What educators need to know

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The Hustisford school district in rural Wisconsin was not an obvious candidate for blended learning before the pandemic. There were no immediate plans for a district-wide 1-to-1 IT initiative, and about 1 in 3 students did not have reliable internet access at home.

Then the pandemic struck and Hustisford, like countless districts across the country, had to move quickly to virtual training. It meant buying devices, distributing wireless hotspots, and making big changes in teaching practices.

Now, teachers at Hutisford regularly use tools like Kahoot, a game-based learning platform, YouTube videos and even TikTok as part of classroom lessons, said Heather Cramer, the district superintendent. Most importantly: a handful of teachers have taken the initiative to overturn their classrooms, allowing students to learn new subjects at home via online tools and spend time in class doing group work , class discussions or to deepen the material.

“It’s something that we really, really missed in the past,” Cramer said. “The kids didn’t have this technology at home so they could do this research and put it all together. “

The pandemic and the growing use of technology in K-12 education that it sparked has given renewed energy to the blended learning movement, as most students now learn in school buildings. About two-thirds of educators expect their use of the approach to increase in the 2021-2022 school year, according to a July survey from the EdWeek Research Center. Almost 30% said they bet it would “increase a lot”. Only 14% expected it to decrease.

Blended learning is an approach that harnesses both digital tools and face-to-face teaching to deliver a more personalized learning experience for each student. Students generally have greater control over time, place and / or pace of learning and often participate in new pedagogical approaches, such as flipped classes. The approach is generally built on the premise that students will take lessons in school buildings.

Thanks in part to a frenzy of buying devices In the pandemic’s first year, fueled by federal relief dollars, 74% of educators polled by the EdWeek Research Center in March said their districts had invested “a lot” in devices since the pandemic began, with nearly another quarter saying their districts had invested at least “a little” of money.

At the same time, teachers have become much more adept at using technology. Eighty-eight percent of teachers said their ability to use technology improved in the 2020-21 school year, according to the March survey.

Blended learning and the ‘new normal’ are gaining momentum

In some cases, educators are taking the initiative to continue the educational practices they started using during the pandemic. For example, teachers in the San Marcos School District in California are much more likely to record their lessons and post them online for students than they were before COVID, the director of educational technology said. district, Stephanie Casperson. This allows teachers to turn their class or students to review lessons if they need help understanding a concept.

Even school social workers and music teachers make these instructional videos, she said. “Before COVID, it was mainly my American Sign Language teachers who made videos,” Casperson said.

Before the pandemic, only two or three teachers at Corunna High School near Flint, Michigan, were very comfortable with blended learning approaches, said Barry Thomas, the principal. Now that looks more like eight to ten of the school’s roughly 30 teachers, he said.

Teachers in Corruna are now more inclined to record their lessons for students to review, and the school’s math department has adopted online platforms like Khan Academy to supplement their own teaching.

“They’ve found things over the past year and a half that they’ve really liked,” Thomas said. “And now it’s part of their normal functioning. “

But some educators are reluctant to embrace too much digital education.

“I’m not going to force anyone to do more blended learning,” said Scott Clayton, principal of Scofield Magnet Middle School in Stamford, Connecticut. “Most kids have a device or a cell phone. And now we put a Chromebook or a laptop in front of them. It increases screen time.

Districts are placing more emphasis on professional development for blended learning.

Yet, as the level of interest and use of teachers in blended learning has increased, districts and schools are making it a higher priority for professional development. More than half of district leaders and school principals who said they plan to offer distance education next school year in a survey by the EdWeek Research Center this summer – 58% – said that they were planning to offer training on the strategy. This compared to just over 30% who said they were likely to work with teachers on distance education or teach children in person and online simultaneously (so-called simultaneous teaching), the next most common approaches. most popular.

“The demand from our side has been explosive,” said Kareem Farah, CEO of the Modern Classroom Project, a nonprofit organization that works with educators on blended, self-paced, and mastery-based instruction.

The organization trained 2,300 teachers through a virtual mentoring program, which was at full capacity last school year. And a free online blended learning course launched at the start of the pandemic has grown from 500 users initially to 30,000.

But despite an influx of federal funds which can be used for professional development, there are logistical challenges in getting teachers to undergo blended learning training. The San Marcos school district, for example, faces a shortage of substitute teachers nationwide, making it difficult to find time to get teachers out of the classroom for training.

And for some teachers, the temptation is great to go back to traditional teaching.

“The initial change is kind of like ‘We want to go back to exactly what we were doing before,’” said Justin Cutts, principal of Whitney High School in Rocklin, Calif. “Which is, to me, a little disappointment. We burned down the math department, like, 12 [packages] of paper during the first two weeks of school. How did we go [through] the last year and a half, and now we’re going to start smashing the copiers again? “

Blended learning for acceleration and remediation

Educators and policymakers have been very concerned about the academic delay of students due to the pandemic. Half of teachers said their students were behind what they would be in a typical year, according to a survey of 1,042 teachers this spring by the Clayton Christensen Institute, a non-profit research organization that promotes innovation in education and other fields.

It is not known what role technology can play in helping students regain their academic foundations, either by speeding up or catch-up, at least during class time.

School and district leaders surveyed by the EdWeek Research Center this summer were most likely to say their students would be able to use online acceleration and remediation tools at home more frequently than before . Less popular: Offer intensive tutoring that integrates digital tools more often than in the past.

About a further quarter of school and district leaders surveyed do not plan to use blended learning to accelerate or remedy teaching at all.

Some districts are trying a multi-pronged approach.

Whitney High School in California allows some of its students to catch up by using a mix of software, courses specifically designed to help lagging students in math or language arts, and even smaller classes to help students. students who failed in several subjects.

Although the district has used “pieces of this system,” it has never been more comprehensive than this school year, ”said Cutts, the principal.

But some schools are taking a more cautious approach to blended learning.

For example, even though he and his school have embraced technology for teaching and learning, Clayton, the principal of Connecticut, doesn’t think this is necessarily the best strategy to ensure that students have the information they need. base they need to access the notes. -level of content.

“If anything pedagogically is going to change, it’s this move towards an accelerated learning model, which is not about technology,” he said, referring to the practice of refreshing students on the learning they need to access grade-level content. “These are educational practices. This is the fact that teachers do not rely on remedial teaching because they feel that students have somehow lost the learning over the course of the course. [last] year.”

More and more educators are experimenting with flipped classes

Nowadays, teachers are more likely to try an intensive form of blended learning – the so-called flipped classroom – in which students cover course content online at home and in-person instruction is used for discussions. , projects and practice, the Christensen Survey of the institute found.

Eighteen percent of teachers said they plan to use the model after the pandemic, compared to 12 percent who said they used it before the pandemic.

For example, last year, when most schools were using hybrid instructional approaches, some grade 5 teachers at Winchester Trail Elementary School in Canal Winchester, Ohio began to adopt an inverted model. Principal Max Lallathin, who has encouraged teachers to try the arrangement, hopes to see it used more often in his school this school year.

“It saves the kids time because they can go right in” and start discussing the content, he said. “If they watch a science video, they can jump right into the science method the next day, instead of watching the video in class. “

But despite all the trends showing an increase in the technological skills of teachers and an increasing use of blended learning approaches, some educators are concerned that this school year will be set back.

“My biggest fear was that we would resume our activities as usual this [school] year, and that teachers would stop using some of the technology “they had mastered during the pandemic, Casperson said. “And I think that’s a fear of almost every electronics tech director I’ve spoken to.”


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