Keys to Blended Learning by Barbara BlackburnBy Barbara Blackburn
Blended learning can mean different things to different people. One teacher I talked with explained it as “using technology in the classroom”, yet another described it as “incorporating technology as at least half of your instruction.” So what does it really mean?
When I taught at the university level, I used blended learning for approximately 1/3 of my instruction. Typically, I created online modules where students would explore content, then reflect on that content on shared bulleting boards. I also taught two fully online classes. What I discovered was that blended instruction was more effective, because all students could participate in their own way. The technology encouraged everyone to participate, not just my most vocal students.
Blended learning occurs when technology is at the heart of teaching and learning, and usually when it is used to customize instruction for students. There is not one standard model for teaching; blended learning can be incorporated in many ways.
Challenges of Blended Learning
There are several challenges to blended learning. The benefits can outweigh the obstacles, but they do need to be addressed. First, you must have enough technology that is useful. For example, I was in one school that wanted to focus on blended learning, but each teacher only had access to three computers in his or her classroom, all of which were running outdated software. There was one set of IPads for the school, which could be checked out from the media center. The teachers who wanted to use technology more struggled with access.
A second obstacle is a lack of training for teachers. Whether it occurs through Twitter chats, face-to-face professional development, or webinars, teachers need hands-on training as to the best uses of technology and how it can positively impact student learning. Although our students are digital natives, not all teachers are comfortable with technology.
The final challenge is choosing the right technology tools, whether it is an app or a software program, to use. Too often, we find the latest program, and decide to use it without knowing how it will mesh with our instruction. A better way to choose technology is to start with your instruction and look for ways that technology can enhance it.
Ways to Ensure Success with Blended Learning
Plan from an instructional perspective. Technology is a tool.
Be sure you have the right hardware and software to meet your students’ needs.
Participate in professional development, whether on your own or with your school, so you can be an effective blended learning teacher.
Start small and build on your successes.
Examples of Blended Learning
The most common way I have seen blended learning in the classroom is when technology is used as a station or learning center. For example, the teacher is working with half the students providing direct instruction, while the other half of the class is applying the concepts. In another classroom I visited, students were divided into thirds. One third was working on a writing project, one third was on a virtual tour online, and the final third of students was working with the teacher with guided instruction.
Nichole Dobo, a reporter, describes how Washington, DC teacher Valyncia Hawkins used a different approach with her students(http://hechingerreport.org/20-years-teacher-reinvents-classroom-using-technology/). On a recent day, when students arrived the first task was correcting the punctuation on two sentences projected on a smart board. Everyone gathered at the front of the room, composition books in hand, and they got to work fixing run-ons. They had four minutes to do it. Hawkins knew some students would move quicker, and her new teaching method meant she was prepared for it.
After answering correctly, students grabbed laptop computers and got to work on more challenging problems provided by online lessons that allowed them to work at their own pace. This allowed Hawkins to work with students who took longer to arrive at the right answer.
Another way I have seen blended learning in action is when the whole class is working, perhaps in pairs or small groups, in an application activity. But, as Catlin Tucker, in Blended Learning in Grades 4-12, shares in the social studies lesson below, technology can be the vehicle for the majority of the lesson.
|Online, read and listen to Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Has King’s dream come true?
Watch the video clip of Martin Luther King delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington in 1963. Do you think Dr. King’s dream has come true? Vote yes or no in the online poll. On the bulletin board, clearly state your opinion and provide specific examples to support your position. Once you have posted your response reply thoughtfully to at least two other students. Compliment strong points, ask questions and build on ideas shared.
As Catlin explains, this assignment provides students with both the text of the speech and a video recording. Pairing the text with media makes it easy for teachers to [continued on page 2]