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A growing trend in education over the last two decades has been exploring ways to use educational technology to maximize classroom time and extend learning opportunities beyond the classroom. The idea of a “ubiquitous learning environment,” where students can learn at any time and in any place, has long been a dream of many educators and goes back over one hundred years—correspondence courses, phonographs, radio, filmstrips, and television have all been re-purposed for learning.

Today, with high-speed Internet and devices like smart phones and tablet computers more commonly in the hands of students, educators are closer than ever to realizing the dream of the anytime/anyplace classroom. Despite the (very real) digital divide, schools increasingly are providing students with mobile computing devices to take learning from the school into the home.

Many teachers already take advantage of free online services that provide rich and engaging educational opportunities. For example, the Khan Academy provides video vignettes on a plethora of educational topics, and MIT hosts a wide selection of online courses. But today’s educators are not just looking to capitalize on these types of resources, but also to transform homework time into an extended classroom experience. McREL’s own research in the areas of Homework and Practice supports the idea that learning outside of the classroom has a high (and measurable) impact on student learning and achievement.

Most recently, the ubiquitous classroom has been getting attention due to the “flipped classroom” movement started by two Colorado teachers, Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams, from Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, Colorado. Their flipped classroom began by first recording live lectures for students who missed their classes, but it evolved to recording lectures for homework use, and then for class-time projects and group discussions. While their version ( is predominantly vodcasting, it also incorporates using Nonlinguistic Representation, an instructional strategy that research has shown to increase student understanding of concepts and processes.

The new expectation is that teachers with access to rich educational technology resources are using valuable face-to-face class time to expand learning opportunities, and that homework is truly becoming an extension of school work. While parents and teachers might need convincing that flipping the traditional classroom is valid, students won’t. This way of learning capitalizes on the 21st Century skills that students are already using (with or without us), which allows them to not only be along for the journey, but able to give input and guide the process, too.

What have you done in the area of ubiquitous learning? Tell us your story about moving your classroom into anytime/anyplace learning.

To read more about what research and ubiquitous classrooms have in common, check out the new McREL-ASCD publication, Classroom Instruction that Works, Second Edition.

Written by Andy Kerr, Lead Consultant

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Tony Tartaro says:

    I can see the value in setting rich homework tasks. My concern as a school adminsitrator is how do I resource the time my teachers need to develop the work so that it is of appropriate standard and immediacy. While we are extending the students’ learning day we are also extending the teachers’ working day and this could very well become an issue both from an industrial as well as work-life balance issue.

  • Kathryn Muir says:

    Two years ago I set up a blog for my Yr 11 chemistry class. This blog enabled the students to log in at any time (at school or at home) and ask the teacher questions, or just talk to the other students in the class about the theory being taught. Unfortunately it didnt really take off – but now that I am in a school with a one to one netbook program, it may have a better chanve of surviving?

  • Jess says:

    I first heard about the flipped classroom last year at university. I have thought about the possibilities particularly in food and technology and the ability to teach or demonstrate through video rather than using precious cooking time in class. The flipped classroom would enable greater explanation of key concepts and methods that are often rushed or missed. How have you found student’s responses to the flipped classroom and do they actually watch the videos in their own time?

  • John Powell says:

    The concept of a ‘flipped classroom’ is one we are slowly moving towards at our school in Australia. We have recently set up a Moodle account for one of our senior mathematics classes where we have posted a series of lectures which students can access at their leisure. The feedback is very positive from students

  • Garrett T says:

    One thing I do wonder about in regards to ubiquitous ‘anytime, anywhere’ classrooms is in regards to time management employed by students. What do we change about the way we teach the necessary skills of focus and application when the tools we are encouraging them to use ensure that distraction is only a click away?

  • Kristyan D'Aprano says:

    At our school we use a wiki to post homework tasks and provide additional resources for our Year 12 students. All powerpoints and handouts go online for students to access at home. What we have struggled with though is getting students to interact with the material and contribute their own ideas. They are happy to “take” but rarely “give”. The use of the wiki by teachers is fantastic but I feel we put more effort into it than they do. A number of students are keen and use the wiki to complete the extra tasks posted but it would be great to get students posting their own links consistently.
    Any ideas on how to facilitate this? I can see the value such a dialogue would have – especially in helping students engage with the context and gaining more writing practice.

