No tool is useful without a skilled head and hand. We cannot advocate for a new instructional delivery system without paying close attention to those who will make it effective. Teachers and students working collaboratively will determine whether blended learning offers next generation learning or is just another fad. If it is the former it may help resolve the nagging issue of differentiating instruction for each child and result in greater collective achievement. If it is the latter, part of the blame for its failure will come to leaders. So, let's think this through well and implement carefully.
Teachers structure courses and content so, as administrators, we can clearly see what is being taught. We can view everything that a student experiences with the exception of the teacher's direct instruction. The technology creates a comprehensive snapshot of what is being required in the course. Changes and updates are made dynamically and are communicated easily. Homework can become interactive learning. Parents can "enter" classrooms, see the degree with which common core has influenced what and how we teach and learn along with the students. The capacity for an online grade book allows students, parents, and leaders to track the progress of the students.
The use of a blended learning environment - using a content management system - actually can facilitate more communication. In a traditional classroom not everyone engages in any discussion. In a blended learning environment, everyone can participate and is given the time to do so. Forums and wikis replace raising hands in a classroom. More students can contribute to a discussion - with deeper thought. The structure allows for students to respond to each other and to the teacher as well. In a comprehensive and robust content management system, varying degrees of independence can be provided for students.
Blended learning opportunities allow for ongoing communication between students and teachers. The asynchronous nature of the communication allows for students to have time to think. There are those students who may have a question at 10 PM. They can post it. When the teacher is back at his computer, he can answer. Those who are reticent to ask those questions in class, or who need time to process and think, are given the time and space needed and can still become part of the class discussion. The system creates greater transparency and can be established to protect student confidentiality simultaneously. We do not want a system that disrupts the powerful relationship aspect of teacher and student trust.
This approach, when embraced by highly engaged teachers, is like taking the syllabi and placing them on steroids. The scope and sequence of the curriculum being taught is without limit. Students can have access 24/7 to content and resources and can work independently. Face to face classes become more interactive.
For all the advantages, there are two cautions we extend. Blended learning changes the life of the teacher. There is less definition around the school day and class time. This student generation has instantaneous expectations where technology is involved. So, the 24/7 nature of the system must be implemented with care and with carefully designed, mutual expectations. Teachers cannot feel subject to the unreasonable student's demand for a midnight or a Sunday answer. Secondly, online content must be interactive. Simply doing work on the computer does not alone overcome that work being dull and lifeless. It is not simply the medium that makes blended learning dynamic; it is the inspired teacher who is motivated by the technology to open her practice to limitless capacity and plan ways to use 21rst century skills in the expanded classroom.
As with everything, each school community is different, student needs are different, teacher talents are different, accessibility to technology in school and home is different. Blended or online learning is not one-size-fits-all, nor should it be. Consider these three steps as entry path. One step to become informed yourself. One source is the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. They have released a white paper you may want to read. The second step is to use a content management system to conduct the faculty meetings for the year. Design it in such a way that teachers are participants with you in a blended environment. Some meetings are face to face supported by online follow up for the next one. Open up for discussion forums; include videos, and PD opportunities. Make it the place where teachers go to find out what they need to know and what is on the horizon. You may find it focuses thinking and improves the level of conversation taking place in the face-to-face meeting as more of the staff engages in the medium. It also establishes your willingness to lead and use the system while sensitizing teachers to the experience students will have. It can also be a statement of respect for the time that teachers are spending with the new curriculum and assessments. The third step is to find an online course that would or could engage you and the entire faculty in a learning experience together. This could allow you to analyze what you like about this medium, what makes you uncomfortable, and what doesn't fit. Grade level alone changes the discussion. Make sure you have listened well as you choose where and when and how to move forward with students.
Three basic steps can make a difference in our understanding of this dynamic addition to traditional teaching. Below there are just a few resources to begin the exploration. In this, most of us are novices and the innovation driving this field is constantly improving and generating new sources. This is an invitation to join with our faculty and take a serious step into understanding the use and advantage of online learning. There are so many valuable resources. We recommend these few resources to help you get started.
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