Monday, February 2, 2015

I'm Sold: Blended Learning

When I was first introduced to the flipped class model in 2011, I questioned its effectiveness just like many of my peers. I remember my principal saying that it was, "just as innovative as assigning homework,"- and I pretty much agreed. Students don't always do their homework; only this time, if a student blew off a flipped lesson at home, they would be hopeless the next day in class. Wait, you mean I would have to create all these videos and post them online? What exactly are my kids supposed to be doing in class then?  And how again do I get past the fact that many of my kids don't have internet connection at home?


Most of us can agree that the more often we do something, we learn and become become refined at our practice or craft. While my growth as a teacher was steady in my first few years, I certainly had a long way to go. As a high school social studies teacher in 2011, I could basically put 184 days worth of lessons into the following 5 categories:

1. Innovative- things I was trying for the first time, redefining strategies of modifying them with tech
2. Collaborative- students work while I circulate, converse and assess
3. Teacher-Centered- lecture, basically just content, funny & entertaining but with passive learning
4. Skill-Based- reading, writing, debating, analyzing, or arguing history
5. Basic- covering material, google docs and web searches, no collaboration, little interaction

If you asked my students which style of learning they probably preferred, I bet they would confirm the order of the list just as it is. If you ask me what I actually spent more time doing, I would probably be ashamed to tell you the truth.

So much of our lesson design centers around self-imposed, curricular restraints that limit our creativity and bore our students to death. 

Every one of us teaches something exciting and worthwhile. There has to be a reason why we went into our respective disciplines in the first place. The best teachers are the ones that bring that passion for their content alive.


Flipped learning, or blended learning allowed me to explore more options in innovation, and in turn, combined previous "lesson categories" into one giant pool of trial and error. Lessons grounded in collaborative work, skill based practice, content driven specifics and even teacher centered instruction can all be funneled through blended learning. Video curation or creation is possible through amazing sites like blendspace and edpuzzle. Teachers can even use simple tools like google hangouts to record a lecture or screencast-o-mastic to record their lesson online.

So why aren't more teachers doing this? Time is certainly a roadblock to beginning. But looking at the long road, once videos are created or compiled, they are available forever just like your favorite worksheet! Familiarity with technology could be another reason- and a fair one. So many of these tools have become user friendly, truthfully, and with a learning management system in place, teachers already have conquered step one. Finally, I know teachers have a tough time seeing past the need for content driven, skill based instruction that is efficient and has worked in the past.  But the kids are not "us." We liked school- at least enough to choose a carer run by bells. Our kids probably don't feel the same excitement to learn. The last time I shadowed a student, it was the longest day of my life.  Sitting through seven classes was difficult. So how to we change that?


Maybe the only question we should ask is, "what is standing in our way?"  Asking questions is easy. Instead of starting the blended learning, or even the "innovation" conversation with questions as I did, maybe start with answers.  Engaging students is our number one priority. So...jump in.