The problem with being the first to try a new thing is that there aren’t many others with whom to share your experience. Across the country, a small but growing number of educators are designing innovative “blended learning” schools that fully integrate online learning with face-to-face instruction. While this practitioner-driven movement is creating a tremendous surge in innovation and excitement among educators, the early adopter schools tend to be small islands of innovation without a larger community in which to share successes and challenges.
Last fall, our team at the Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC), in partnership with colleagues at Gates Foundation, the Innosight Institute, the Silicon Schools Fund, and the Charter School Growth Fund, created a blog -- blendmylearning.com -- for those doing this work. Students, teachers, and school leaders from more than 17 blended learning schools have created an online community and have written on a range of topics. Let’s take a peek at what they’ve been saying:
Data Integration and Management
Clearly, one of their most difficult challenges has been integrating a variety of student data systems. Often, each online content program contains a different method of assessing and reporting student data and the systems don’t always speak to one another. Teachers and principals are left with the task of trying to make sense of data from multiple sources, reported in multiple formats, often not aligned to a school’s student information system or to academic standards. Educators are eager to see real-time, valid, and reliable data that shows actual student performance -- but accessing such data with so many systems can be time-consuming and frustrating, often turning off educators to blended learning for the wrong reasons. To mitigate these issues, they recommend dedicating enough time for data integration and management well before a new school opens, or a new program starts. And they are hopeful that the market will start to produce solutions.
In a blended model, the role of educators inevitably changes. Teachers take on new, differentiated roles that are not necessarily part of teacher training programs or traditional classrooms. As opposed to spending their time lecturing, teachers often have more time to support small-group instruction by relinquishing some control to digital content. They serve as facilitators and IT techs, and manage a lot of data. Moreover, teachers talk about the need to be entrepreneurial and adaptive to be effective in these fast-paced environments. In addition, the most promising blended learning environments instill a strong culture that fosters non-stop collaboration and allows teachers to be reflective, while always keeping an eye on the prize – student learning.
Yes, there are new demands on teachers, IT issues and data integration challenges, but the spirit of innovation and experimentation that we have seen in this field has truly been remarkable. The educators who work in these schools and the students and parents who choose to attend them have a pioneering spirit and a sense of the possible. To their credit, they are also willing to acknowledge publicly what they don’t know, illuminate once-promising ideas that are not working and share their lessons with others.They deserve tremendous credit for that candor. You can find it on display at www.blendmylearning.com.