  • @ Kristyan: Materials going online for students is probably a pretty new idea. I know when I started doing this, it was pretty foreign to most students (just extra tech stuff). I tried making it part of a participation grade (you must have 3 postings, etc), and that got me some pretty dry responses. When I started integrating the “virtual” class into the face-to-face class, participation did go up (both online and in class). It was, however, a process to get them to that point. What makes the entire process easier (IMHO) is when multiple teachers are all doing similar things. It is not something you do in Mr. Kerr’s class, but something you do at school. Do others have experiences to help Kristyan?
    @ Garrett: That is the big question of the day (or decade, actually), Garrett! It is rough for adults to stay focused and on task when emails are popping in and out of our lives, fun websites are just a click away, etc. Asking students to do work in 15 or 20 minute blocks before looking at texts, Facebook, etc and actually tracking their work (charting it) is one way to help keep them on task. Others have strategies to help Garrett?
    @ John: Moodle is a FANTASTIC tool (and Australian, as well!). For those not familiar with Moodle, it is an online Learning Management System (LMS) much like Blackboard and other online services, except Moodle is FREE. With the ability to post or link to materials, conduct online testing, discussion boards, etc, it is a wonderful tool for both in and out of the classroom. I really like the online quiz features, not for grades, but for students to help self assess their progress on topics. Are others using Moodle (or another LMS) in their classrooms?
    @ Jess: Results are mixed, Jess. Successful implementation of this usually revolves around making sure the video content is integrated into the face-to-face class time. Classroom discussions would encourage the watching of videos. As all homework assignments, it needs to have a relationship to the class (and students need to have access to materials outside of class, too). What makes this idea “new” is the ease in which the materials can be created, distributed, and accessed. If students don’t initially see value in watching a video on a particular topic, they have the option to watch it at a later time (or several times). Rather than entire lectures, the material can be broken up into segments. Khan Academy is a great example of this. Does anyone have suggestions for Jess?
    @ Kathryn: Blogs can be a wonderful way for students to interact with teachers and each other outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to get started. I would suggest taking class time to actually work on the blogs (even though you are face-to-face) by posting some discussion questions for them to answer. Rather than leave it as an open discussion forum (although that is a nice component), perhaps create specific assignments for students to complete on the blog, both in and out of class. Do others have examples of successful class blogs to share with Kathryn?
    @ Tony: A difficult question of balance, Tony. I would argue that we are not extending the learning day for students, as homework as always been a part of most students learning. We are really suggesting a different look at traditional homework. For the teachers, however, this is additional work. No matter how easy it is now to create video segments (even most computers have a camera and microphone now), it is still extra work. One thing I always say to teachers is technology is NOT going to make your job easier or save you time, but it WILL be enriching for both you and the students (when implemented properly). With most teachers only getting an hour or so of prep time a day, the “flipped classroom” is a significant investment of time and energy. Can others help Tony with an answer of how they have found balance in their schools?

  • carol hogan says:

    Many universities and tertiary institions now have most of their lectures and materials on line which works really well for this age group. They do have to be more disciplined to work from home, work out their own home work timetable if you like. I can see real benefits for teens as they do have a different ‘awake’ cycle however to be able to do this as a teacher would involve such a huge investment of time – time I can’t seem to find even to be able to learn more myself!

  • Melissa says:

    Having students be able to communicate their ideas outside of class time is not new however giving students the the opportunity to place their ideas in a ‘shared space’, is an exciting way for students to grow in their understanding. The possibilities are endless and it’s great to think that as a student you can enter a ‘virtual classroom’ at any place and any time and there’s piece of mind as a teacher knowing that students can access information outside of your classroom. I admit, I have not been much of a blogger in the past (except for leaving facebook comments)but I think it’s time to bite the bullet 🙂

  • Technology is going to impact ever child’s life as they grow up. They need to use and understand it, the sooner the better. There are fabulous learning programs available to teachers, parents, and students that help today’s students and make education current for them. Just a search on the Internet will bring forth a huge number of learning games that children will enjoy. In the classroom programs such as Accelerated Math and Reading bring practice of skills to an individualized level and make learning exciting and up to date. As technology programs expand for the classroom education will become more and more individualized. Computers can check on children’s progress immediately, where a teacher can only check on one student at a time. It is a fabulous learning tool.

