Is Blended Learning Right for your Classroom?

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“Calculator and Laptop.” Luis Llerena. September 4 2015. Accessed 3 October 2016. Retrieved from stocksnap.io

Currently, teacher education and professional development is trying to get away from the traditional methods of teaching that do not facilitate student learning as much as it could have and instead look to other ways of doing things such as project-based learning, gamification, and blended or flipped classrooms.

For those unfamiliar with the term, blended learning is a formal education method where students receive part of their content or instruction in a digital or online format. Put simply, it means adding some form of technology into the classroom to enhance learning.

I know many teachers can be wary about incorporating technology. Jumping on the bandwagon is not always the best idea and technology can be temperamental at best, especially when dealing with older or unfamiliar technology (the hour or frantic Googling and time spent on hold waiting for tech support before an important lesson can attest to that).

But could blended learning be used in your classroom? Consider these three thoughts on blended learning below and if any of them speak to you, it may be time to consider changing up some of your lessons!

Technology should be used purposefully

I’m a big fan of edtech. But I am also critical of its application and believe in its judicious and conscientious use. Technology is a tool like anything else in a classroom, be it a textbook, anchor chart, or manipulatives, and should be used when it is the most appropriate tool for the task.

Ultimately the teaching comes from you, but technology can be used to differentiate instruction, product, and content delivery. If you find an app or online resource that is much more engaging and meaningful to students than answering questions on a worksheet, then by all means use it! However, it also is unnecessary to throw iPads at students for a group problem solving activity that could’ve used markers and a big sheet of paper just as easily. Especially if you’re working with younger grades, decide when you have the time and support to help with tech troubleshooting and when you want them to simply dive into a math problem by talking about it with their peers.

Use tech as a substitute or an improved tool 

Blended learning can be useful way to substitute or improve a tool you already use in the classroom. The SAMR model delineates between substituted tools and augmented tools rightly so and it’s important to know the difference.

A technology substitute is when there is no functional change in the task through using the tool. An example could be using a pen on a tablet to record notes and draw pictures that can then be uploaded to a cloud like Dropbox or Drive (useful for students who lose hardcopies), or using the apps ShowMe or Explain Everything to explain a math word problem rather than presenting in front of the class.

A classroom tool that is augmented through technology is a tool made better through using the tech (which is when things can get really exciting). What sort of concrete examples are there of augmentation? Well an example of a tool you use every day are search engines like Google or Bing. Search engines allow you to find and catalogue research in a much faster way than searching through books in the library. Search engines can even help you find the books you need at the library in a faster and easier way.

Create engaging new tasks with tech!

Blended learning makes classrooms more interesting not because of the novelty of using tech but because it gives teachers more variety in the tasks they assign and can make traditional tasks easier. Google Docs or Office 365 for example, allow groups of students to collaborate on a document, adding material and content at school or at home. Students can also make media content using iMovie or GarageBand or students can create their own game or learn to code through resources such as Code Academy.

There are numerous possibilities but it can sometimes be hard to get started, which is why I’m providing this image below (and I’ll provide a link in the caption below to a bigger version if you’re not able to fully expand this one) that gives you examples of different apps and programs categorized through the SAMR model you can use if you’re interested in using some blended learning.

And remember: start off small and build on your skills as you gain in confidence. You don’t have to make a fully online course at the drop of a hat, but it doesn’t hurt to experiment with trying out an app or time playing some math games in the computer lab.

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“Pedagogy Wheel.” Allan Carrington. January 3 2015. Accessed 3 October 2016. Retrieved from www.designingoutcomes.com

Explore, have fun, and above all, look to your students and their needs. That will guide you better than anything.

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