I have just posted an article on Blended Learning in the Teacher’s Monthly and I wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been mulling over about some of the options available to us as teachers once we decide to put our classes through the blender!
One way of looking at Blended Learning is to see it as simply bringing another channel into the classroom, hooking the classroom up to the wider world via the Internet. This opens up a wealth of possibilities, and much of the challenge inherent in Blended Learning is wrapped up in teasing out the wheat from the chaff. Every school is different, every class, every student, every teacher is different, and this makes this process a journey of individual discovery. Anyone who talks about not re-inventing the wheel doesn’t really know what they are talking about. In many ways Blended Learning is constantly about re-inventing wheels.
I am currently working with a teacher in Brazil, looking for ways to link up one of my classes to his class. We are considering Blogs, Skype, Twitter and Facebook at the moment. I have no idea which of these channels will prove the best match between the needs of his class and mine, but I do know that the benefits of opening up the two classrooms and establishing an exchange are exciting and is likely to be rewarding for all concerned. Bringing together people from different parts of the world, with different world views and different experiences unlocks huge educational possibilities. Last Wednesday I had my English class go onto the Blog site of the Brazilian class at http://kidblog.org/ and read a selection of blogs and post comments. I then got them to write their own blogs.
Now, one can easily see how creating a class blog could open up the classroom to the outside world. What is less clear is to what extent this adds to the learning experience. If it does not, then there is no sense in doing it. To my mind this is a simple test by which we should be assessing the effectiveness of Blended Learning: what does it add to the classroom experience?
Sometimes what it adds is extra functionality enabled by the affordances of a particular technology. A blog site, for example, allows for instant and professional looking publication of student writing, and for rapid feedback from others in the form of comments. When I started teaching, if I wanted to give students authentic writing opportunities I had to get them to write to a local newspaper or photostat a class, or school magazine. The blog is a huge advance on the tools I had at my disposal previously. To my mind, then, if done properly blogging is a crucial tool in a blended learning environment.
Applying the same criteria, I am sure that for most classrooms, in most situations, Skype, Twitter, Facebook would all be seen to add value in that they clearly enable things which could not be done, or were difficult to do without technology. It is not in the technology itself though, that the value lies, and it is important to remember that what might work in one context, might fail dismally in another. The crucial factor, as always, is the teacher, and the passion and commitment they bring to finding the best solutions to any given problem.
The Blended Classroom, thus, is a bit like a blender. You’ve got to hook it up, and give it a whizz, tasting frequently to find the right mixture.