Friday, August 3, 2018

Will Blended Learning be a Game Changer?

Here’s a picture (circa 1968) of me pretending to teach while my students were pretending to learn. But how could I say that given that this was my best Algebra class and most of the kids got As and Bs? Well, what I discovered many years later was that the students were just doing what I asked them to do to please me and no one was very inspired to explore algebra beyond what I fed them. But that was good enough then. My model was the textbook: Mary Dolciani’s Algebra 1. For those of you that remember the Dolciani method you probably recall that it was a hard-nosed, traditional approach. For the kids it was a series of hoops that they struggled to jump through. But to what end? Algebra II of course! I didn’t question this approach at the time, though I did think about alternative ways of teaching math in my university days. My school’s culture was traditional, so I didn’t dare to deviate.

According to an Edutopia article by Beth Holland the peril of such an approach handicaps students. They remain “consumers of teacher-directed content instead of becoming creators of knowledge within a context that they can control.” Will Richardson (during an interview with Beth)* said that he went through a standard school experience and he turned out OK. So what was so bad about that? Beth responded that that model was OK for then, but not for today. We need a new model. This new approach shouldn’t make the old model “wrong” but through a gradual process move teachers to a new way of teaching and learning given all the new resources that are now available. Teacher buy in to new models is crucial. One reason that the introduction of technological devices into the classroom is a good way to start is because most teachers understand that technology tools are important in the lives of students so integrating them into the classroom is an accepted norm by most teachers.

In the aforementioned article in Edutopia Beth writes:
“A few months ago, I noticed an increased amount of discussion around the notion of blended learning. Many of these conversations started on a similar note: “We’re blended—all of our teachers use Google Classroom” (or Edmodo, Schoology, Canvas, Moodle, etc.). However, in probing further, I often discovered that these tools had merely digitized existing content and classroom procedures. […] While blended learning [e.g.] brings with it the promise of innovation, there is the peril that it will perpetuate and replicate existing practices with newer, more expensive tools.” 
“True blended learning affords students not only the opportunity to gain both content and instruction via online as well as traditional classroom means, but also an element of authority over this process. […] blended learning could fundamentally change the system and structure of school, and provide students with a more personalized, active learning experience.”
Previously, Beth interviewed 3 instructional coaches from Bellevue, Nebraska about their 1-1 iPad initiative and move to blended learning.
“These coaches saw blended learning as providing students with control over how they learn, the pace of the learning experience, and where they might choose to learn within the classroom.”
Supporting student agency is one of the main tenets of the blended model (that is described in detail in Michael Horn’s book “Blended”) that districts like the one in Bellevue, Nebraska have adopted. But unfortunately blended learning can become just a buzzword when teachers and administrators don’t understand it very well.

Horn writes on page 34 “Some element of student control is critical; otherwise, blended learning is no different from a teacher beaming online curriculum to a classroom of student through an electronic whiteboard.”

*iTunes podcast “Modern Learners, Podcast #47”