  • Angie says:

    In Minnesota we are seeing more teachers try the flipped classroom with positive results. Teachers also report an increase in student engagement, which is essential.

  • Angie Norburg says:

    After teaching high school for 20 years, I resigned 10 years ago to work at the state education agency. I am amazed by the vast amount of exciting learning technology available to teachers for enriching students’ learning experience. I am envious of those who can provide students with the “flipped classroom” and other exciting tools in today’s learning environment. I promote educational technology with teachers whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  • Al Hauge says:

    As a new instructor for a Work Based Learning curriculum an emphasis is made to utilize multiple methods of instruction including technology. Many of the students have identified wonder sites that they have found that incorporate technology in their WBL curriculum.

  • Kristina says:

    I’m thinking that this learning strategy is like other learning strategies and would need to be scaffolded for students when they begin using it. I work with ELLs and I could easily see them viewing a lesson – not comprehending components and not re-viewing or noting where they had questions. They would come to school the next day and need the lesson over from the beginning. So this is an exciting support for students – especially ELLs – but they’ll need to be taught how to use the strategy effectively which will have long-lasting implications for life-long learning.

  • Al Hauge says:

    The flip chart website is a great way to bring in new technology to the classroom. However, in many of our schools online videos are blocked so it is important to identify those that could work or use this opportunity to educate administration about modern use of technology.

  • Kursten says:

    The value of integrating technology into the educational environment and extending learning beyond the “school day” has shown great promise with technology “natives.” It is also important to keep in mind that technology (websites, etc.) needs to be accessible. Students using screen readers, text readers, and other forms of assistive technology need to be able to access the educational content “at the same time” and with the same degree of richness as other students not using assistive technology. One should be aware that digital does not equal accessible.
    In developing the flipped classroom, one should also incorporate the principles of universal design for learning (UDL) to reach the greatest number of learners. UDL is a best practice process that makes curriculum accessible and attainable regardless of learning style, physical or sensory abilities.

  • Christy Alquist says:

    I have found that students typically do not do their homework, or at least reading homework. I am hoping that by incorporating more technology into my English classroom, that students will be more willing to do the homework if it is in a technology format, such as a blog.

  • sally says:

    The flipped classroom concept is something that I am eager to try. I am a “seasoned” educator who has been reluctant to give up the old ways, but am now wanting to venture out. However, I am also finding that I have parents who are reluctant to “flip”. We also have students with no computer access at home (or tech access). So I am going to step out of my comfort zone, and give it my best shot. I know the students will be receptive!

  • Lee Ann says:

    I have been an introvert my whole life. I believe using technology in an individual basis can help the introverts as well as the extroverts. I’m excited about learning more on technology being used in the classroom.

  • With these there are various LMS system which one should make use of to have easy interaction between teachers and students and to make learning much more interesting and flexible.

  • Lara Karasavvidis says:

    I am currently using Moodle for my students to access school work from home, although I am yet to use some of the additional features such as using Moodle to submit work. At the moment, it is simply a repository for accessing documents and inspiring imagery. I see the opportunity for the inclusion of videos and “at home” lessons as very exciting. At present however, I do have a number of students who do not refer to the Moodle site when at home, being easily disheartened when they encounter technical difficulties. These students usually email me or another student and have the documents sent to them. I think the flipped classroom could work well with a lot of in class technical support and with a very clear understanding of the purpose. It also requires consistency from teachers, so that students start to use it intuitively across a range of subjects.

  • Syndia Guerrero says:

    I experimented last year with the flipped classroom for my 2nd year Spanish students. They loved it! They loved being able to watch the video from their phone, computer or iPad. They liked being able to replay the “lecture” (video).
    I like the flipped classroom because it allows us to spend precious class time working on the concepts.
    It also prevents the students from spending 30 minutes on homework at home and practicing it incorrectly.
    I will be working more with the flipped classroom next year.

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