Blended Learning Aims to Mix It Up in the Classroom

Blended Learning Aims to Mix It Up in the Classroom
Marcus Hennessy, CEA June 7, 2012

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A recent sea change that has turned the K-12 classroom on its head is blended learning, or combining innovative online teaching with more traditional student interaction. And it’s not just a fad, according to a report issued by The Sloan Consortium, K-12 Online Learning: A Survey of U.S. School District Administrators:

  • Over 70 percent of the responding public schools offer online or blended courses;
  • 75 percent had one or more students enrolled in a fully online or blended course;
  • The overall number of K-12 students engaged in online courses increased by 47 percent in a single year (2008).

Models in flux

In their comprehensive 2012 report sponsored by the Innosight Institute, Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, Heather Staker and Michael B. Horn have defined blended learning as “…a formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online delivery of content and instruction with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace….”

The report presents four distinct variations of the blended learning dynamic:

  • Rotation model. Students rotate between learning modalities, including online activities, on a fixed schedule at the teacher’s discretion;
  • Flex model. Content and instruction are delivered primarily by the internet and the students maintain a customized, fluid schedule;
  • Self-blend model. Students take one or more online courses to supplement their in-class curriculum, and the teacher-of-record is online;
  • Enriched-virtual model. Students divide their time in a particular course between in-class interaction and online delivery of content and instruction.

From theory to practice — making it work

In her popular education blog, award-winning middle school teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron discusses the merits and applications of blended learning, and provides an artful formula for integrating a blended program into brick-and-mortar classrooms:

Face-to-Face + Synchronous Conversations + Asynchronous Interactions = Strong Online Learning Environment

Says Wolpert-Gawron, “There’s no denying [blended learning] is here and growing, and teachers can no longer put their fingers in their ears, yell la-la-la, and pretend that they have some say in whether or not online learning will be a part of education’s future. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of how…teachers must be an active part of designing online learning’s rigor and quality, or they will be left in the dust.”

She offers a helpful five-point methodology for implementing a blended learning plan:

  1. The first class should be face-to-face; “Having off-line faces increases online accountability,” she says.
  2. Assessments should be real-time; give students a choice of F2F or online testing options; for big assessments, students should have an actual place to go to.
  3. Give students “class times” where they can use internet links to attend real-time conversations with classmates and the teacher; this builds community and accountability.
  4. Mix up content delivery and discussion methods; keep things different and interesting by utilizing the wealth of software tools available to convey content.
  5. Control classroom size; online doesn’t mean unlimited. According to Wolpert-Gawron, “Feedback takes time under any circumstances.”

A new voice extols the value of online learning

Just a few months ago, Leslie Fetzer received the North Carolina Virtual Public School (NCVPS) Teacher of the Year award, and last month was named America’s 2012 National Online Teacher of the Year for K-12 education. (awarded by the Southern Regional Education Board [SREB] and the International Association for K-12 Online Learning [iNACOL]).

Starting out as a high school chemistry teacher, Fetzer segued into online instruction a few years ago and is now actively involved in occupational study, also known as life skills, combining classroom intervention with online components that allow highly personalized teaching.

“I really think this blended model could be used for all students,” Fetzer said in a recent article. “Teaching online gives me the advantage of having a repertoire of tools and media that I can use to reach students,” she maintains. “I am limited only by my own imagination. [Student’s] learning challenges prompt and inspire me to be more imaginative and more creative, and I am more fulfilled for it.”

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