The environment that children are learning in today is much different than the learning environment of their parents and certainly their grandparents. Technology has been integrated, not only in schools, but in classrooms, libraries, cafeterias, shops, and extracurricular activities. Schools have evolved from the isolated use of singular computers, to teacher desktops, computer labs, mobile computer labs, and one-to-one devices with each student assigned an iPad or Chromebook.
As technology becomes more and more rooted in our schools, what happens to traditional teaching methods and models? The Emery School District has adopted a program known as “Blended Learning” which is designed to address that very question. According to Superintendent Larry W. Davis, Blended Learning is an educational program that combines technology and online digital media with traditional classroom teaching methods. It requires a combination of best teaching practices with relevant use of technology.
The superintendent said, “Our district has taken on the task of evaluating our use of technology to determine what is working and what is not, what is being used and what is sitting idle, and what is cost effective relevant to our needs.” He added that traditional instructional methods are also being assessed to determine effectiveness. “It is no longer acceptable for teachers to teach by worksheet and rote learning when we have so many more effective ways to advance course standards.”
Garth Johnson, principal at Huntington Elementary, describes it this way: “We are now in the midst of a revolution of technology and accessibility for learning for both students and educators. The methods of learning that we received prior to becoming teachers is no longer the status quo. The students we have today are more adept and more comfortable with using digital learning in its many forms. It is time that we as educators accept and even promote this new age.” He went on to say, “Teachers will never be replaced by technology. But technology can be improved by teachers.”
Throughout the 2017-18 school year, every administrator in the Emery District was enrolled in the Blended Learning professional development offered by the Southeast Education Service Center (SESC). Facilitators from the SESC joined instructors from UETN in bringing the training to the Emery School District Office in Huntington where five 4-hour sessions were held. The five Blended Learning sessions covered the following topics:
Session 1- Defining Blended and Digital Learning with an overview to Blended Learning and the role of the school principal in leading the transition to Blended Learning.
Session 2- Creating a Culture for Blended & Digital Learning with a focus on the important cultural shifts for all stakeholders involved in a Blended Learning transition.
Session 3- Shifting Teaching and Learning with a focus on the key changes in curriculum and instruction in a Blended Learning environment.
Session 4- Supporting Teachers Through Professional Learning with a focus on the competencies of a Blended Learning educator and professional learning models.
Session 5- Implementing and Sustaining Blended and Digital Learning with a focus on the nuts and bolts of shifting to a Blended Learning model and implementation strategies.
The final product from the training for each administrator was a Blended Learning Roadmap for each school in the district as well as the district office. “In most cases, school administrators worked together in crafting their roadmaps,” the superintendent said. “But in the end, each school and the district office had their own which included specific needs and goals.”
Why is Blended Learning important to our school district and to our stakeholders, especially our students? The Emery District is on the cusp of breaking the glass ceiling on technology, and we need to be prepared with school-level plans on how we are going to integrate the past and the present with the future. The Blended Learning training is specific to that point and will provide leadership opportunities for the design and implementation of individual school plans.
The potential of Blended Learning is enormous, and it is a natural fit with the district Professional Learning Community and School Collaborative Team philosophies. More than anything else the two lend themselves to individual student academic growth. Good teaching has always taken place in American schools to varying degrees. However, with the rapid advancement of technology in today’s educational setting, combining good teaching practice with the cyber world has left many wondering how to bring it all together in systematic ways that lead to student success.
By the end of the program, school administrators and district office supervisors were able to:
Understand and differentiate between various models of Blended Learning
Create clear goals for Blended Learning in their school and within the district
Establish a culture in their school community that supports Blended Learning
Engage stakeholder support for Blended Learning
Identify digital tools and curriculum that support Blended Learning in their schools
Develop systems that support the transition to Blended Learning
Use digital tools and social media for their own professional practice and lifelong learning
Support teachers’ transition to Blended Learning with ongoing professional development
Understand the infrastructure needs Blended Learning programs require
Develop and implement a Blended Learning Planning Roadmap for their schools.
The adoption of the Blended Learning professional development model stems from work done by the Emery School District Technology Committee and its Professional Development Subcommittee. The Technology Committee was organized in July 2016 and tasked with establishing long-term technology plans for every school and for the Emery District. Part of that planning included conducting an inventory of school and district technology infrastructure, capacity, and programs. From that survey the committee determined that there existed a wide variety of preferred programs from school to school and that there also existed a number of programs that were purchased but not in use. Also, other than the Student Information System (SIS), there was no district-wide data platform for teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders to use in crafting educational plans for each student.
Over the last year, the Technology Committee has been engaged in a process of addition and subtraction that has resulted in the elimination of duplicate and marginally used programs while adding a district data platform, SchoolCity, which will be used by teachers to track student progress, create common assessments, and develop individual learning plans. Such plans will be based on student progress toward meeting core standards. For those who have mastered a standard, there will be “extended learning” opportunities, and for those who have not mastered the standard, there will be re-teaching and expanded ways of showing mastery.
