Bringing Blended Learning Forward
The culture of our schools and districts is maintained, or changed, by our leadership. Our actions in times of crisis make the culture most visible. Eyes are on us daily to ascertain the degree to which our statements match our actions. If we value social activities and athletics or academics it is revealed by our actions. Our will to eradicate bias is revealed by our actions. So, is our determination for helping children become college and career ready revealed by our actions?
We have access to a variety of content management systems like Moodle or Blackboard, Angel, and Sakai. Why would we want our teachers to use online content management software? What do we need to know in order to make it worthwhile? As with everything we do as leaders, we need to know enough about these systems to understand their application, make good decisions about their applicability to our schools and districts, and be able to model and encourage their use. So we offer basic, foundational information that can help even the least techno-savvy among us to venture forward in this medium. First, some vocabulary:
Blended learning: The widely accepted definition of blended learning comes from the Clayton Christensen Institute as "a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace; at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home; and the modalities along each student's learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience." This article at Smithsonian.com offers good information about blended learning.
Flipped classroom: The non-profit Flipped Learning Network defines a flipped classroom as a "learning setting in which teachers make lessons available to students to be accessed at anytime or anyplace that is convenient to the student." To provide the lessons, teachers can use recorded and narrated screencasts, videos of their teaching, or provide a collection of vetted videos from trusted digital sources. Students can view the lessons as many times as they want outside of the classroom. Classroom time allows students time to engage with material, in dialogue, individual and group project work or assignments with individual support from the teacher.
MOOC: A massive open online course allows any student to access online learning content without any restriction on the number of students enrolled. This is primarily a higher education option at this point. Most likely, we will first encounter it with our teachers and their professional development and graduate programs. More resources can be found here.
Content Management System: A content (or learning) management system is an application that allows for learning, content creation, and collaboration. It important we provide our faculties and colleagues the opportunity to become comfortable in this type of environment. This technology is not meant to replace the meaningful relationships our students have with their teachers.
Games and Virtual Worlds: Perhaps the most challenging to our current understanding may be the multiplayer games like WOW (World of Warcraft) and Minecraft or virtual worlds like Second-Life. Both can be used as virtual learning environments.
How do we get our teachers to embrace these new models and put in the effort required by an instructional delivery change? We introduce the power and resources released by the change. We walk them to the edge of a new world for teaching and learning. We step off together. We lead while we learn beside our teachers.
As always, our first step is to assess the readiness level of our community of teachers, colleagues, students and parents. It is good to know where we are on the path as we begin to journey on it; it is also essential to remember who is traveling with us. The next step is to learn, together, what the aspects of blended learning can actually do to improve independent, creative, empowered, asynchronous learning. Our recommendation is to pilot the technology with those most interested and, perhaps, those most oppositional. If we do not take the time to do this, we make the same mistake we criticize policy makers for making...jumping into solutions without fully understanding the impact. We can be more agile in tweaking a pilot than a system wide change. As we move into new technology, we cannot forget to address the ethics required to make these forays honest and safe. More to come...
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