Blended Learning: Behind the Scenes
It feels like we're on the precipice of a more common, universal implementation for blended learning, but for a while still, blended learning is still dependent on teachers knowing what to teach and how to teach it. It still feels still like a grassroots movement from key teachers who are looking ahead to the future. We know that being able to function online is a 21st-century skill, but for some teachers, it's still as futuristic as Logan's Run.
And while having to jump into using online strategies can be scary, it's really all about our mission of preparing students for their future. It's about having your ear to the ground about the skills these kids will need to know, and the determination to teach to those skills even if the world of education or your school site or your fear factor is not on board.
While I am passionate about online integration in the traditional classroom, I do not know yet if blended learning is really for everyone. It isn't just about the technology or the understanding of online interactions. It's also simply a temperament thing.
So let's look at the behind-the-scenes of blended learning. What does it really take to be a blended learning teacher?
Things go wrong all the time. Have a digital Plan B on hand or, if necessary, a way to teach the same goal, but offline, using the resources in the room. Model patience. No cussing. I know it's hard.
The school tech person can't focus only on your needs even though you might be using technology more than others. You need to great creative in your problem solving. As a computer teacher once said to me after helping me solve a problem: "You should be able to do this (pretends to feed herself with an invisible spoon), but sometimes you have to do this (wraps her arm around her head, still bringing the invisible spoon to her mouth, but going the long way around.) Here's a hint: train students to help problem solve. Code word: Tech Team.
3. Willingness to Handhold
Go back to my point about patience. You have to help all the stakeholders far more than you think: like parents, other teachers, and some students who don't have access elsewhere. On the flip side, however, there are many students who can figure things out with very little handholding if just given the chance. Being a blended learning teacher is about giving students that chance.
4. Ability to Scaffold More Than You Thought Necessary
Make sure you lead up to your expectations in a step-by-step way. For instance, you can't just ask students to blog. You need to help them first understand what the heck blogging is. Here's an early post I once wrote on this very topic. It doesn't have to be baby steps, but you do have to help them climb.
5. Willingness to Learn from Students
See the problem-solving step above. You can learn from your students in ways you never even knew. And it isn't just about the technology that they know and you don't. It's about being there with them when they make that discovery online and being a voice of reason in their heads as they explore the wide world around them.
6. A Full Toolbox
You need a toolbox full of both digital and traditional tools and knowledge. After all, moderating an online conversation is both similar to leading classroom discussions and somewhat different. Setting up groups, giving feedback, engaging students, all of these are still needed when interacting online, but use different tools to accomplish.
7. A Big Inbox
So many interactions go through your email. Make sure you are able to accept them all. Also, get into the grove of being able to check your mail, sort mail into boxes, or delete notifications all together once they are dealt with. Keep up with it all or your email inbox will fill up quickly. Mine often sends me a really cold notification. I haven't solved this problem yet, because when students submit assignments or are engaged in a real great back and forth my inbox turns bold really quickly.
8. Willingness to Give Up Time After School
Be prepared to get sucked into awesome online conversations long after the school bell rings. It won't seem like a chore. It's a pleasure.
I know that blended learning may not be everyone's cup of tea. Having said all that, however, even those who may not be partial to these techniques may soon have to learn to be. It's our students' future. And what's their future is ours too.