Here we are in the midst of the Information Revolution and we are privy to the most exciting and exponentially expansive network of learning and communication ever created in history. New software, hardware, and download-able applications are invented daily. As soon as we think we have a handle on the technology and programs that are out there, a new generation is introduced and the learning continues. Information itself has been liberated for the masses to absorb and comprehend. It is our job as educators and role models in this Digital Age to arm our children with the proper tools and mindsets to be successful in an ever-changing climate.
The concept of BLENDED LEARNING has recently come to mean something very unique to classroom teachers. This term refers to a mixing of instructional strategies in the classroom that balances face-to-face instruction with online resources and tools. When thinking about how to best understand the reasoning behind this digital movement, the words engagement, communication, and preparation come to my mind.
In talking to my students, I have learned that they simply enjoy the process of learning with computers and other technology. Digital resources are here to stay. We have this great opportunity to jump on board with the children as we seek new information together. Recently, my seventh grade students completed their annual research project on Mesoamerican civilizations, but this time they reported their newfound knowledge by designing their own web page. My eighth graders are reflecting on primary source documents and political images by leaving their comment as a thread of voices digitally recorded and showcased on our History website. Sixth graders at my school in Arcadia, CA are Skype-ing and collaborating with other sixth graders in San Diego, CA and Istanbul, Turkey on the topic of “Education for All”. In all these instances, children are given opportunities to take on the role of “information seeker” rather than the more traditional student role of “information recipient”.
Students are in the habit of connecting online, and more and more schools are giving them a safe place to do so. This has the potential to change the relationships they have with each other, with their teachers, and with the classroom content. Conversations with my students and observations note that homework turned in digitally gets done faster and with intention because the students have an authentic audience in their Learning Community of peers and teacher. In the end, my students are really enjoying the new opportunities I am providing, and I am sure your children are being exposed to some powerful learning tools as well.
The culture of a BLENDED CLASSROOM is quickly changing to one of shared control. Rather than the students expecting the teacher to be the fount of any and all knowledge, there is a growing sense of shared responsibility for the learning to take place. This is not to say that the teacher is ignorant on her subject or content area. Rather, she has such comfort with the core of her discipline that she is willing to allow the students to navigate the learning and coach the students in the right direction.
Where does this leave the child? To start, the child is seen as a vital and responsible part of the learning process. Collaboration is key to getting the most out of the digital resources available. After ideas are shared in the digital format at home and online, students come to the classroom where the conversation can continue. I’ve found that certain students who may be quieter in the classroom are more motivated to respond thoughtfully online. Then, they come to the classroom more confident in their thinking and sometimes more willing to share in class. In my experience, the digital communication connected to educational exchange tends to be more respectful, patient, and open, and I’ve seen the transference of those qualities to the classroom.
Individuals born after 1985 can all be identified as “Digital Natives: those who grow up immersed in digital technologies, for whom a life fully integrated with digital devices is the norm.” (1) It is our duty as educators and parents to prepare the children to succeed in this environment. Evaluation, analysis, and creativity are processing skills that are at the core of this movement. There is an increase in authentic critical thinking when the students are challenged to defend, choose, and articulate their thoughts in a more lasting forum using digital resources. The world of 2016 and beyond will be different from our world right now. Helping the students adjust and adapt to change prepares them in the most fundamental way.
As stated earlier, digital resources are here to stay. There is always the concern that perhaps this is all too much before the children are really ready for it. What about family time away from the computer? Is this safe? While these concerns are real and noted, they cannot detract from the rich opportunities that are being offered in this day and age. As a partnership, parents and teachers must work together to create the best balance possible. Additionally, students need to be held accountable for their time online. Is digital homework the culprit or perhaps other social networking? Close monitoring of these activities can provide answers. Hopefully, you feel empowered and informed enough to talk to your child’s teacher about expectations at home and about your child’s individual relationship with digital resources. In the end, there is no simple conclusion to reach except to say that the conversation must and will take place at some time. So why not take advantage of the here and now?
As we continue to reflect upon the balance of BLENDED LEARNING, let us not forget the bond between child and teacher. This relationship is sacred, meaningful, lasting and inspiring. It is why a teacher chooses to pursue a career in education, and it is why you have chosen your school for your family. It is our job to safeguard these connections each and every day and to strive to blend the best of all our worlds. Together, a balance can and will be achieved.