We’re Going to Change the Way We Think about Education
“How are things going?”
“These computers won’t keep the activation code.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean this section has to enter the 13-digit code every single period.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“About a week, since we first started using the program.”
Since then, we’ve naturally solved this issue, but this simple conversation captures many of the early paradigm shifts we have had to undergo to truly change our school to a blended learning model. Here are some of the fundamental changes we’ve had to make in the way we approach education and our services to students and staff.
IT Paradigm Shift = We are in the business of education. When prioritizing tasks, our students’ achievement and learning trumps everything.
School IT teams, unless you’re already in a 1:1 setting, are generally accustomed to being behind the scenes and not having much direct impact on learning. Sure, the light bulb in a classroom projector might go out, but thanks to a teacher leading the class, an in-the-moment workaround can be created until the bulb is fixed. Discussions about curriculum and tools are also commonly held without any representative from the IT team. However, when you move to a blended learning model, instructional minutes are completely dependent on the ability of your IT team to support 99.9% uptime of systems. If the internet goes out in a lab, it is equivalent to a core teacher being absent and a substitute taking his/her place for the day. In our issue with the activation code, students were missing approximately 5min of instruction per day = nearly 25min of instruction at the end of the week. That’s completely unacceptable. But you and your IT team need to understand that fixing the printer comes after getting the learning lab at 100% functionality.
Teacher Paradigm Shift = We are and always will be the true designers of our students’ learning experience. The addition of digital curriculum does not change that; it simply enables us to do our work more efficiently.
The invention of algorithms and adaptive digital curricula is an amazing thing with great possibilities, but artificial intelligence still does not compare with the human intellect and intuition. There is an odd inclination for educators to treat these adaptive programs as some type of an “auto-pilot” they can set and forget about. You know and I know that our students’ educational and emotional needs are much more complex than that. I believe the better comparison would be the “cruise control” setting on a car. These programs can feed our students continuous streams of instructional multimedia, practice problems, and feedback at rates no analog environment could support. But at the end of the day the teacher still needs to check the difficulty level it is set at for each student, if it’s pointed in the right direction for skill remediation or new concepts, and if the student can even handle this type of learning environment independently. It is an ongoing process of tweaking, revising, and realigning things no different than how one continuously improves his/her paper based instruction. Demand the same high expectations for your digital curriculum.
Also, be ready for anywhere from 5-15% of your students to make zero progress on the programs the first few weeks of school and another 5-20% to make adequate progress but continuously struggle. You need to be ready change programs to find something that is a better fit for them, coach them through the learning curve of using a digital interface, or in certain cases remove them from digital learning completely. When you hit that moment when nearly everyone is set at the pace & curriculum that’s appropriate for them and driving in the right direction, it’s an absolutely beautiful thing to see in action, but you, the teacher, always remains the driver of curriculum design and will always be making adjustments.
Student Paradigm Shift = Effort and persistence affect my education more than ever. I can learn independently and making mistakes is part of the process.
Early on we ran into an issue where the majority of our students in a couple classes were seeing questions well above their skill levels. They had all taken the diagnostic at the start of the year, and we had checked the levels and adjusted them when we thought they were incorrect, so why was this happening? After observing one of the classes for five minutes, it became obvious. Students had their hands raised constantly, and the teacher was scurrying around the room to answer each student’s question. As a result, students were scoring 100% on all of the exercises in the software, and it was appropriately increasing the difficulty level each time.
It took us nearly a month to break these habits. Students are accustomed to getting help from their teachers, and teachers are accustomed to always having the answers. Placing more ownership on the students to carefully use the feedback from the software for guidance and pushing them to make mistakes is an incredibly tough change. Some programs are literally designed for a student to miss questions multiple times because the feedback they receive after the incorrect answer is part of the learning process. Students have never had that type of experience because it isn’t humanly possible in a traditional classroom. The old excuses of personality conflicts with teachers or unfair grading are gone. Learning can truly become student centric in a blended learning environment, but it requires everyone to let go of old habits.