The Blended Learning Classroom Starts With You

Blended learning in the classroom starts with you
Contributed By

Sean Coffron

Instructional Technology Training Specialist

The Blended Learning Classroom Starts With You

Posted in Pro Tips | September 14, 2018

As educators, we are constantly revising our practice to focus our craft on student learning driven by sound instructional theory. With the classroom implementation of instructional technology, it is important to continue with the same journey. Blended learning is no longer a strategy that is relevant in some activities and with some lessons, but rather a consideration that must become a part of how we view our role in the classroom.

Of course, blended learning is more than technology integration. It encompasses a variety of strategies to facilitate greater understanding and deeper exploration of knowledge. Because the term is in a state of change, it is really more of a conversation than a definite concept. An article published by the Christensen Institute offers several definitions of the term. However, what is more compelling is the conversation that ensues following the article in which readers reflect not only on the definition, but also the implications of what it does for them as educators and as members of the education sector.

At the center of this conversation, though, is student acquisition of knowledge. How do teachers blend different strategies and tools to impact more children in different ways? And for our part as individual educators, how do we determine the extent to which we are successfully making a difference in the lives of young people? A considerable amount of work has been done to provide instruments for structured evaluation of classroom teaching, but the same approach is still being nurtured in regards to the implementation of blended learning in the classroom.

Evaluating Blended Learning in the Classroom

Before discussing measures for effective evaluation, it is necessary to emphasize that the purpose of this assessment is not, in this case, administrative in nature. While there is a place for accountability and responsiveness to external authority, this formative assessment is meant to be a vehicle for internal growth and self-awareness.

Education Elements, a firm dedicated to the exploration and research of effective personalized learning, published an article in which a framework for personalized learning is proposed. They offer a document that can serve as a walkthrough tool, but more importantly, provide a way of framing how we as educators insure that our choices and our activities are making a difference for our students.

By adopting a framework, we can make instructional decisions based on our ability to adhere to the structure and scaffold our professional development and personal growth to meet the needs of our students as illustrated by the descriptors within the assessment tool.

Taking The Next Step in Adopting Blended Learning

In addition to a theoretical understanding of blended learning in our daily practice, we should be cognizant of how we utilize technology. As with any new and exciting tool, it is natural to follow a predictable pattern of experimenting in our own classroom. Once our comfort level improves, we begin to branch out and experiment with different ways the tool can improve our lives. Educational technology is no exception. The key is to, as quickly as possible, move from using the technology to increase student engagement via the “cool” factor to using the technology to increase student learning.

The SAMR model of technology integration in the classroom is an excellent method of self-assessment because it avoids passing judgement and focuses instead on level of integration. By turning toward the function of technology in the classroom, the model allows us to dive directly into the heart of the matter without interference by our personal bias or feelings about what we do in the classroom. Instead of feeling defensive about how we use technology, we can think objectively about how we serve students, and explore next steps in our professional development.

Developed by Dr. Ruben R. Puentedura, SAMR identifies four stages in technology integration:

Substitution. Tech is used as a direct replacement for analog practices.

Augmentation. Lessons begin to be augmented rather than replaced by digital resources.

Modification. Your perceptions of education begin to change because of the possibilities presented by educational technology.

Redefinition. We begin to alter our perceptions of what is possible due to a deeper understanding of what is available for our students.

By combining an understanding of our practices in the classroom with the evolution of our own educational philosophy, we can begin to truly understand how our role is changing in the modern classroom and how we can serve our students in this new world of ubiquitous technology.

A Language of Affirmation

The willingness to change how we teach is daunting, especially for teachers who have more years of service, but it is crucial that we continually adapt our teaching to the needs of students. To ease this transition of perspective, we must maintain a language of affirmation. It is important to acknowledge our shortcomings and difficulties as a vital part of our growth and not allow ourselves to be dragged down into feelings of indignation and hopelessness. By working within a professional learning community, we can support one another and operate with a growth mindset. By focusing on the process rather than the product, and reflecting on our successes rather than our struggles, we can work together to help all of us take that next step.

This is not as far-fetched as one might think. In a 2017 article in Entrepreneur’s web version of their magazine, “6 Ways to Develop a Growth Mindset,” we are introduced to a simple way to ground ourselves in meaningful and intentional positive thinking to support our growth. By engaging in professional development and persevering through struggles, we constantly remind ourselves that we are strong enough to handle change. Through embracing challenges that lie ahead and acknowledging the role of failure as a resource for learning, we not only survive the pain of conflict, but learn from it. And, most importantly, we are able to contextualize our experiences in the larger viewpoint by working collaboratively with others and engaging in meaningful feedback and celebrations. After all, does this not describe what teachers do every day?

By accepting our role as learners and allowing ourselves the luxuries of intentional risk-taking and reflective failure, we can continue to grow in our implementation of blended learning in the classroom. The framework provided by Education Elements and Dr. Puentedura’s model for understanding the evolution of blended learning in the classroom give us the tools we need for this journey. The first step, though, is ours.

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