Blended Learning

Blended learning has been lighting up Twitter in the last few days. Although blended learning has been around a while, blended learning basically supports the following:
  • Accessing information from the web in addition to the teacher
  • The ability to have discussions in class and online 
The advantages to the previous points are then:
  • Evaluating sources of information for bias and trust-ability
  • Allowing all students (no matter how confident) to participate in discussions as opposed to the smartest, most extroverted
  • Creating content to teach others 
A student brainstorms over wallwisher in the beginning of class
Most people that I've read about who are using blended learning usually agree that a mix of the virtual and in class discussion is ideal. On one hand, we don't want to create students who are antisocial internet perusing trolls who can't raise their hands and hanker a guess. Of course on the other hand, we need opportunities for those students that never participate in class but do seem to be quite understanding of the material and learning goals.

Students sharing their predictions on "Google Docs" after an pre-lesson physics demonstration

How to Implement Blended Learning

The inflection points to use web 2.0 tools is pretty daunting for many teachers. Some of our old-school teachers don't venture out with them as they don't know where to start. I do not profess to be an amateur or expert in the above, but I probably fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum in terms of comfort levels and risk taking. Here are things I've learned:
  1. Use Tech to Support your Goals-This is the blurriest line in education today. The irony of this post of mine is that using these tools may seem like the goal, but actually it's not. The web 2.0 tools help support what you're trying to do, so you must be respectful of assessment to see whether or not students have met curricular objectives using these tools. Simply saying: "Woo-hoo. I made a Voicethread" should not be the goal.
  2. Use at the Beginning and End of Lessons- Brainstorming, reviewing and activating prior knowledge is a great way to introduce 2.0 tools in the classroom. Of course, you may be accessing the internet all throughout the lesson I found that I generally use new tools for virtual discussion at the beginning and end of lessons. My students have their curricula on a google doc which is an organic document that spreads out like a virus.
  3. It's not a Conspiracy-Diane Ravitch who is one of nations leading intellectuals (and I'm a big fan) argues that many tech tools developers are in it for the money and that an ongoing shift towards using technology in education is nothing more than a conspiracy to privatize education and pigeon hole it into a class system which will widen the gap between the rich and poor. I argue my point 1 to her and also note that many web tools are free.
  4. Seek your own Comfort Zone-Don't feel that you need to do any and everything the most innovative educators are doing at your school. I usually have 1, maybe 2 of these entry/exit points per lesson. After trying something for the first time, you might be surprised at how easy it was. I find myself sometimes spurring virtual discussions and creating URL's in a matter of seconds which I send to the students immediately. Sometimes we'll elicit ideas to the board, sometimes, we'll do it online. If there's time. 
Students compare levels of ancestry in living things to help with classification. Blended learning environments are also supplemented with traditional approaches
Blended learning models are evolving as education seems to make peace over what is a good balance between virtual and in-class learning. It is a balance. One should use both and they should compliment one another. One thing I think we can all agree on is that the internet is not going away any time soon, and in order to be competitive in tomorrows marketplace, students who are content creators, evaluators and innovators will have an edge on their peers.

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