Keys to success in blended learning
To implement blended learning effectively, administrators must gain a thorough understanding of the best tools, training, and processes necessary for teacher and student success. Thesys International offers custom curriculum designed to improve learning outcomes through blended learning. This web seminar, originally broadcast on October 25, 2012, featured Fairmont Preparatory Academy and the Pasadena (Calif.) Unified School District, which are in varying stages of implementing blended learning, with help from Thesys International.
My goal today is to provide you with information that can inform your decisions as you look at online and blended learning. For some background, Thesys International is a division of Fairmont Education Group in Anaheim, California. Thesys builds curriculum directly in schools, which allows us to learn about and develop teaching and technology.
As we look at the definition of blended learning, I perceive it as an emerging model that has had some success. At our schools, we prefer this model because it integrates the teacher role with technology. I have personally observed students who feel they learned more content, and learned it more authentically, with the combination of teacher instruction and technology. I believe that technology enables efficiency and flexibility for teachers and students, creates a variety and choice in how teaching and learning can occur, and allows students to learn in multiple styles with multiple tools and techniques.
We have learned that with blended learning, the management aspect of teaching decreases because students are a bit more independent. Through the use of tools like learning management systems, there is a greater allocation of time to teaching itself. Blended learning enables more time and avenues for teaching. When we first looked at blended learning, we had to consider if a classroom teacher was capable of teaching online. So, we decided to develop two lists, one detailing the best characteristics of classroom teachers, the other detailing the best traits of online teachers.
We concluded that classroom teachers can transfer their strong classroom skills to a blended model. However, we did have a science teacher trained in the blended model who was very apprehensive. As her students began doing their first online assignment, they asked her questions. She panicked at her perceived inability to help them until I pointed out that the students were already capable of working with the technology. Their questions were regarding the material, about which she was able to offer support.
It is important to remind teachers how important they are to the blended model, and that they should not be intimidated by the technology. In our experience, blended learning still involves the student and teacher at every turn, whether it may be with high or low engagement. The goal of blended learning is to get to the point where the teacher and student have a high level of engagement with improved learning.
We have learned many lessons as we explore blended learning. One thing we have realized is that when you lay out the whole course for the student, he or she has the opportunity to look back and rework areas of trouble, as well as look ahead and anticipate future expectations. Also, sometimes teachers may be tempted to diminish their role and over-rely on technology to do their job. They must be reminded that they are there to teach and that their role is vital. Teachers also must be proactive in managing communications with students, since they will be in the classroom less.
In terms of the role labs play in blended learning, we believe that wet labs work better when virtual labs are used as practice. It is not an either/or situation; blended learning provided the opportunity to perform both types. Make sure to stress to your students that the online content portion of blended learning will be rigorous with high expectations. However, most students, but not all, will pick up the tools quickly and not as much time will be required for training as we sometimes think.
At CIS Academy, we serve students with diverse needs. They include those who need credit recovery, full-time workers, the homeless, substance abusers, and more. The issue is that it is a highly transitional school that needs to reach a great variety of students.
Our goal is to organize ourselves to meet those needs efficiently and effectively while teaching at the pace of the individual. We give each student an IEP and work with them to create a pathway that will help them achieve their goals. Our desired outcome is learning. We are currently developing full and supplemental programs to address all student needs.
We will be going from a traditional setting to group seminars with a 1:5 ratio, blended learning, and virtual classes. The goal is to give our students 24-hour access to learning. We are “flipping” classes, using a blended learning model with a rotational implementation. We are also looking at a self-blend program, where students attend the physical school and take 1 or 2 classes online. Our remote program gives students the ability to work at home with access to online programs or an online teacher.
We are working with Thesys to have a teacher online in our online biology lab so he or she can work with students individually as the class is going on. The reason we are working on implementing blended learning is that we want students to be engaged in a variety of ways.
Fairmont Preparatory Academy is a college prep school with a heavy emphasis on advanced studies. We teach 8 university-level courses onsite, offer honors and IB programs, and have 22 AP courses.
We decided to consider blended learning because it makes sense to use technology to enhance our curriculum and what our teachers do. Thesys worked with us to develop courses and train 18 teachers in blended learning. The results so far have been positive. Enrollment in our summer advancement courses has gone up because students and parents like the idea of blended learning and the rigor that accompanies it.
Because of that success, we have started bringing blended learning into our regular course offerings. We have taken all students who need an independent study course and assigned them to a teacher who oversees a group of students. These students work on a digital curriculum independently. If help is needed, an online tutor is available 24/7, which replaces the need for a teacher to give individual support. Our blended learning students meet with their onsite teacher once every two weeks.
However, they are required to put in a number of hours a week with the online tutor, which is tracked for us. The on-site teacher can use that data to see who is on pace and keeping up with their work. We will be further expanding our blended learning program this spring. We currently have a waitlist of students who will begin school with us in the spring.
By implementing blended learning, these students can take Thesys courses online in the fall and transition to onsite in the spring. Blended learning will also benefit our large population of international students. who often require credit recovery. Thesys allows them to do so with online courses. To address the needs of our students who are eager for advancement, we feel we need to offer advancement through technology. We have been very pleased with Thesys and its willingness to partner with us and our teachers who want to be heard.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to http://www.districtadministration.com/ws102512.