Why Teachers Need Systematic Support for Blended Learning
Gone are the days of teachers concentrating only on reading, writing, and arithmetic. We now live in the era of digital education tools in both K-12 and higher ed. Today, children begin to use technology to augment their learning as early as pre-school.
Educator, mentor, technology specialist, sociologist, therapist, parent—in many ways, these are the roles of modern teachers. To cope with these added responsibilities (and no more time within the day), forward-thinking teachers are now "blending" their classrooms to help prepare their students for the 21st century world.
Moving Towards Blended Learning in the Classroom
The art of teaching has embraced research-based best practices for obtaining the results everyone wants in the classroom. Using the latest in educational research and pedagogical studies is becoming the norm more than the exception.
Schools are utilizing student performance data to drive teaching strategies to formulate instructional goals and to justify innovation in instructional delivery methods.
One of the more popular innovations is the hybrid or blended learning model. This practiced and tested teaching strategy has 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 makes it possible for instructors to more easily build desired learning experiences—e.g., differentiated, self-paced, gamified, standards-based, etc.
As you may have guessed, the backbone of a blended-learning strategy is the availability of technology for student use, both in the classroom and at home. This can be a problem because the number one challenge for instructors is student access to technology.
Go With What Works
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.
Teachers want students to learn. They want to validate their teaching strategies and be accountable for their students' learning. In the 21st century, this means teachers utilize statistical data to support their teaching methods.
Studies have shown that students in a blended learning classroom are scoring higher (9 percent increase over two years) and describing higher satisfaction with their learning experiences. The use of technology in the classroom is also valuable for teaching students soft skills they'll need in their careers. This makes it all the more important to find ways to incorporate technology into the learning process.
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 either.
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 (not necessarily in a 1:1 ratio, but available at least via a rotation model). 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 stakeholders on board. There remains the question of where all the necessary technology is going to come from.
The extensive preparations necessary to get a blended learning strategy up and running are daunting, as described by Jane Kenney and Ellen Newcombe in Adopting a Blended Learning Approach: Challenges Encountered and Lessons Learned in an Action Research Study. 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. Faculty need digital tools that meet their instructional and administrative needs. They also need training on how to incorporate these devices and tools into their practice.
How can all this happen? The answer lies in community involvement.
It Takes a Village …
The decision to incorporate a blended learning into a school district (and the strategies to make it successful) must include input from stakeholders within the institution and within the community the institution services. This can mean sourcing input and support from the school board, parents, businesses, local governing boards, churches, and teacher and educational associations.
Let's set aside the strategies for blended learning implementation and just focus on funding your initiative. The truth is: keep 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!
- Encourage school boards to make blended learning a priority. Whether this means applying for federal and state grants, finding 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, find out if they have a center that offers free Wi-Fi connectivity. Consider doing the same with church social facilities.
- Support organization like PTO and Booster Clubs can 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, your institution may just be able to get what it needs to make blended learning both a reality and a success.