Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century: A Virtual Approach

By Rob Vicario, Coordinator, History-Social Science, and Hillary Wolfe, Coordinator, Academic Intervention Supports, Orange County (Calif.) Department of Education
Guest Bloggers

Photo courtesy of Orange County Department of Education

The Need

Today’s innovative teachers understand that educational technology is not merely about tools. They have embraced technology’s potential to reshape our instruction. These educators also accept that content is available virtually everywhere all the time. Consequently, knowing how to obtain and make sense of information that is credible, relevant, and worthy of sharing is what has become essential.

The Background

In the fall of 2013, after a chance phone call between educators at both institutions, an idea was hatched to explore a way to deliver the Newseum’s rich resources into the classrooms of Orange County schools. After teacher recruitment and multiple planning meetings to determine content and delivery methods, the resulting research pilot gave over 1,000 8th graders a virtual field trip to the Newseum in Washington, D.C. It also afforded an opportunity for ELA and History/Social Studies classes to collaborate on the attainment of the Common Core State Standards goals of reading and analyzing informational text from multiple print and digital sources.

The Lesson Plan

Based on the Newseum’s “Believe It or Not” Learning Center class, this lesson on freedom of speech was co-delivered by the Newseum and OCDE educators via Webex. Students examined several websites and news stories using a protocol for vetting information. Working together using Chromebooks, students interacted with, and responded to, the curator using online quizzes and video conferencing. Students analyzed the material as readers of informational text and savvy media consumers. According to one teacher collaborator, “Seeing that there were many websites that looked real, but weren’t, surprised them (students).”

The Real Story

The first classroom experience built everyone’s confidence, as the students were very tech-savvy and comfortable with the interactive and collaborative nature of the lesson. Even so, their expertise did not minimize the effect of working virtually across the country. These 8th graders were thoroughly engaged with the Newseum educator and were fascinated by the experience.

The second classroom experience posed new challenges, as the lesson was to be delivered to 500 students over 7 periods in one day. With lots of rehearsal, our coordinated effort paid off as groups of 80 students shuffled into the multi-purpose room, logged in, and paired off to interact with the instructor. Despite the large class sizes, there was not one discipline issue. We attributed that to both the extensive rehearsal and the highly engaging lesson format and delivery.

Since then, our team has collaborated with several other schools, each posing new challenges and ultimately stretching our capacity to deliver this lesson successfully in a variety of settings and circumstances. Our next goal is to deliver the lesson simultaneously in real time to a classroom in Connecticut and one in Orange County.

The Results

This pilot implementation was a positive and beneficial experience for students. A pre- and post-survey showed the lesson delivery fostered collaboration, critical thinking, and communication among students. The content provided practical tools for evaluating primary and secondary sources and the virtual format engaged students with technology in meaningful and authentic ways.

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