Buzz promotes collaboration, success, and personalization in virtual schools
Unlike blended learning models, in virtual schools, the majority of instruction is delivered in online spaces, and student progress is largely self-directed. Much of the focus of virtual schools is to expand educational opportunities, give students freedom and flexibility, and teach 21st century skills (e.g., critical thinking, research, global and environmental awareness, creativity).
Buzz promotes collaboration, success, and personalization in virtual schools
Class size, degree of facilitator-interaction, collaboration between students, and content delivery methods can vary dramatically between virtual schools and even within the same virtual school. While supporting this kind of variety is one of the benefits delivered by virtual schools, it can create difficulty in relationship-building, pacing, and personalizing instruction.
Buzz can help. Buzz offers features that bridge distance between students, their instructors, and peers; facilitates self-direction; and personalizes learning, even in virtual spaces.
In a virtual school, teachers are unlikely to get much (if any) face-to-face time with students, making it hard to gauge students' experience. Students can end up feeling isolated given the lack of physical interaction with teachers and peers.
In addition to facilitating standard email communication and announcements, Buzz helps to bridge the distance with the following features.
- Self Assessment: The Self Assessment feature lets students evaluate their personal understanding, interest, and effort in a course using a simple four-point scale for each. This is a low-risk and easy way for students to communicate with their teacher in the absence of facetime, and teachers can use the results to guide intervention and personalize attention.
- Audio/video interactions: Attaching a face and voice to interactions between teachers and students can go a long way in helping them connect as people. Buzz lets students experiment with multimedia submissions, like video blogs or podcasts, and gives teachers the option to provide audio/video feedback.
- Peer Help: Independent work doesn't have to mean working in a vacuum. Peer Help allows students to easily see which of their classmates have completed an activity, so they can ask them for help as thought they were sitting in the same classroom. This is particularly useful for the self-paced and distanced nature of virtual learning environments.
- Groups: Buzz lets teachers easily divide classes into multiple and overlapping group sets. Once created, teachers can send group messages, assign group activities, create quick intervention tasks for them, assign group grades, award badges, arrange peer assessments within groups, and filter list views by group. Buzz eases the logistical nightmares that group work can cause, and lets teachers focus on helping students get the most out of collaborating in a virtual space.
Collaboration: Buzz offers a variety of activity types, and some of them are crucial in facilitating collaboration in virtual spaces:
Projects: This activity let's teachers:
- Create and assign a meaningful project.
- Assign project groups.
- Integrate critique, collaboration, and reflection activities, like Discussions, Blogs, Wikis, and Journals.
- Discussions and Wikis: Wiki and Discussion activities allow students to build peer communities by making individual contributions to collaborative knowledge building and idea exchange.
- Blogs and Journals: Blog and Journal activities allow students to share individual critique and reflections with teachers and/or peers. Blogs are accessible by everyone in a class and journals can be accessed only by the student, the teacher, and anyone with observation permissions (parents, mentors, etc.).
- Peer Assessment: Peer assessment activities ask students to evaluate each other's performance using a rubric provided by their teacher. Reviews can focus on a specific activity (like a group project, a presentation, a blog, etc.) or on more general performance (things like participation, collaboration, etc.).
- Projects: This activity let's teachers:
Virtual schools empower students by giving them a lot of control over how, when, and where they engage school. We believe that this power should come with tools to help them succeed, so Buzz provides:
- To-do Lists: The To-do List appears on the Home page and lets students know about upcoming and past-due activities.
- Continuous Enrollment: To facilitate the self-paced nature of many virtual schools, Buzz allows continuous enrollments. In continuous enrollments, course completion is indicated by the students' completion of certain activities, rather than by the ending of a semester or other timeframe, and Buzz automatically schedules suggested due dates for all gradable activities to give students guidelines and help them stay on track.
- Self-assigned Tasks: Students can create and self-assign activities that are integrated into their calendars. Creating and completing self-assigned tasks can help students explore material, manage their time, and direct their own learning path.
- Objective Mastery: Buzz allows admins to import educational standards (e.g., federal, state, district), align them with activities to establish learning objectives, and track and review how each student performs against them. Both teachers and students can easily access this information and use it to guide and personalize the learning path.
Providing a personalized learning experience entails using each student's performance, potential (abilities and competencies), and interests to adapt instructional pace and approach to best meet their needs, while giving them an appropriate amount of control over their educational experience and direction.
This is a tall order in any learning environment, and can be particularly hard in a virtual school, but Buzz can help.
- Customization: It may seem like a small thing, but giving students control over the look and feel of their virtual learning space can enhance their experience and connection with the tool. Buzz allows students to choose color, background images, avatars, and select display features to help them make Buzz their own.
Formative and remediation assessments: Buzz's formative and remediation assessments help identify each student's needs and provide personalized learning opportunities to meet those needs.
- Formative assessments: When students demonstrate objective mastery on a formative assessment, Buzz automatically lets them skip activities meant to teach those objectives so they can focus on material they haven't yet mastered.
- Remediation assessments: Remediation assessments also evaluate performance against objectives, and, if a student shows lack of mastery, Buzz identifies activities that were meant to teach those objectives and encourages the student to return to them.
Student choice: Choice activities in Buzz enable students to review a teacher-curated selection of activities and choose to complete the ones that best align with their personal interests and goals.
In order to provide varying degrees of facilitation, teachers are able to specify:
- How many activities a student must complete.
- The group of activities from which students can select activities.
- Whether students can choose activities from other open educational resources (OER) in the Digital Library.
- Whether students can complete more than the required number of activities.
- Clipboard intervention: Teachers can use the Clipboard to quickly provide personalized attention to students. It is always available in the toolbar and they can assign activities, award badges, assign tasks, and message students quickly and easily based on their needs. This is an easy way to adapt on the fly.
- Badges: Badges are rapidly becoming a standard way for teachers to reward achievement, reinforce behavior, and verify competency. When used meaningfully, badges can be important motivators that benefit students beyond your course and help them shape their path. They can upload badges to external badge managers and shape their collection to reflect their interests and highlight their strengths.
Who's doing work in virtual schools?
Here are some organizations and thinkers that are doing exciting things with virtual schools:
- Florida Virtual School (FLVS): "We believe freedom and flexibility empower our students to succeed. Given the many choices we offer, we’re here to help students and parents explore our options and create a personalized educational plan that fits your unique needs."
- Lincoln Learning Solutions: "The mission of Lincoln Learning Solutions is to empower learning communities by providing them with products, strategies, and services aligned with proven educational practices."
- Spider Learning, Inc: "Empowering partners to achieve success through sustainable change within their learning environments."