Say Goodbye to Brick and Mortar

Learning Online

Teaching in an online environment allows for more facilitating then teaching in many instances. Traditionally and historically teachers have possessed all or most of the knowledge and disseminate that knowledge accordingly under the confines of a classroom setting. An online environment, however allows for more individualized learning where the instructor provides resources and information via discussion threads, blogs and a repository for handing in assignments.  Further an online environment allows for grading, peer review and completion of assignments from home or elsewhere. Teachers and students may never meet face-to-face and this can be seen as a pro or con.  An online experience can be significantly cheaper as well as provide for greater collaboration between students (Crawford, Smith & Smith, 2008).

It’s also important to note some of the challenges instructors face from transitioning from a traditional teaching environment to an online environment.  According to Bates and Watson (2008) “Instructors and students grapple with learning the technology for online courses: e-mail, Web assignments, games, course software, mailing lists, bulletin boards, blogs, and multi-media” (p.38).  Training and professional development is not always a priority for districts resulting in a lack of confidence for the teacher and an under-utilization of the learning management system.

One example of an online environment teaching technique is the collaborative and cooperative approach.  Not only do students have the opportunity to learn from one another, they have the ability to constructively critique and peer review each other. This can be an invaluable experience as receiving feedback from a peer is often perceived differently than from an instructor. A good tool outside of a learning management system could be the use of  This website is subscription-based and allows for any written submission to be checked against an archived copy of the Internet, millions of journals and periodicals as well as tens of millions previously submitted papers with the sole purpose of locating “matching text”.  Although many districts use this tool for plagiarism prevention, many institutions leverage this technology to foster growth for student writing skills.  One facet of this web-based software is a peer review section that allows students to give feedback and grade or evaluate a peer’s work. Teachers on the other hand are able to grade the documents online and provide detailed feedback with built-in common core state standard rubrics as reference to help improve writing.

Brick and Mortar Learning

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the more traditional experience of lecturing and face-to-face instruction. Typically this occurs in a brick and mortar environment where students attend class with a particular schedule that is adhered to for a designated amount of time. Most if not all of the learning occurs through material prepared and presented by the instructor and is disseminated to the students. Minimal integration of technology occurs and there is a varied amount of interaction and dialogue between students and teacher (Bates & Watson, 2008). 

A strong example of a teaching technique that would work well in a face-to-face environment would be the use of clickers or response systems. Nowadays, there are numerous web-based software applications as well as apps to allow teachers to gather information quickly from students and to collect the results into one location such as an Excel spreadsheet. Socrative, for example, is an app that can be installed quickly onto any smart phone and can be used by a teacher to gather preliminary information on a new topic or even to check for understanding once a unit is complete. The students simply enter in a classroom number created in Socrative by the instructor and then proceed to respond to the questions or statements that the teacher has created. Once completed the information is submitted electronically and the teacher can recall the gathered information from all students or groups in the form of spreadsheet to analyze and evaluate as a group.  This simple and free app allows for increased engagement and participation as well as providing an electronic document that can be shared or archived.

The Best of Both Worlds?  



With-attribution graphic from

Somewhere in between lies the hybrid experience online. Where there could be an established schedule for meeting face-to-face, there may also be designated online time inside of a learning management system for collaboration and learning to occur. Teachers may assign several different journals to read or resources to explore and then require students to analyze or evaluate the information as it pertains to a common theme or leading question. Homework assignments or supplemental exercises to the classroom experience can be submitted online in a hybrid environment allowing for teachers to grade and give feedback in an online format. It also allows for the student, depending on the learning management system, to begin to build an online electronic portfolio or learning space to demonstrate their learning. In a traditional environment, most documents need to be printed.

Teaching in a hybrid environment for all ages can be enhanced by the use of games as a teaching technique.  Playing online games can promote creativity, critical thinking, and enhance problem-solving skills. A good example is the use of Minecraft which is a game typically used for elementary to middle school students to allow for construction and building of blocks to create a multitude of different shapes and objects in a 3-D environment. Most recently I’ve seen this game used by a sixth grader who developed a design through Minecraft to represent a plant cell. This was done on an iPad with the Minecraft app and was projected via Apple TV for a presentation to the rest of the class. This game also allows for the gathering of resources and planning for survival.  In a hybrid environment, a game like this could be used in class or at home to supplement learning.


Taking a closer look this week at how we learn and what environment we achieve best in has allowed me to realize one thing: everyone learns differently and there are a multitude of learning environments to choose from.  The task becomes to find the most appropriate one for you. As I plan my smart board training for teachers, I am more sensitive to how they will engage, participate and ultimately retain what they have been exposed to.  I believe that by ‘doing’ first and then teaching or demonstrating to a colleague immediately after, they will increase their chance to understand the content and hopefully see a direct application to their classroom.  I will also plan for online documents and tutorials for the teachers to return to for review at their own pace.  In the future, my hope is to use our anticipated learning management system as a vehicle to deliver online professional development for the entire district.


With-attribution graphic from


Bates, C., & Watson, M. (2008). Re-learning teaching techniques to be effective in hybrid and            online courses  . Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 13(1), 38-44.

Crawford, C. M., Smith, R. A., & Smith, M. S. (2008). Course student satisfaction results:                    Differentiation between face-to-face, hybrid, and online learning environments.  CEDER              Yearbook, 135-149.

In what environment do you think you learn best? How about your students or colleagues?

Want more? Check out this intriguing TED Talk on the future of learning for our students:


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