A Model for Blended Learning
A Model for Blended Learning
I visited Emily Garrison and Chris Bell in Palo Alto in May to learn more about an exceptional program teachers have developed in their school district, and was so impressed that I asked for a write-up I could share with others.
Here is Emily’s description. Enjoy!
After attending an iNACOL conference in 2008, Palo Alto Unified (PAUSD) history teacher Brian Tuomy was inspired to think about his instruction differently. That school year he was given permission by the principal to try a new teaching modality, blended learning, and he began to experiment right away. In this first prototype, his students attended one class per week that started in the afternoon and went until early evening. Students then completed all other course work on their own time through the district Learning Management System (LMS). This pilot proved successful with students enjoying the flexibility this course gave them, and the teacher enjoying the individualized feedback and support he could provide digitally.
Since that first course, the PAUSD Blended Learning program has grown in scope and size. As of spring 2018 over 80 PAUSD teachers have completed the comprehensive district-created blended learning training course, and about 25% of all high school students in the district were enrolled in at least one blended course. This teacher-led initiative has evolved into a unique definition of blended learning. From the start, PAUSD blended learning has always put an emphasis on the importance of teachers in this modality. As content experts, teachers produce, curate, and design their digital content and the experiences students have in their classes, as opposed to purchased curriculum used by many other blended learning models across the country that can limit teacher creativity. Using an LMS has been an essential part of the PAUSD blended program because it has provided the digital structure for these courses that teachers then manipulate to meet the needs of students.
What do these classes look like? On the surface, they look very much like what you would see in any other classroom. Students and teachers meet in a classroom to work and learn. However, once you explore the digital “back end” of PAUSD blended learning courses, you will see organized and functional digital classrooms. Teachers post assignments that students submit and are then graded digitally. Digital discussion boards provide every student in class with a voice. Teachers create content and folders of resources to support student learning. Digital tests are used, with complex questions, not just multiple choice or true-false questions. Student electronic portfolios show growth over time. Finally, there is open communication with students and families through digital updates and messages. Students are released from class one period per week to complete digital assignments and work at their own pace, but teachers continue to be available in class to support as needed. None of these elements is revolutionary, but when good digital classrooms are combined with the best of face-to-face instruction, high curricular standards, and flexibility regarding time, the result is true 21st-century pedagogy.
The outcomes of the blended program in PAUSD have been overwhelmingly positive. Teachers who move to the blended modality feel they could not return to the way they taught in the past. Students appreciate the ability to have more control over their learning and schedule. The PAUSD model of blended learning simply leverages technology as a tool to allow for more flexibility in time and space for learning and communication. While this is a big shift in pedagogy for many teachers, this model feels like an important step forward for modern education. Any school with access to devices and even minimal LMS tools like Google Classroom can use these ideas and build blended environments for students – the best of both digital and face-to-face learning experiences.
Anonymous PAUSD Student quotes from annual Blended Course Surveys:
“The blended course offers a really great way to learn. We get the traditional classroom experience, but we also get the flexibility of time each week to do what is best for us. This allows us to stay on task for work but also to better take care of ourselves.”
“I think it has made me a more responsible student. It has also made me more attentive during class periods, and more willing to see my teacher one-on-one.”
“It has made me more independent— I’ve learned to be proactive without being asked.”
“I look forward to it when these classes meet and I think blended classes encourage teachers to put more thought into effective uses for class-time.”
“I think more and more classes should become blended, I love this style of learning.”
Educational Technology and Libraries Coordinator
Palo Alto Unified School District