Blended Learning

Professional Development Based on Reality TV

Four challenges inspired by popular shows guide teachers to consider how to make the most of blended learning.

November 28, 2018
Teachers in a library doing professional development together in front of desktop computers
©iStock/asiseeit

Over the past few years, we’ve noticed a trend in our work with educators. Though they may use different technologies and teach different subjects and grade levels, they face a common challenge when implementing blended learning: imagining new experiences for students that make meaningful use of new technologies.

Despite these teachers’ best intentions, designing technology-rich lessons and activities often means digitizing existing lessons without redesigning the learning experience to take advantage of the unique opportunities that a blended environment creates.

We thought that a good way to encourage educators to take risks with their instructional design would be to create opportunities for them to experience what it feels like to be an actively engaged student in a blended environment. But they would also need a common frame of reference on which to base this new experience.

To meet these needs, we pulled from what we found compelling in popular culture and designed four professional development (PD) challenges based on reality TV shows.

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The Chopped Challenge

On Chopped, chefs create a delicious offering on the spot using ingredients they’re given. In our version of this concept, we provide participants with three ingredients: a strategy, a topic, and a technology. Lately, we’ve been using inquiry-based learning (strategy), planets (topic), and student-created video (technology).

Working in groups of three or four, teachers of roughly similar grades have five to 10 minutes to prepare a lesson. As with the real Chopped, we encourage them to think about what influences their “cuisine”—in our case, this means factors like the age of the students or the subject area. Each small group then presents their lesson to the larger group. (Unlike what happens on the show, no one gets “chopped.”)

Providing a strategy, topic, and technology allows us to focus conversations on how students will engage in inquiry and deeper learning while completing a meaningful task with the available tools. This gives teachers a purpose before they begin to address the technology, reducing the risk that they will digitize their existing materials.

The Fixer Upper Challenge

But what about existing lessons that already encourage students to learn a valuable skill or dive into meaningful content but could benefit from digital tools? Here we draw ideas from the show Fixer Upper. Much as Chip and Joanna Gaines find an old house with good bones and make it over for a client, this challenge asks educators to renovate an old lesson by considering how technology can allow them to expand student opportunities.

Chip and Joanna design houses around the needs of their clients, and with this activity we ask teachers to consider the needs of their students. Participants work in groups to design an activity that introduces a typical concept—a vocabulary term, for example—and then improve upon a traditional lesson-planning process such as “I do, we do, you do.”

In designing their fixer upper, we ask them to consider the modalities through which students acquire content knowledge, how technology supports students as they progress at their own pace, and the diverse opportunities for students to demonstrate their understanding beyond traditional assessments.

The Amazing Race Challenge

Our Amazing Race challenge asks participants to consider multiple ways for a student to experience a topic from start to finish. With this activity, educators identify a learning objective and an essential question to ignite inquiry before progressing through three design challenges to incorporate meaningful use of technology.

First they must design a blended learning exploration experience—e.g., online research, video call interview with an expert, VR exploration—through which students will learn the required content.

For task two, participants identify opportunities for students to engage in collaborative learning. This task requires participants to explain how students might work together and share their learning. Our participants select the tools that might help students capture and share their understanding.

Finally, a multimedia creation and sharing task encourages participants to consider options for final products or artifacts of understanding that students might create, as well as how students will share their learning with their peers and possibly a broader community.

The Cupcake Wars Challenge

Based on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars, the last challenge encourages participants to engage in iterative design after receiving feedback from another group. To begin, each group chooses a lesson or activity from one of the previous challenges to revise, and asks a partner group for feedback. Using a protocol such as Praise, Question, Polish or I Like, I Wish, I Wonder, the partner groups provide each other with constructive feedback.

Finally, each group takes 10 minutes to revise their chosen plan and then shares it digitally by creating a 30-second video pitch that explains why other teachers should adopt the lesson. Asking teachers to create a final product gives them an opportunity to experience sharing and publishing to an audience of their peers and gain access to a new library of ideas.

We designed these challenges so that they could be used together during a workshop or individually as part of a broader faculty meeting. We sequence the challenges in the order that they appear here because they progressively encourage educators to allow for more student authority and control.

Ultimately, we wanted to provide PD participants with an opportunity to experience not only a new type of learning but also a more open-ended, student-centric environment.