I want to begin by thanking our administration for providing the best professional learning experience throughout this school year. Dr. Adolf Brown, a wonderful motivational speaker, has visited our district a total of three times this school year. This type of on-going professional development is crucial for our district to not only start strong with a fresh approach but also finish strong with a breath of fresh air. He not only inspired me but many of our learners as well. He also changed lives and I am truly grateful for his efforts. Dr. Brown modeled perfectly how we should teach every single day. By making meaningful connections with our students, we can encourage our students to become life-long learners.
Since starting my technology teaching career thirty years ago, I’ve noticed many exciting, new, and innovative ways of combining education with technology. I believe that we have somewhat kept up with the pace of technology. But, are we really using technology effectively for the betterment of our students, or merely using it as a tool?
I remember how terrified teachers were when forced to send and receive e-mails on their first desktop computer. I remember providing professional learning in technology to a room full of teachers and noticing that I was now the bad guy. I was the one forcing them to make another radical change in their already busy hectic day. It’s almost the same way some students look at us those first few days of school each year.
I would like to propose that we make learning more meaningful and fun – yes, fun. I believe that the Blended Learning method can be incorporated into a classroom and ignite a fire throughout the campus. Although this method is quite different from thirty years ago, don’t we all want what is best for our students? Students today have been raised with technology and some are more technologically advanced than their teachers. Why not provide our students with information but deliver the information in a more energizing and effective way. Teach them in an environment that they already know – technology.
My vision is to move to the Blended Learning model in my Graphics Design classes by learning from the students, providing more opportunities for collaboration, ownership, and voice in student projects and assignments. Blended Learning will allow Jasper High School students an opportunity to perform classwork and projects online – whether at home or in school. Through a combination of videos from various institutions, virtual meetings with speakers, online notes from teachers, online assessments and reviews, I believe our students will become better learners. I know that my learners have many digital skills, but don’t really know how to express their work in all areas. I want to help them shine and be successful, learn from each other, teach each other, and teach me all at the same time.
I have experimented with this approach and I must say that it has been extremely rewarding. Students are suggesting their ideas on what project we can do next in class. We have students that are extremely motivated, those who are not motivated, and all areas in between. If we make learning engaging, rewarding, and personal, I feel our entire campus can have exponential growth in learning, in gaining certificates, in being employable after high school, and in being ready for the digital world. If our students find success in their learning, we all succeed.
Another advantage of adopting a Blended Learning method in my classroom is the knowledge and skills that I can share with my co-workers and others in the district through professional learning. Our homebound, absent, and alternative education students will benefit using this new approach. According to the journal article Designing and Improving a Blended Synchronous Learning Environment: An Educational Design Research, students will still experience the need of social presence, they will still participate in group activities, and they still will be able to collaborate and learn with others. Motivation, ownership of learning, and engagement with the subject will increase, therefore, the necessary skills needed in the modern world will carry over into real life situations.
After further research, Blended Learning: An Innovative Approach (2017), this report further supports my point of view. The traditional method of education needs a facelift. Schools need to invest in 21st-Century skills. Textbooks are outdated, teachers aren’t trained properly, physically challenged students aren’t receiving a quality education, students with attendance issues are falling behind and not ready for the real world after graduation. We can help bridge that gap with Blended Learning. Wouldn’t it be great to send our graduates into the modern world with the employability skills necessary in today’s society?
I suggest we start with a small group of teachers, provide them with the proper training, give them time to create Blended Learning lessons, provide teachers with support and on-going training, and time for collaboration to exchange ideas and learn from each other. What worked for us this year in our professional learning was the energy that was ignited by one speaker. We can use that energy to our advantage, now is the time. There are several new teachers on our campus this year that have the desire, the digital skills, and the drive to tackle a new innovation plan. I would love to collaborate and learn from these fresh new teachers before they burn out.
The Blended Learning approach is a win/win experience for both the students and teachers. Face-to-face instruction is still a major component of the method. Students will still receive the necessary human skills that are needed. Teachers will still be a model, still be in the classroom to offer words of encouragement, and still be a safe haven for those students who need nurturing. Our students will have the opportunity to access virtual labs, updated information via videos, and online libraries. We actually have students in our district who have never left the state of Texas. Imagine how this new approach to learning can expand the horizons of our youth. Our students could graduate high school not only learning English and Spanish, but could have the option of learning other languages such as German, Italian, Arabic, or even Chinese. Our career and technology students could venture out and learn web design, coding, drafting, robotics, and even app design. We want to send our graduates into the world with the basics, but what if we could ignite a creative mind to create the next computer language or win a Nobel Prize.
The Learning Management System that I recommend is Blackboard. The community college next door uses Blackboard as well as Lamar University. I lived and taught school in Saudi Arabia for seven years and experienced first hand how technology can be difficult yet still open a brand new world to students who use it effectively. I left Saudi Arabia in 2007 and was so pleased to find this research article in our Lamar Online Library, Pros & Cons of Using Blackboard Collaborate for Blended Learning on Students’ Learning Outcomes. Higher Education Studies (2017). Most of the government schools are segregated in Saudi, but most of the private schools are coed. Hamad stresses the importance of using Blackboard to foster collaboration with peers. The article also mentions more pros such as students being able to view lessons when they are absent, students were able to learn in a learning style that was more effective, and the LMS allowed students to collaborate with other students around the world.
The OCSB Study shows the success of properly training new teachers for any innovative idea. There are a series of videos of actual teachers being interviewed and sharing their new learning and mindset. The It also encourages me to keep pushing forward with my Innovation Plan to incorporate Blended Learning into my classroom.
Today’s students must be self-directed learners if they want to excel in business, industry, education, and life. They don’t know how fortunate they are to have all of this digital information at their fingertips. We can’t just through technology at teachers and students without first doing our research. We don’t want a room full of computers not being used because the teachers aren’t properly trained.
I think that the COVA (Choice, Ownership, Voice, Authenticity) approach to adopt Blended Learning in our district is crucial to embracing the change. If learners are given a CHOICE to incorporate Blended Learning, then it will be beneficial, significant, and personal to them, they will more likely learn the information and move their learning into higher level thinking.
By having OWNERSHIP in learning, students will want to participate and have a more positive outlook on their education. The Blended Learning approach won’t just be another lecture and taking notes type of class, it will be a new way to learn and encourage life-long learning. Students will learn their WHY when they take ownership in a new concept or idea and become successful in the classroom.
VOICE has to be the best component for most teachers that I know. I often hear weekly that we should be able to decide what we want to do in our classrooms, what we want to teach in our classrooms, and what we want to learn during those long hard days of professional learning.
The final component that ties the COVA approach in a nice little bow is AUTHENTICITY. All learners will be more engaged in learning when the information being delivered is authentic to each person. If you truly believe in something, you are committed, you arrive at higher-level thinking, and are more inspired to create a significant learning environment every single day.
Let’s put our heads together and come up with workable solutions to change our entire community. Yes, even our community can get involved. Instead of having guest speakers drive 45 minutes to present to our class, we can use Blackboard to interact with other schools, motivational speakers, business leaders, and colleges. Our students deserve this new method of learning. We are producing the engineers, nurses, doctors, educators, scientists, and leaders that are needed in the digital age.
Hamad M. Pros & Cons of Using Blackboard Collaborate for Blended Learning on Students’ Learning Outcomes. Higher Education Studies [serial online]. January 1, 2017;7(2):7-16. Available from: ERIC, Ipswich, MA. Accessed October 28, 2017.
Blended Learning: An Innovative Approach Lalima1,*, Kiran Lata Dangwal2
Wang, Q., Lang Quek, C., & Hu, X. (2017). Designing and Improving a Blended Synchronous Learning Environment: An Educational Design Research. International Review Of Research In Open And Distributed Learning, 18(3), 99-118.