Get Your Blend On!

Get Your Blend On!

Starting a blended learning program in a classroom or school may seem daunting, or too big a challenge to take on given the myriad other priorities facing K-12. Assuming, though, that a school makes the big initial decision to “go blended,” there is now (thankfully!) quite a bit of experience out there one can build from. My biggest advice is to get crystal clear on why your school wants to go blended. Do you think you’re going to save money? Increase teacher satisfaction and retention? Do you think you’re going to raise student achievement? Close achievement gaps? Increase family involvement? Address college readiness skills? Create 21st century learners? Something else? Or perhaps a . . . er . . . blend of these? The highest quality blended learning implementations start from a crystal clear understanding of why a district, CMO, school, classroom plans to go blended. Administrators, teachers and students will come back to that question constantly throughout the planning and launch phases, so having solid answers will save time and energy.

Once you have the Why, you can start on the What. And to learn more about What’s out there, I recommend three sources:
1) Twitter;
2) Disrupting Class; &
3) visiting blended classrooms and schools.

On Twitter, follow: this blog @BlendMyLearning; @michaelbhorn, @thinkschools (contributor to this blog) & @tvanderark are major thought leaders on blended and write a ton of great, thought-provoking pieces; @betaclassroom, @JackCWest, & @MsMagiera are blended teachers who share a lot of what works and doesn’t work for them; @Jessie_Arora is organizing great events for blended teachers, particularly in CA’s Bay Area; @EdSurge is the premier media outlet for all things edtech — sign up for their weekly newsletter, too. Go ahead and follow me @gregdklein, too, while you’re at it, but the point is that you will quickly find a vibrant community of people sharing ideas and pushing your thinking. Blended and edtech are dynamic, fast-paced spaces that shift quickly and Twitter is the best one-stop place to stay on top of it all.

For more in-depth reading, try Disrupting Class, which is often referred to as the “bible” of blended learning. If you’re going to read one book about this process before you launch into it — and you should read at least one — this is it. This resource is especially helpful in the earliest phases when you think you know why you want to go blended, but perhaps the ideas haven’t fully developed or taken hold in your thinking. If you want something similar, but even shorter, try Innosight Institute’s paper on classifying blended learning.

Lastly, new implementations have the luxury of going to see lots of different blended models that currently exist. You can see rotation models, learning lab models, flex models and others. Not a single school or program you visit will tell you they have figured it all out, but you’ll likely find something of value wherever you go. It may mean some travel for you and your team, and you may not be able to visit exactly the blended incarnation you are imaging, but something is certainly better than nothing.

So now you’ve done a lot of reading (and tweeting) and you’ve seen some kids and teachers in real time. No amount of planning, though, will cover all the details and potential obstacles you may face, particularly when it comes to implementing the technical infrastructure part of your blending learning plan. For example, I could not have predicted that when 8 identical computers would be set up in the same room, on the same wired network, 6 would connect and two would not. This sort of anecdote will happen, I promise! As good as all our technology is these days, and I’m a big believer in it all, it still doesn’t always ‘just work’ — particularly if you’re trying this in older school buildings. So make time to test in real-life situations.

Another often-overlooked step is making great use of your current technology infrastructure. One of our schools is now using student helpers to re-image over 300 notebook computers. These are circa 2009, and were loaded up with way too many programs. Teachers and kids simply stopped using them because they were so slow and unreliable. With the support of school district, we’ve been able to create a new, bare-bones image (basically turned them into a Chromebook), and the kids are breathing new life into what were once known as the “paperweight” laptops. This cost about $100 for a few thumbdrives and now over 300 laptops will be able to access any online content that runs in a Chrome browser (which is practically everything you will want).

The technical infrastructure components of your blending learning implementation planning can quickly suck up all the air in the room, so be sure to keep close at hand your answers to why you are going blended in the first place. Plans that help teachers develop their blended craft, and those that are designed to engage students around their own data are by far the most compelling. Start there and build the technology infrastructure you need to make those plans reality.

What challenges do you foresee in starting your blended program? What comes first for you — the technical infrastructure plan that supports your blended pedagogy, or your blended pedagogy that necessitates a certain technical infrastructure?

Written by Greg Klein

Director of Blended Learning at Rogers Family Foundation. Greg is on the ground, supporting principals, teachers and students at four Oakland district public schools as they make their transitions to blended classrooms. You can follow him @gregdklein.

2 comments

  1. Ray Schleck

    Greg,

    Great post, thank you. Curious – when you tour schools, especially ones that aren’t using the same blended model as your school, do you have specific things you look for? I know what I’d look for at a traditional school and I’m sure most of those things would still be relevant. But what blended-specific things would you recommend keeping an eye out for that might not be so intuitive?

  2. Thanks, Ray, for your thoughts and questions. When I get to visit other blended classes (and traditional rooms, too) I love asking kids: what they’re working on; how do they know that is the right thing to be working on that time; what will they do if they finish early; how will they know when they’re done, or have learned whatever it is they’re attempting. I’m curious to hear to what extent students can articulate their own learning path and goals. In a highly effective blended classroom, the answers vary more widely across different kids, and students will often access their own data and show you their progress right then and there to back up their answers on why they’re working on a particular assignment and what comes next.

    If I’m lucky enough to talk to the teacher, I like to learn what thinking went into the decisions for what learning tasks different kids are working on (do all kids rotate through all work, do some kids move on faster or go deeper, while others get additional support all the way through mastery?). Physically around the room, I look for signs that the room is set up for the particular task(s) and can change to fit teacher and student needs.

    I’m curious to hear what your “traditional classroom” look-fors are. I be our lists have a lot in common.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *