Stepping Off the Stage: Our Journey To Personalize Learning

Original article on the Canvas blog here.

As an instructor, I struggled not only with teaching content but with teaching it in a way that would inspire students to seek out new learning opportunities. At first, I was the ideal “sage-on-the-stage”-- it didn’t matter who was in the audience because I would teach identically with 100 students or 10 or even 1. The problem is that one-size-fits-all lecturing wasn’t working. Not for me and definitely not for my students. Watching yet another student disengage visibly in class signaled that change was mandatory.

To solve this problem, my cofounder, Ben Levy, and I created and deployed PlayPosit, an interactive video & audio platform, in and outside of our classrooms to step off the stage and easily personalize instruction for learners. Now, nearly a decade later, together with our partner universities, school districts, and learning institutions, we’ve reimagined the classroom experience to empower administrators, instructors and students. Below outlines a few of the most powerful lessons we’ve learned from this process.

Creating a successful online or differentiated learning environment centers on these three relationships:

1. Student-Teacher Interaction

When creating our platform, we prioritized the enhancement of the student-teacher relationship because we saw that as the easiest way to have each learner feel connected to the class and material. For example, in my introduction-to-new-material bulbs, I make 99% of the interactions worth zero points--purely formative and dialogue based in nature--so that students feel free to engage with my questions and activities like they do in an actual 1:1 tutoring environment. That said, at the end of the video or audio based lesson, I stack a series of questions that work as a quiz or exit ticket.

During the bulb itself, I allow each student to answer questions (not just the individuals I called on), each student receives “time at the whiteboard” with their instructor via our embedded website and simulations options and each student receives hardwired video/audio or text based feedback from instructors when they answer any non-free-response question. We even built a live-chat functionality for instructors and students to chat synchronously even when students are working at their own pace in or outside of the classroom.

2. Peer-Peer Interaction

My favorite analogy for the benefit of peer-to-peer interaction during a lesson centers on the gym (bear with me). Going to the gym on your own to work out on an isolated machine only lends itself to the most self-disciplined individuals. However, if you know your peers are waiting for you at the gym to run an activity “together,” the likelihood you’ll go and push yourself more while there increases dramatically. The same mentality applies to online learning. When students understand that they were completing assignments with an entire cohort of their peers, their engagement increased dramatically.

Consequently, we built threadable discussion boards and polling surveys where students can post embedded videos, images, audio files and more and navigate the video based on those time stamped comments. Students feel like they are learning not in a vacuum but with a group of their peers. Discussion forums allow for students to share observations with a class, their instructor and an individual peer. Already, we’ve seen this increase “participation” and the positivity with which students’ view their experience.

3. Self-Self Interaction

Engagement hinges on student’s self-knowledge regarding learning. This is summarized as: “If I understand how I best can teach myself any material, then I will seek out more opportunities to learn.” There are two key ways PlayPosit helps students cultivate this metacognition. First, students can always return to questions they’ve gotten wrong--they can not change their original responses, but, they can issue a “Student Explanation” that acknowledges their mistake and affords them an opportunity to explain why the correct answer is correct. Part and parcel to this is the ability for instructors to assign students the task of creating a self-reflective or exemplar bulb as a summative artifact or one that seeks instructor or peer evaluative feedback.

In Conclusion

PlayPosit’s power lies in the relationships it builds between your instructors, students and in a self-reflective sense.

Susan Germer
Cofounder of PlayPosit