Making the Transition to Blended Learning
While blended learning has become a common topic of discussion and an increasingly common district-level strategy for driving student achievement, strategies for successfully making the transition to this new model of learning are often ignored. In this web seminar, originally broadcast on March 17, 2015, presenters explored best practices and lessons learned from blended learning initiatives. A digital learning coach at the 18,000-student Hays CISD in Texas shared how the district has implemented blended learning as part of a strategic focus on developing personalized learning plans for each student, and creating a dynamic and engaging curriculum.
Blended Learning Expert
Edgenuity provides engaging online and blended learning services, products and solutions that help propel success for every student. We deliver a range of core curriculum products including AP, elective, career, technical education, dual credit, as well as credit recovery courses—all of which are aligned to Common Core. We are referring to blended learning using the definition from the Clayton Christensen Institute—where students learn part of the time in a brick-and-mortar location and part in an online environment. Those two modalities are connected, and students have some control over time, path, pace or place.
Today the models of blended learning are well-defined. What I find in my work is that implementing those models is where schools and districts are struggling. How do you implement blended learning successfully? Blended learning is more than just putting technologies in the classroom. It’s more than giving kids iPads or Chromebooks or any type of device. Blended learning is different than technology-rich education. In blended learning, we use data from the technology to inform and personalize instruction. Blended learning is not a technology plan. It’s an instructional strategy that helps teachers do what they’ve always wanted to do, which is to reach kids on a personal level and help them achieve their maximum potential.
When you are looking for successful blended teachers, look for teachers who have mindsets and qualities that are seen in good blended classrooms: a new vision for teaching and learning, and an orientation for change and improvement. If they are not willing to change, they are probably not going to be a successful blended learning teacher. The qualities that we found to be important are grit, transparency and collaboration. If you are looking for good blended teachers, start with teachers who have those qualities. How does knowing all this simplify the change to blended learning? Blended coaching looks at professional development as a process, not as an event. Teachers work in teams with their blended coach to build better blended learning situations for their students. The coach is available throughout the year for support. A blended coach will meet with a teacher three to four times in person and will host webinars, online synchronous events and asynchronous opportunities regularly. It’s that relationship piece that changes patterns and behaviors.
Becoming a blended teacher from a traditional instructional model requires people to change patterns and behaviors. I’ve worked with hundreds of teachers across the U.S., and the number one thing they always tell me they want when making the transition to blended learning is more time. Time is important for teachers. Blended coaching gives them that time because they have a coach who is in there helping them. They also need time to collaborate. A MetLife study in 2009 indicated that 68 percent of teachers had one hour or more per week to collaborate about instruction with their colleagues. In 2012 that number had dropped below 50 percent. I can’t even fathom another industry where half of professionals have less than one hour per week for professional collaboration with colleagues. So as you go into blended learning, ask yourself: How can we give teachers more time to be successful in those transitions?
Edgenuity has published 25 case studies profiling schools across the United States that show how blended learning is working using the Edgenuity platform. They are available on Edgenuity.com—click on “The Difference” and then the “Efficacy” tab.
Digital Learning Coach
Hays CISD (Texas)
We are a district that includes about 18,000 students and growing, and they are all individuals. They all have their own challenges, their own learning styles, their own needs, their own strengths. One of the things that excites me about blended learning is that for the first time in my career, we can offer individualized instruction for each of those students, rather than teaching to the middle.
We have three main models that we’re working with, and hopefully that will expand over time. We have an alternative high school called Live Oak Academy that is our most comprehensive model. Then we have three mass intervention teachers across the district who are using Edgenuity for creating a blended learning situation in their classroom, as well as a couple of high school Spanish classes that are experimenting with a blended learning model this year.
I say “experimenting” in a good way. These are teacher innovators. These are teachers who want to go beyond the traditional classroom setting to provide their students with new opportunities. They are constantly adjusting and modifying. They are constantly learning and getting feedback from their students. That’s what it takes to be a practitioner in today’s world. At Live Oak we have our curriculum set up as totally blended through Edgenuity. The core content comes from Edgenuity. It’s supplemented by classroom teachers who intervene, and intermediate, and enrich, and provide alternative learning opportunities to the online piece. That’s what blending is. It’s taking the best of a traditional classroom setting and blending that with online instruction to provide students exactly what they need when they need it. That way, you can give kids a choice of how they are learning.
Our students have a schedule where they are assigned to a core content class during a period of the day. Within that class they work on the curriculum online through Edgenuity. Then the teacher will do small group instruction. They have collaborative projects they work on, and students can control the pace. We also have a fully online component at Live Oak Academy called The Edge. We have an Edge Lab where students can take fully online courses for credit or credit recovery outside of the school day. This is a way that kids can accelerate their learning. We have three middle school campuses using Edgenuity for math enrichment, which just started this year. Three teachers are testing this out using Edgenuity’s My Path, which is a great tool for filling gaps.
When students come into My Path, they take a placement exam to determine where their gaps are, and then Edgenuity assigns an individual path based on their learning needs. So each of our students are working on their individual learning path at their own pace, and they are all showing growth. Data is very important there—the teachers can look at the data from My Path and see where the students are still struggling so that they can intervene and provide direct instruction. Our last model is also new this year. A couple of high school Spanish teachers wanted to incorporate a blended learning model into their classroom. They are taking advantage of Edgenuity Power Speak and are using a lab rotation model. Two days a week, each class goes to the computer lab and they work wherever they are in the program individually through Power Speak. That’s complemented by more traditional classroom instruction.