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Blended Learning

From the Classroom: What Does Blended Learning Look Like?

Using blended learning in the special education classroom

February 8, 2012

In a past Edutopia post, I asked the question, is blended learning worth the hype? I promised to ask the same question of the aspiring school administrators in the Technology in Leading and Managing course I am teaching at St. Mary's College of California. This essential question guided the candidates' exploration of educational technology and the implications for them as future school leaders.

Using the project-based learning (PBL) design principle of an authentic audience, below you will find high school English teacher, Melissa Meyers, describing both the promise and the challenge of integrating educational technology in to our classrooms:

It's Worth the Hype

(Melissa teaches at Stanbridge Academy, a small, private K-12 special education school in San Mateo, CA, that specializes in mild to moderate learning disabilities.)

Yesterday afternoon in my twelfth-grade World Literature class, I put my students through Hell, literally. Thanks to a fantastic interactive website called Virtual Inferno, my English class embarked upon a tour of Dante's Hell, from Dante's mysterious awakening in the Dark Wood of Error down, down through nine levels until we reached the Cocytus where Satan himself resides, encased in ice forever.

In the coming weeks, my English students will research and write about the visually stunning Dante's Inferno video game, listen to Franz Liszt's A Symphony to Dante's Divine Comedy accompanied by Gustave Dore's illustrations on Youtube, and explore Dante-era Florence through the "Firenze-Virtual History" iPad app. They will also read Inferno (of course!) and listen to the audio book on their iPads.

As I walked in the front door of my school this morning, one of my students told me that he had spent the long MLK holiday weekend reading the full version of Longfellow's Inferno translation online. Another student brought in a graphic novel of it to share with the class. A third asked if he could write an extra-credit short story about the text from the point of view of Virgil, Dante's spiritual guide. I would like to think that my students are just a bunch of gifted, enthusiastic readers, but the truth is that all of them are LD learners with severe dyslexia, disorder of written expression, and various forms of speech and language difficulties.

Reading is neither pleasurable nor natural for them. Technology isn't a fun extra at my school; it's a voice for dyslexic readers, an essential communication and social device for autistic students, a tool for the dysgraphic, and an organizational must-have for everyone. Is technology in the classroom worth the hype at my school? Absolutely.

Occasionally, I come upon a questioning parent who wants to know why students spend so much time using technological do-dads instead of doing good old-fashioned reading and writing. For these naysayers, I rattle off a whole list of reasons why I integrate technology: multi-modal instruction, supplements for remediation or enrichment, 21st century skill-building, text-to-world connections, collaboration, student buy-in, not to mention marked improvement in essay-writing and reading comprehension. And though we study ancient pieces of literature, we view texts through modern eyes, with technology as our lens. This begs the question of why we're not evolving at a faster rate if there are, by Apple's count, 1.5 million iPads in American classrooms and increased funding for 1:1 computer initiatives in all public schools?

The answer is ugly: teachers themselves slow down this evolution when they aren't sufficiently trained to use technology or resist the idea of change altogether. According to a 2009 survey conducted through The National Center for Education Statistics, 99 percent of public school teachers have computer access throughout the day, while only 29 percent of them are using computers "often" during instruction. Such a wasted opportunity!

Technology is certainly worth the hype, but it will remain only empty, extravagant claims if teachers aren't trained to use it effectively and aren't as enthusiastic -- and evolved -- as their students already are. It's time to play catch-up.

(You can explore more posts on the topic of blended learning by the teachers taking my course at worththehypeornot.)

Does your school provide you with the training to employ the latest technologies in your classroom? Are you part of the 29 percent who use computers often? What led you to integrate computers into teaching and learning? If not, what are the barriers that make you part of the 71 percent who only use computers sometimes or not at all? Please share with us your thoughts!

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