Teachers Can't Blend What They Don't Have
The modern, 21st century teacher is an amalgamation of different roles: educator, mentor, technology specialist, sociologist, therapist and parent. At any given time during a school day, a teacher may wear any one or more of these different hats.
Gone are the days of teachers concentrating only on reading, writing and arithmetic. We now live in the era of learning management systems (LMS), from K-12 LMS to higher ed LMS.
Best Practices Drive Instruction
The art of teaching has embraced research-based findings that detail the best practices for obtaining the results in the classroom that everyone wants. Using the latest in educational research and pedagogical studies is becoming the norm more than the exception in school districts.
Schools are utilizing student performance data to drive teaching strategies, to formulate instructional goals, and to justify innovation in instructional delivery methods.
What Is Blended Learning?
One of the more popular innovations is the hybrid or blended learning model. While this isn't a new teaching method that popped up miraculously overnight, it is a strategy that's undergone refinement as advancements in technology have become available to school districts.
The idea that students learn best when exposed to a combination of traditional face-to-face classroom teaching and online instruction is the premise behind blended learning. This educational model allows the student to progress at his own pace. The backbone of a blended-learning system is the availability of technology for student use, both in the classroom and at home.
Go with What Works
Teachers generally have one main goal: students who learn. In the 21st century, this means teachers can refer to statistical data that supports their teaching methods.
Studies have shown students who participate in blended learning are posting higher test scores, and describe higher satisfaction with their learning experiences.
So, why isn't every school district adopting a blended learning format? The answer to that question is a complicated one, yet simple: teachers can't blend what they don't have.
A Computer in Every Classroom Doesn't Cut It
An absence of computers of some sort – desktops, tablets or smartphones – is a dead giveaway that there's no blended learning happening in a classroom. Likewise, the mere presence of a computer, or bank of computers, in a classroom does not mean blended learning is taking place.
To set up a truly hybrid or blended learning environment, there must be technology available to every student in the class while at school and while at home. That sounds simple enough. But it is also where the complicated part comes in. Where does all this technology and internet access come from?
What Do We Need?
Put aside for a moment the amount of preparation it takes to plan a blended lesson, the hours of teacher training necessary to implement a system effectively, and the amount of PR a district must spread around to get most stakeholders on board. There remains the question of where is all the necessary technology going to come from?
The extensive preparations necessary to get a blended learning system up and running are daunting, as described in "Adopting a Blended Learning Approach: Challenges Encountered and Lessons Learned in an Action Research Study," published in the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, Volume 15: Issue I. Even if we put all the teacher-centered preparation aside, the question of technology requirements remains.
Teachers are awesome, incredible people, but they simply cannot blend what they do not have. The school district must step up to provide the necessary components for blended learning to take place.
There must be computer access with internet connectivity at school. Every student must have an opportunity to access the internet away from home to complete the at-home, independent component of any blended learning program. The answer to how that happens lies in community involvement.
It Takes a Village…
The decision to incorporate a blended learning system into a school district should include input from the community the school district services. This means bringing in all the stakeholders: school board, parents, businesses, local governing boards, churches, teacher and educational associations.
Keeping up with technology isn't cheap but it is necessary in today's world. Schools do a disservice to their students when they don't make technology an integral part of the training the schools offer.
Get everyone's brains together to think of ways to make blended learning happen. Think inside the box, outside the box, all around the box – whatever it takes!
- Pressure school boards to make blended learning a priority. Whether this means applying for federal and state grants, private industry grants or pulling every corporate string available, do it to get funding for the technology the school needs.
- Does your local library offer computer access and/or free Wi-Fi to visitors? If so, this could be a place for students without internet access at home to connect with a school provided tablet.
- If there is a local youth center, Boys and Girls Club, or similar organization in town, do they have a center that offers free Wi-Fi connectivity? What about church social facilities? Again, a place for internet access away from school.
- Ask teachers to seek funding for technology equipment through charitable organizations such as Donors Choose.
- Start a GoFundMe drive. Entice local radio, television, and newspapers to donate advertising. Enlist the aid of local celebrities to promote your fundraising efforts. Start a contest among students to see who can spread the word on social media with the most "shares" and "likes."
With everyone on board, students will be more inclined to make a success of their blended learning classrooms. Teachers will do the blending when the necessary components all come together to get the job done.