Regardless of grade level, any new teacher quickly finds out that there is no perfect way of preparing for the actual work of guiding students through a  curriculum while navigating the day to day challenges of the academic year. Whatever preconceptions you hold about education, hands-on classroom experience tends to introduce unexpected truths about today’s students. And while new generations of students challenge instructors to teach in an unfamiliar ways, the educational philosophy at the core of the Lasallian mission holds one piece of wisdom that is useful regardless of our time and place in history:

Teachers need to meet students where they are.

So where are today’s students? They are on mobile devices that are connected to the internet all the time, and they have been there for most of their lives. The average high school freshman in 2014 was not alive during the 1990s and cannot remember a world without instant access to ubiquitous information.

Photo by nooccar (CC BY 2.0)

Like it or not, the learning preferences of students should drive how educators use technology in their classroom, not the other way around.

This often understated, common sense idea is characteristic of the insights mentioned during last Thursday’s Collaborate Now Philadelphia! Conference sponsored by Blackboard and held at the University of Pennsylvania. At this event Blackboard Collaborate users and educators shared valuable glimpses into the kinds of students enrolling in today’s K-12 and post-secondary schools. In short, the image of the traditional brick-and-mortar student of just a few years ago has all but vanished. With an impending influx of non-traditional students, institutions of higher education have a lot to learn from how K – 12 schools are using technology to create new educational environments.

Meeting the needs of today’s students was a central theme of last week’s Blackboard conference. Blackboard’s VP of Strategy and Operations Annie Chechitelli suggested that the next generation of online educational tools needs to be mobile-first, simple, and integrated. In support of this claim, Chechitelli cited the Speak Up 2012 National Findings K-12 Students report which finds that 26% of today’s third to fifth graders are already interested in taking a course online. Educators of all stripes must prepare for the growing demand for online classes, or risk losing potential students to schools that are replacing outdated educational models in order to meet learners where they are.

Indeed, the migration of students to online courses already began years ago. According to the 2011 Going the Distance Report from Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board, nearly one-third of all students in higher education were taking at least one online course back in 2010, a statistic indicative of the ten percent growth rate for online enrollments in higher education. Experts see no slowdown of this trend in 2013.

Current best practices among K-12 online instructors have some interesting implications for the type of learning environments that students will demand from higher education in just a few years. Here are a few online instructional strategies discussed at the Blackboard Collaborate Now conference that can prove useful to college professors.

During the session entitled “The Flex Classroom: Benefits of Intermodal Online Instruction”, Nicole Gianvito, Christine Crow, and Andy Petro of the PA Cyber Charter School touched on many aspects of online education.

Instructional Strategies

  • Create predictable and organized asynchronous learning environments.
  • Minimize direct instruction to large groups as much as possible in exchange for more individualized tutoring.
  • Prepare students for jobs that don’t yet exist by teaching them heutagogy (learning how to learn) and paragogy (learning from peers).
  • Give students a menu of different assignment choices to fulfill learning objectives, and keep expectations for each choice appropriate for your learners.
  • Avoid impersonal, pre-created content. Instead, use self-created content that shows your personality and helps build relationships with students.

Videos in Asynchronous Learning

  • Edit your videos so that they are no more than five to nine minutes in length.
  • Incorporate hidden codes and unusual objects into videos and then follow-up with an extra credit question to see if students are watching the entire video.
  • Save time by re-using videos about content from year to year, but spend time creating new videos to introduce the content to your current class.


  • Do not force students to move through the course as a cohort or low performing students will fall behind early in the semester.
  • Instead, use synchronous sessions for group instruction on the same topic, but schedule time for students to work on project tailored to their individual level.
  • Allow struggling students to work at a skill until they master it rather than requiring them to move on.

Writing as Assessment

  • Limit true/false and multiple choice assessments and replace with written answers wherever possible.
  • Set writing norms based on the medium of communication. For example, students may use text speak in a chat window, but not during more formal modes of writing.

At a session called “Make Your Online Classroom ‘Bloom’ with STEM, Tara Park and Cindy Willits of the PA Virtual Charter School shared some interesting ways to use Collaborate, Blackboard’s web conferencing tool.

  • Invite guest speakers from remote locations to meet with your class synchronously through Blackboard Collaborate.
  • Use the Collaborate Plan software to design customized Collaborate sessions in advance.
  • Build private and individually paced online learning environments by separating students into small groups using Collaborate’s breakout rooms.

Technology is moving so quickly that teachers, students, and even big corporations like Blackboard are involved in the same struggle to keep up with new tools and apply them in ways that produce the most positive learning outcomes. The good news is that no one has to feel alone in this pursuit. While we all must change to meet the educational needs of students living in an information-based society, there are plenty of successful educators and technologists out there with a desire to help like-minded individuals. All one has to do is ask.

For any of your instructional technology needs, please feel free to contact the La Salle instructional design team at

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