Tech and Tradition: Essential Qualities of a Blended Learning Classroom
Today’s classroom — with the proper blend of technology, solid teaching practice, and motivated students — can be nothing short of magical.
And I’m really not overstating what is possible. I don’t consider myself an old-timer in education (though that might be denial speaking), but I do remember starting my career with a mimeograph machine and a single copier in the faculty room. There were no classroom computers and no one even imagined the reach and breadth of the Internet. Heck, the kids took tests on Scantron sheets that were manually fed into a machine. When it arrived, we all gathered around it to gape.
And now look at what we can do today. Through your classroom computer (very often a wireless laptop), you have access to all the information you need to teach your class; your students can create, share and collaborate with ease; and many burdensome processes can be streamlined with software. Amazing, amazing things.
Mixing tech with tradition is the essence of blended learning, which is far more than an education industry buzzword: It captures the essence of what today’s classroom should look like. As I’ve written before, education is about balance, and successfully using these tools requires you to combine traditional teaching strategies with the power of our connected educational culture.
So what does a blended learning classroom look like? Ideally, it will have these qualities:
Technology is treated as a tool — no more, no less
Educators are not immune to the lure of the next “bright, shiny thing” being discussed on the Internet, advertised in trade magazines or shown at national conferences. While technology is sold as a solution to a problem, it’s just one component of a much larger solution that always requires good teaching practices.
Blended learning makes strong use of technology in the teaching and learning environment, but it will not become the sole way in which this takes place. You have to consistently remind your students that these tools are no substitute for the hard work of learning.
Our ability to work in groups and alone improves
Even a short review of 21st-century classrooms and work environments will reveal that strong interpersonal skills are required to succeed in today’s world. Along with these group skills, we also must have the ability to work alone to complete other tasks.
A quality blended learning environment will support learners as they develop these internal and external traits.
We can focus on the process as well as the product
The traditional “factory model” of education relied heavily upon the finished product — tests, reports, projects — as proof that the student had acquired a certain skill. The blended learning classroom enables the teacher, more so than ever, to lean heavily on the process.
Did the child use the appropriate tools to create the final product? What did the process to get there look like? How many changes and edits were required? Were persistence and grit supported through the work? These are just some of the questions that help to focus on the process.
Teachers get the support they need
For the administrator, especially tech-savvy proponents of blended learning, it is essential to give all teachers the time and opportunity to learn how to create this classroom setting. The initial rollout must provide both informal and formal opportunities for teachers to master the skills.
Official evaluations should not be tied to teacher use of technology during the rollout. People don’t learn when they fear the repercussions of failure. As one of my colleagues says, “We encourage our teachers to ‘fail forward.’ ”