I have begun writing my book on blended learning after months of outlining chapters, organizing my resources and researching the various topics I want to cover. My success adopting an online learning platform has inspired me to write a user-friendly manual for secondary teachers interested in adopting a blended learning model.
I plan to post sections of my book to my blog to share. It is a work in progress, so some sections will be rough or incomplete, but I welcome any and all insights, feedback, and suggestions.
I wish I could say my decision to adopt a blended learning model came from a desire to be innovative and progressive. To be honest, it came from a place of desperation. I felt like I was drowning in work.
Larger class sizes, overwhelming stacks of grading and more pressure from administration to prepare students for “high stakes” standardized exams were the true catalyst behind my decision to embrace a blended learning model.
I was hesitant- even skeptical- at first. I worried about student access to technology, time spent facilitating an online discussion forum, and the need to create a safe space to support respectful dialogue.
I had 8 years experience teaching English in the classroom and 3 years experience teaching online writing courses. My goal was to blend the best of both worlds- the face-to-face interaction of the classroom with the flexibility of an online learning platform- to enhance my effectiveness and combat the growing number of pain points associated with the teaching profession.
My opportunity arrived in a request from a friend to try the BETA version of an online tool – Collaborize Classroom – that he had developed to allow businesses and non-profits to communicate more effectively to reach clear results.
I loved the idea of getting my students to talk since discussions in class always fell flat. Despite my passionate belief that discussions make learning richer, more engaging and meaningful for students, I could not successfully facilitate discussions in my classroom. The same four or five students dominated discussions, while the rest of the class sunk low in their chairs avoiding eye contact. I would present multiple questions to draw them in and provide “wait time” to give students an opportunity to process the questions. No luck.
My Masters in Education had focused on the very subject of creating a safe space to lower students’ affective filters to achieve meaningful discussions. I knew I had to take the strategies I used to build this safe space in my classroom and apply them to our online forum. I wanted students to realize that this was an extension of our safe, supportive classroom.
As I began acclimating my students to our Collaborize Classroom discussion site, I was amazed by the initial results. My quietest students were the first to post replies to questions. I was astonished! These quiet students obviously wanted a voice and their immediate participation thrilled me.
When the online discussions began to transform our in-class interactions, I was sold. I realized that our online discussions were giving students equity of voice and time to think about and respond to questions. Students began using each other’s names more often in class, referencing conversations that took place online, and the overall participation in class skyrocketed. A new sense of community blossomed in the classroom.
Over the last two years, I have grown as a facilitator and begun to explore the limitless potential of my structured online discussions. I evolved from asking analytical questions to using my forum to support icebreakers, creative writing, peer editing, student driven projects, literature circles and test preparation practice.
My online forum has allowed me to transcend the boundaries of my physical classroom to successfully engage students in the learning process using a medium that is both familiar and comfortable for them.
As I had hoped initially, adopting a blended learning model of instruction lightened my grading load and saved me countless hours of work. I am not longer the sole source of information and knowledge; instead students recognize each other as valuable resources.
I have developed strategies for weaving our online discussions back into the classroom to build on ideas shared, clarify questions asked, and examine the results and outcomes. My weaving strategies have also made it clear to students that our online conversations are an integral part of our classroom culture.
My hope is that this book will support hesitant secondary teachers in successfully adopting a blended learning model, and encourage them to do so. I believe this approach can make them more effective, efficient and innovative. I want to share my successes and struggles with other teachers to make this transition smoother for them and to offer insights I have learned during my own blended learning journey.