Tuesday, March 26, 2013

View from the Field: The Journey of Blended Learning

I’ll admit that the first time I heard the term blended learning, I wasn’t sure what it was.  And shortly after finding out what it was, I wasn’t sure it was beneficial either.

I was serving as interim high school principal at Grinnell High School, and the term was used in a Promising Practice series that ISTE was referencing on their website.

I should back up and say, my apprehension had nothing to do with technology integration.  I was a former teacher for an innovative 1:1 laptop program as well as a district technology coordinator and professional development instructor for technology integration in the classroom.  If anything, my weakness was using too much technology instead of not enough.

It was the resource management that was the issue.  Blended learning literally is the combination of face-to-face and online learning elements into the same class.  As a principal, I foolishly saw FTE being needed for both the in class portion and the out of class portion, as well as additional infrastructure and additional policies to put the online instruction into play.

If you look at blended learning from only a resource perspective, then it doesn’t make much sense.  There are no savings by adopting this model.  But, that of course is not the way we look at educational practices; we look at them for the educational impact.  And that is where blended learning shines.

Blended learning has been cited in study after study as being more effective than either completely online learning or face-to-face learning.  The simple reason?  It takes the best of both worlds.  It takes the personal context and quick assessment strategies that flourish in a face-to-face environment and couples them with flexible time and the ability to make content and activities ready when the students are, as is the case in an online environment.


Blending the learning in your classroom is as much a journey as is anything else.  Teachers don’t wake up one day and say “I’m blending my class today!”  It takes careful planning and understanding of how the structure will work.  Are you moving your lessons to be viewed online, and focusing on class time for discussion?  Or do you move your discussions online to take place in an asynchronous format?

Blended learning is a continuum both in complexity and the degree by which content is online vs. face-to-face.  Teachers typically start with a safe step into the zero-grade end of the swimming pool, by simply uploading their resources into a platform like Moodle to be downloaded later at home if need be.  This isn’t blended learning in the true sense, since learning is not taking place outside of the class period, but it is a step to become comfortable using the technology necessary for an online format.

From here, often teachers take another couple of steps, allowing for students to submit homework online, through a digital dropbox.  Some start to dabble with the use of online quizzes for students to assess their understanding on their own.  Others put together the aforementioned lesson that a student views online, or utilizes an external online resource, like an online simulation that requires several hours of manipulation and play for students to understand the working variables involved.

It is very few that actually blend a K-12 classroom by removing actual face-to-face time from the class.  This is a big step--a move to the deep end of the pool of sorts.  Removing face-to-face time causes supervision complications; do students report to a study hall at this time, or where do they go?  Teachers can't make this decision unilaterally either.  It requires planning and communication from an administrative level.

But there's another question.  If a teacher takes her face-to-face course and adds online components without replacing any face-to-face time, is this always better?  There's a law of diminishing returns when it comes to using time for learning.  Students need time for pursuit of their own interests and passions.  In many ways, more is not better... more efficient is better.


In the upcoming months this spring, we'll take a look at blended learning in detail, reading the thoughts and experiences of educators who are implementing blended learning in their classrooms.  We'll examine some of the different models available and what resources are available statewide to help you on your journey.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Connect to Collaborate: Statewide CoPI Event Reminder

Don’t forget to attend Iowa’s CoPI: Connect to Collaborate event on March 28, 2013 from 9:00-11:00 a.m. To find out how to participate, click here.

Iowa’s CoPI Interest Form

Interested in learning about blended learning? Complete this form and you will receive specific directions on how to join in the discussion!

A New Vision for Professional Development

One size fits all learning does not work for students so it isn’t surprising that it doesn’t work for teachers either. In this article Peter DeWitt, an elementary principal, shares his new vision for professional development. Much of his vision is parallel to the vision for Iowa’s CoPI.

Read Professional Development: Whose Job is It? here.

CoPI: View from the Field

Educators from across Iowa are engaging in conversations in The Agora. Read what Robert Kleinow shared with others in the science CoPI. To read the entire article go to The Agora>Science>Discussion Forum>Will This One be Different?

Robert Kleinow is currently a science curriculum consultant at Heartland AEA. Below Robert shares his views on the Next Generation Science Standards.

Will this one be different?

What is science? How educators, and we as a nation, answer that question will go a long way in determining how it is learned. If one views science as a “way of knowing” centered on the principles of questions, claims, evidence, and reasoning, the instruction would be vastly different than if one viewed it as a collection of facts and information.

For most, “science” in school has been more about the regurgitation of facts with the hope that filling all minds with these facts will lead to a science-literate society than it has been about “doing science.”

The Symphony of Science - The Poetry of Reality
So what is Science? Well known leaders in the science community chime in with one view of “what science is,” the importance of “not knowing,” and the quest for answers. (An Anthem for Science)

On the other hand the story of John Gurdon, 2012 winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology, who was told early on that “because he will not listen, but will insist on doing his work in his own way. …. if he can't learn simple biological facts he would have no chance to find the work of a Specialist,….” gives us a vivid example of how science is so much more than learning facts and following a recipe (Davis, 2012).

When reviewing a science textbook, noted physicist Richard Feynman was once reported to have said, “I do not see any science in here, only information.” Yet it is that very information that we seem to base most measures in science achievement. Is this because they are accurate measures of science learning and potential or because they are easier to quantify?

The Next Generation Science Standards, with a March of 2013 expected release date, will force Iowa, along with all other states, to decide if these new standards, written as performance expectations, are indeed the next “best answer” at achieving a scientifically literate society.

The last major release of science standards was in 1996 with the National Science Education Standards which had four underlying goals:
Now seventeen years later how effective have we, as a system, been at achieving these goals? What assessments have been developed to measure our success? How will the new Next Generation Science Standards document be different? What have we learned?

To read the entire article go to The Agora>Science>Discussion Forum>Will This One be Different?