Teachers and administrators who were in the Emery District back when Ernie Weeks was the superintendent, the late 80’s and early 90’s, will recall the district’s efforts in bringing Madeline Hunter’s Mastery Learning into common use. Dr. Hunter even spent time in our district training teachers and visiting classrooms. It is apparent that the only difference between Mastery Learning and Blended Learning is the integration of technology. The same is true for Professional Learning Communities and Collaborative Teams. Consider this definition of Blended Learning offered by Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation: “A formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home (such as school). The modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.”
It was obvious from Dr. Hunter’s research, as well as research by those who have crafted the Blended Learning approach, that all children have the capacity to learn, but each learns at a different rate and through different means. As educators, we cannot set teaching on cruise control and expect every child to keep up. Nor can we expect those who reach mastery to stop learning while waiting for others to reach the finish line. Rather, we must adapt to the needs of our students, not the other way around. Like PLCs and Collaborative Teams, Blended Learning is a tool… a piece of the educational puzzle. When applied in earnest and with fidelity, amazing things can happen in the life of a child.
Highlights from the district’s and each school’s roadmap:
Emery School District: The district Blended Learning Road Map views the process as a means of using the best teaching practices with cutting-edge technology to engage students in different ways as they work toward mastery of core standards. District officials believe that Blended Learning is the balanced integration of research-based teaching practices with relevant technology in classrooms, homes, and other learning environments as a means of challenging students singularly and in work groups to solve problems and develop skills which will lead to a quality of life. In general, the district’s goals are to improve student outcomes, collaborative teamwork, and effective use of data.
Emery High School: With two primary goals in mind (student motivation and student achievement), Emery High’s roadmap includes classroom instruction that is relevant to real-world challenges and use of technology that allows for interaction, inquiry, problem-solving, and finding meaningful solutions.
Green River High School: The Blended Learning vision at GRHS is to create a student-centered education system that fosters life-long learning. By integrating digital learning into sound teaching practice, students and teachers will have access to data that ultimately will improve both learning and instruction. Key goals for GRHS’s roadmap are: 1) to accomplish differentiated instruction through digital and online learning, and 2) to close the achievement gap among minority groups.
Canyon View Middle School: The Blended Learning vision at CVMS is to incorporate an appropriate program that will meet the needs of all student groups and to create learning opportunities that encourage student growth and motivation to learn and be self-directed learners. The plan views Blended Learning as the appropriate technology used in conjunction with teacher-led learning opportunities to support and engage students in gaining a more in-depth understanding of the topics being taught. Ultimately, the school’s goals are to increase student growth and learning opportunities.
San Rafael Middle School: At SRMS, the goal for Blended Learning is to intentionally utilize technology and technology resources to affect student learning. Also, the roadmap calls for the use of technology in improving student assessment outcomes as well as accessing and expanding their knowledge both in and out of the classroom. The school will rely heavily on professional development and other resources to more fully integrate technology in the classrooms.
Book Cliff Elementary: This Green River elementary school’s vision is to establish a student-centered instructional approach that individualizes learning for each student based on specific strengths and interests. Knowing that the Blended Learning roadmap for their school is a work in progress, school goals include: improve organizational skills, make lessons student-centered and relevant with opportunities for student interaction, be more self-directed, effectively use data, and provide instructional diversification.
Castle Dale Elementary: Recognizing that the main target audiences at the school are faculty/staff, parents, and students, CDE will be looking at effective ways of dealing with just how much emphasis should be placed on technology and teacher/student interaction. The concern is that overuse of technology will stifle student learning if not done with good planning and training.
Cleveland Elementary: The vision at Cleveland is to use the technology resources available to increase and improve student learning. The school believes that the Blended Learning model will allow for greater individualized learning for students and differentiated instruction by teachers. An expected outcome is student ownership of their own learning and increased student engagement. Key goals set down by the school include: teacher training, use of existing tools, familiarize parents with the tools and resources available to their children, continue to monitor the Blended Learning Roadmap, and continue to use technology to create and evaluate data to improve student learning.
Cottonwood Elementary: At this Orangeville elementary school, the vision is to provide students with intentionally planned opportunities for an enhanced education by using technology in various Blended-Learning models. Principal John Hughes said, “We want to slowly implement the mindset of technology as a tool used to deepen learning, not just replace what is currently being used.”
Ferron Elementary: Utilizing school technology and money invested in technology effectively is a primary part of the Blended Learning vision at FE. Regarding the use of technology, the school believes that is should be provided in each classroom to extend learning opportunities for individualized instruction and that teachers will participate in school-level professional development related to use of instructional technology.
Huntington Elementary: Creating opportunities for teachers and students to find new experiences in learning is at the heart of the HE Blended Learning Road Map. Key goals include moving past the “I’ve been doing it this way for years” while putting materials, technology, ideas, and opportunity into the hands of teachers and students.