innovative technologies, develop your social learning network, and critically examine the literature and research in the field. Plan to make a difference in your work context to help others navigate the complexities of living and working a digital world. This topic attracts teachers and professionals in educational environments as well as professionals in other fields and disciplinary areas. Instructors will encourage you to make the learning tasks applicable to your work environment.

Through four interconnected fully online courses, students will: (i) examine the implications for designing and leading interdisciplinary and technology-rich learning; (ii) strengthen competencies in technological literacies; (iii) explore ethics in technology-enhanced learning environments; and (iv) lead and empower citizenry in a participatory and digital age.

Program Goals:

  • Develop and critically assess authentic interdisciplinary and technology-rich learning designs and environments
  • Demonstrate technological fluency and competencies in technological literacies
  • Advocate for high quality digital learning environments informed by understanding of current trends and issues in the field
  • Develop empowering and proactive teaching and learning practices in schools or other work contexts that promote active citizenry in a participatory and digital age

Target Audience

  • Teachers/instructors with an interest in designing and leading digital learning environments in primary, secondary or post-secondary environments or other work contexts
  • Educators and consultants who work with supporting technology use
  • School and district leaders

More information about the program –

Apply by March 16th 2020!


Advice for parents in supporting girls’ utilization of contemporary technologies

I find there is tension between wanting kids to be adequately experienced in using contemporary technology and at the same time worrying about kids being socially disadvantaged if technologies are limited. There may also be worry about excessive use causing distraction and impacting children’s growth and well-being. Some advice columns may suggest parents access resources and become more informed.  Sites I commonly suggest include Media Smarts – and Common Sense Media –


Advice may also include guidelines or rules for using technology.  For example, banning devices from the dinner table or requiring children hand-in their devices before bed time. Setting guidelines is important. But, what else can parents do?  I will admit that I don’t have any quick- fix tips for you.  As a researcher in this area, I also experience difficulties in this area and struggle with these tensions as well.


One key piece of advice beyond becoming more informed and setting guidelines, is to have conversations with your child by asking questions. Research indicates that having a strong parent-teen relationship and having regular discussions with children can reduce risky online behaviors and impact adolescent’s decisions. Depending on the age of your child, you may need to adapt the questions.  Also, don’t wait until there’s an issue to have the conversation and ask questions. Technology is continuously changing, so continuous communication is necessary with our children. Here’s some examples of questions I use:

  1. How can I best help or support you to use technology?
  2. How are you monitoring your own screen-media usage? How do the reports help you?
  3. What is your perception of gender differences at home/school/or other places in the community regarding use of technology? Do you have any examples of gender differences?
  4. How are you using technology in school? How are you using technology for consuming information or creating? How do you wish you were using technology in schools? How do you think technology could be used to help you learn?
  5. How do you perceive my actions/modeling of use of technology? Give me two stars and one wish for how I currently use technology.


You might find some of the responses surprise you or may not be exactly what you expected. We need generative conversations to develop a contemporary image of technology use for learning and we need to involve our girls in leading this conversation. What other questions would you suggest?


Online Assessment of Research Projects

I was interviewed about my assessment practices in online environments. You can read the blog post based on the interview.

Here’s some additional reflections regarding my assessment practices in online environments:

What are your main ways of communicating with students when teaching online? How do you ensure that your communication of assessment expectations are clear?

I try to use a variety of ways to communicate and ensure assessment expectations are clarified.  I prepare a detailed syllabus with information about the learning tasks and assessment.  I also use our learning management system (LMS) to communicate with students and share information about assessment.  For example, I organize course materials prior to the commencement of the course and open the course so it’s accessible to students one or two weeks prior to the start date.  In the content area, I provide a section for each of the learning tasks with a detailed rubric clarifying the learning intentions. In addition, I prepare a video where I discuss each of the learning tasks and expectations so the students can review the video prior to or during the first week of class.  I send weekly and sometimes bi-weekly email messages to the students to help clarify expectations.  I also use the News items on the landing page for the course in the LMS to communicate with the whole class.

When providing students with individual feedback, I use email and send direct messages to the students. I try to do this early on and provide students with formative feedback so they know if they are on-track or need to make improvements to their work.  I also post messages to groups of students in the discussion forum to offer commentary and advice when students are working on learning tasks as a group.

Offering drop-in sessions for students is another strategy that I have found useful to help with specific parts of an assignment.  For example, when I noticed students were not accessing current resources and recognized they were not making full use of accessing the databases accessible to them as graduate students, I offered two drop-in sessions at different times.  During the drop-in session I used our web conferencing system to share my desktop and talk through the steps for finding and assessing quality of resources.  I record the drop-in sessions and make them accessible in the LMS for students who were unable to join us.  I also have a few videos pre-recorded and accessible on my YouTube playlist for students and also make these available in the LMS (Dr. Brown’s Playlist).

Another strategy I use to help clarify learning intentions is part of my instructional design.  I organize peer-feedback loops.  This provides students with an opportunity to share draft work with myself as instructor and their peers.  During synchronous sessions, I use breakout rooms and I circulate through the rooms to offer my feedback.  Asynchronously, I organize spaces in the discussion forum for students to share their work and offer feedback to each other.  I also respond to the threads and provide my feedback as well.  We all use the criteria in the rubric to offer feedback and idea improvement.  I find the use of the rubric helps everyone give meaningful feedback that helps move work forward for all.

In the following article, I discuss a strategy I use for offering feedback to students using different mediums:

Brown, B. (2019). One-take productions for student feedback. Education Canada, 59(2), p. 10. Retrieved from

What are the biggest challenges associated with giving students a research paper assessment online? How do you manage these challenges? 

