What Does A School Board Member Need To Know About Blended Learning Or Online Learning

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest contributor to ProPublica for Classroom Extra. Charles McArthur is an English teacher at Brea Olinda High School in California and a member of the Anaheim Union High School District School Board.

Blended learning is the mantra for public schools right now. In 2018, nine states moved forward to adopt the “common core” instructional standards, which will force all public school teachers to be more reticent than ever to limit the amount of time kids spend in front of a screen—or a computer.

The onus, then, was on education experts to tell us what the common core does and doesn’t do. This time, “you cannot” is the necessary phrase. Instead, it’s now simply “the way it is.”

This new reality demands different kinds of learning. In a blended environment, students are focused on their own learning, not a program of study or a two-dimensional demonstration. They are exposed to a curriculum, but they are more likely to access it online rather than in a computer lab.

“Reinforcement is a very powerful and rewarding experience.”

Blended learning puts the focus back on exploration. Students are guided along at their own pace and with few restrictions. Rather than just learning “to do” something, they are learning “to do it.” According to a 2016 survey by the American Association of School Administrators, 70 percent of educators report that as much as half of their class time is now spent in various forms of blended learning.

Science and technology are only two of many subjects coming under the medium. Critical thinking, innovation, and writing are also among the skills being cultivated in blended classrooms. Although it makes sense that many of these lessons should take place over the web, it’s still imperative that teachers teach students to use open-source materials or borrow images from articles.

“What students really need is lots of exposure to different kinds of learning experience,” says Chris Burkham, a science teacher at the North Denver Prep magnet school in Colorado.

“We are happy to use open curriculum, we do it every day at Denver Prep…”

Sharing a classroom with John Renfro, Burkham emphasizes the imperative of letting students enjoy both the traditional and the new learning. For every text someone might pull out of their textbook, a file sharing client is available with even greater functionality.

Students are interested in making something happen, not just sitting and reading.

“I like to share knowledge with other students,” Chris says. He stresses the critical importance of variety and collaboration.

“Our school uses a lot of B2B content, but I wanted to make our school a destination,” Chris says.

Students are encouraged to download solutions they discover from somewhere like Google Apps for Education.

“It has a reputation for being unstructured,” says Dallesha Perkins, a senior at North Denver Prep.

“‘Things to do’ are the focus of this learning process,” Chris says.

The option to stay online can help students be experimental—but only if they feel comfortable and confident. “You can get very creative if you can utilize the space.”

Even without internet access, every student may still benefit from something between listening to an audio clip and downloading one. When listening to a lecture, close your eyes and visualize your teacher. According to Lindsay Morse, senior at North Denver Prep, “I see the work she has done in developing the material” and, as a result, “It makes me want to read and learn.”

How does your classroom plan for blended learning?

Like Molly Hockley, Lindsay’s teacher, make sure to pay attention to “the environment” and “not just the work.”

Take students “off the shelves,” she says. “Use it as an opportunity to help them think about what they are doing, how they are doing it, and how it will impact them.”

Consider starting off with something non-traditional. Blended learning offers great opportunities to experiment with a whole semester or year of projects that will allow students to explore a wide range of subjects.

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