The Experiment is Born
The Idea :
Blend My Learning started at a New Schools Venture Fund Conference in the Spring of 2011. We were thinking about ways to “test” our theories around technology and education. Everyone was buzzing about blended learning and envisioning new ways to run schools. Educators at heart, we thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have an laboratory to try out these ideas?” Thus, Blend My Learning was born as a place for educators to “hack” in schools, figure out what is working, and share the learning.
Our first experiment was to put the much talked about Khan Academy to the test. By now, most everyone has played with Khan, some folks have tried it in schools, and lots of students are getting homework help. But we wanted to see what would happen if we really used Khan Academy, displaced the teacher from the front of the class, and gave the reins over to students to determine content and pacing.
Enter Google and the Chromebooks :
One of the drawbacks we all saw with Khan was that it required 1-to-1 computing to really disrupt the classroom. Sure teachers could project Sal’s videos to the whole class, but the real power came through reshaping the role of the teacher and student. As we were trying to launch the experiment, we met up with some great folks at Google who were preparing to launch the new Chromebooks (see future posts for more details). The Google team loved the spirit of experimentation and prototyping that we pitched and joined the experiment to see how Chromebooks themselves could affect teaching and learning. The Googlers made some magic happen, and we got a class set of laptops to make the experiment a reality.
The d school Joins :
Having been really impressed by the Stanford Design School (d school) and their spirit of rapid prototyping, we asked them if they’d play a role in our experiment too. Rich Crandall connected us with some great graduate students and we set out to design the parameters of the experiment and how we would document the learning.
The Experiment :
Summer school presented us a great opportunity to try out our theory. Using our Envision Schools high school classrooms, we randomly assigned students to one of two classes:
- Class A would have a teacher, Ruth, delivering a remedial Algebra 1 class in a typical summer school fashion for two hours each day.
- Class B, would still have Ruth for two hours, but instead of lecturing and running the class at one speed, the students would be turned loose on Khan Academy.
They could spend time on the material they needed, and Ruth’s role would be freed up to monitor data, intervene with students, do small group instruction, and figure out what else she could do to facilitate learning when not standing in front of the class for the entire period. At least, that’s our theory.
Stay Tuned :
Curious to know what happens when we turn lose twenty-five Oakland high schoolers on Khan Academy? So are we. We have some hypotheses, but to approach this experiment as scientists and designers, we are keeping a very open mind. We’ll be capturing our learning here at Blend My Learning, adding posts from the teachers, students, tech coordinator, and observers. We’ll get some video and photos up too. The hope is to truly learn what happens when we disrupt the traditional classroom, figure out some of the implementation pain points, and accelerate others who are interested in similar experiments. Stay tuned to hear about how the experiment is going.