In online courses, I also find time is a challenge. Time to create additional resources or use multimedia as part of the assessment process.  For example, I would like to dedicate more time to creating, revising and curating resources to support students when working on their assignments. Resources quickly become outdated as software and other systems are updated. One of the ways I manage this challenge is to lower my expectations in the quality of the video produced. As noted, in my article, One-take productions for student feedback, it is not necessary to spend excess time in editing and polishing videos. Students appreciate conversational style and do not expect professional videos. Similarly, when I offer drop-in sessions.  At first, I thought it was challenging to find time to organize and plan the drop-in sessions.  However, once I started to do this and noted that a less structured approach and with a conversational style was effective, I no longer viewed time as a barrier.  I found drop-in sessions can be 30 minutes in duration and can help students with their specific questions.

Are there any differences in how you design/plan for online assessments compared to face-to-face assessments?  What additional factors do you have to consider?

I design/plan for assessments in a similar way in my face-to-face classes.  Many of the strategies I use online, I have now incorporated in my face-to-face classes. One additional factor in online classes is that I do not see the individual students on a regular basis as I do in a face-to-face class. In online classes, I find myself communicating using written text more than I do in a face-to-face class.  It is important to check-in and make sure students are not mis-interpreting feedback when relying on written text. This is one of the key reasons I started using more multimedia to communicate.

What other advice/tips/insights do you want to share with instructors who are new to teaching and assessing students online?

In addition to the tips I offer in the One-Take Productions article  I suggest dedicating time to instructional design. Prepare the syllabus as well as the online space in the LMS prior to the commencement of the course.  Students appreciate accessing a well-organized online learning space to help clarify course expectations and criteria for assessment.

Book Review – Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms

Joe Feldman provides a vision for equitable grading with a focus on coherence and mastery learning. Drawing on research and interweaving voices of teachers, researchers, school administrators and students, the author defines grading for equity using three pillars: equitable grading is accurate, bias-resistant, and motivational.  Read More – 

Brown, B. (2019). Book Review. [Review of the book Grading for equity: What it is, why it matters, and how it can transform schools and classrooms, by J. Feldman]. Education Canada, 59(1). Retrieved from



Designing Group Work in Blended Learning Environments

Brown, B. & Vaughan, N. (2018). Designing group work in blended learning environments. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning, pp. 82-97. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

The purpose of this chapter is to discuss a framework that can guide the development of promising learning designs intended to promote group work and collaborative knowledge building in higher education, specifically in blended learning environments. Today’s learners need newly designed learning experiences leveraging collaboration technologies (Vaughan, 2014). Learners expect to work collaboratively and experience engaging learning experiences (Dunlap & Lowenthal, 2011). Some argue that professors are ill-equipped to shift from conventional styles of teaching to new technology-rich forms (Becker et al., 2017; EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2017). We argue that using the five principles of the teaching effectiveness framework (Friesen, 2009) to design blended learning environments along with collaboration technologies, instructors can provide students with opportunities to work in groups, collaborate with each other, and amplify their learning experiences. The five core principles of the teaching effectiveness framework include: (1) Teachers are designers of learning; (2) Teachers design worthwhile work; (3) Teachers design assessment to improve student learning and guide teaching; (4) Teachers foster a variety of interdependent relationships; and (5) Teachers improve their practice in the company of their peers. The Teaching Effectiveness Framework provides a lens for designing and assessing learning designs (Friesen, 2009).

Should cell phones be banned from classrooms?

I was invited to respond to a school ban on cellphone use in a CTV two Alberta Primetime interview this week.

The interview was prompted by information about a Toronto middle school ban on cellphones in classrooms –

I learned this type of interview is called a double-header interview. In this case, the interviews occurred at the same time but in different locations. I was interviewed at a studio in Calgary and the other participant and host were located in the Edmonton studio.  This meant I was in a broadcast room in Calgary looking at a camera and could not see the host or other participants during the interview.  I could only hear the audio through an earpiece.

As I prepared for the interview, I tried to think of key messages that I wanted to communicate.  Here’s some of the key messages based on research that I have been involved in over many years as well as professional experiences in teaching and leading in K-12 and post-secondary environments:

  • A balanced approach is needed with a focus on learning.
  • Allowing students to use mobile devices and particularly their own mobile devices in schools requires intentional design by the teachers and school administrators.
  • There are benefits for learners of all ages. In research I have been involved in from K-12, we have observed when students are intellectually engaged, they use technology in meaningful ways. Likewise, when students are disengaged in learning, they use technology for non-educational purposes.
  • Learning can be scaffolded where learners are provided with increasing responsibility in using the tools of their day. As educators we have responsibility in designing learning opportunities that are meaningful in a digital age.  We have a responsibility to coach students when they encounter difficulties in learning. We can’t expect students will automatically know how to use technologies responsibly without providing any opportunities for learning WITH technologies in school.
  • When we ban cell phones, we are not promoting balance and we are not promoting learning for today’s students with today’s tools for learning.
  • The fear of managing situations arising from the use of cell phones often moves a school to making decisions such as completely banning these devices instead of dealing with the structural causes or other underlying causes of the misbehaviors and helping youngsters, teachers, school leaders and parents learn from the situations. Banning cell phones avoids the issues.  We can spend time patrolling to make sure the rules are followed or we can spend time designing meaning learning opportunities. Banning cell phones eliminates opportunities for learning and this includes opportunities for learning from our failures.
  • We miss critical learning opportunities both when we ban cell phones and when we allow for unguided and unlimited use. Let’s aim for a balanced approach where we make learning the focus and use the tools in meaningful and ethical ways.


Here’s a link to the video: