Desire to Learn: A Blended Approach to Middle School

The Desire to Learn platform has emerged in education in the last few years, specifically at the intermediate (i.e., grades 6-8) and secondary levels (i.e., 9-12). Desire to Learn, more commonly known as D2L combines traditional face to face learning with an online format of learning. Essentially, it is a blended model of learning for elementary and secondary students as well as higher education institutions and corporate organizations. This integrated learning platform also encourages teachers to use the flipped model of learning, another emerging method of learning. Furthermore, D2L has many delivery options that make learning accessible anywhere at anytime.

The main component of D2L is the Discussion Board. Additional features include: (a) a blog, (b) chat room, (c) locker for group work, (d) e-portfolio, (e) DropBox, (f) homepage for announcements, (g) a calendar for due dates and important announcements, (h)  email, (i) User Progress, which allows you to track student activity including the last time a participant logged on and what activities were completed, (j) lock and set dates for availability of the discussion board, (k) add widgets such as instructor Twitter feed, and (l) adding multimedia; links to websites, YouTube videos, and other web tools.

This platform is a good technology tool to supplement the learning happening in the classroom at the elementary and secondary levels. I have used D2L with much success in my own classroom. Students are able to interact, collaborate, and communicate with each other outside the four walls of the classroom on various topics they are learning through discussions on the board. The most significant advantage of the online format is that every student has a voice. Students who are shy or not confident to express their opinions in class have this forum in which to convey their thoughts, opinions, and views. They can watch videos in order to have in-depth discussions the next day in class. One example was during our grade 8 cells unit where we were discussing stem cell research. My students watched videos on the controversial topic and the next day we were able to have powerful discussions in small groups and as a whole class. In addition, through the locker feature, they worked in groups to complete assignments and projects on a variety of topics. They were also able to use the chat feature to have real time discussions with a transcript being made available to me.

Even though it has many advantages, I find there are some drawbacks to this platform as well. The discussion board can become cluttered for the instructor; even though we can ‘hide” discussion topics for students once it is completed, the instructor can still see all the topics, which can make navigating the discussion board cumbersome. Furthermore, if you are in a particular discussion thread and want to go back to the previous page, it takes you to the top of that page instead of where you left off. In terms of group work, the same difficulty can arise when students are completing projects in the classroom; not everyone doing their share of the work or not everyone meeting in the chat room or locker area at the assigned time set out by the group. The subject of academic honesty is also an issue. When students submit an essay or a project via the DropBox, there are no effective methods to determine if it is original work. In this sense, I wish we had access to a service such as Turnitin. This would make students more aware of the issue of plagiarism and honesty and integrity in their work. Another issue, not related to D2L specifically, is digital citizenship. Before students begin working in an online format, teachers must go through the rules and regulations of working online and the intended and unintended consequences of posting and interacting online. Last but not least, it would be great if D2L could be set up a feature where classes can interact with each other. In other words, it would be great for my grade 8 classes to interact with a class in India when we study the grade 8 water unit and how many countries lack access to clean water.

Online learning has many benefits for both students and teachers. If used effectively it can deepen student learning and allow all students to interact, communicate, and collaborate with each other for rich learning experiences. The most important thing to note is that online learning formats support the learning occurring in the classroom; it should not replace the value of the teacher in that classroom.  

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One thought on “Desire to Learn: A Blended Approach to Middle School

  1. Shelly,

    You described D2L as an emerging approach that combines traditional face to face learning with an online format of learning. So yes, this is a blended learning mode for K12 education. Blended learning can be used as a transitional point for students and teachers to move onto fully online learning. Do you think D2L designers had such a goal in mind?

    Also, do you think that people in society with a traditional mindset might not be totally opened to this learning platform for young kids? In short, do you think certain traditional colleges might not be as accepting to students who were engaged in D2L learning?

    The first time I came across online learning for K12 for example: http://www.k12.com/
    , I was not very opened to the idea. However, after exploring the various the benefits, I am slightly more opened to this form of schooling. What are your thoughts on fully online learning for young students? What are some challenges that might exists for young online learners?

    -Ena.

    Blog: http://ena-spoonfulofsugar.blogspot.com/

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