Blended learning: Coming soon to public schools near you

Blended learning: Coming soon to public schools near you

  |   Advocacy, Editorial Features, Education

By teaching kids in the language they – and their young teachers – increasingly speak, better learning outcomes are on the horizon. School systems should get ahead of the trend.   

 

Today’s generation of kids – digital natives – have grown up with social media and broadband Internet. It’s been an integral part of their lives.

 

Unfortunately, administrators and teachers have been slow to learn this new digital language. But, we’re nearing the point that Marc Prensky predicted in his 2001 manifesto: In the long run, the digital natives will win.

 

Why? Well, our experience at Green Street Academy is one indication. More than half of our teachers are in their 20s and early 30s – i.e., digital natives themselves.

 

We posit that as the percentage of teachers who are themselves digital natives increases – eventually, to 100% – they will increasingly demand blended learning in the classroom.

 

Whether school systems want to admit it or not, the Internet has changed education forever. First, broadband access has expanded in our urban centers to the point that Internet service isn’t a barrier anymore.

 

Second, not only has the Internet changed the way students learn (and teachers teach), but it has forever disrupted the education ecosystem: The Internet has commoditized content.

 

What used to be the purview of textbook companies, today belongs to everyone. From Khan Academy to Twitter, students can find the information they need with the swipe of a finger.

 

This, of course, doesn’t negate the need for instruction. Content is widely available, but how do we deliver it in a way that fosters true learning?

 

The answer is curriculum. Curriculum is the connective tissue of the classroom. Curriculum ties content together, weaving facts and figures into lessons, and series of lessons into understanding and lifelong learning.

 

We’ll put it this way: If you were starting a school from scratch today, would you ever buy an Algebra textbook?  Of course not. Everything you need to teach Algebra is in the public domain. But, you would still need a plan on how to properly sequence, build on and integrate those Khan Academy videos in a way that results in students learning discreet skills.

 

This commoditization of content and new focus on curriculum is a radical change in education – the kind of change that has textbook companies pretty worried, and for-profit online companies capturing market share in K-12 education.

 

Our advice to school systems: get ahead of the trend. Start your own virtual academies. Give teachers and students blended learning options. Embrace virtual learning before for-profit online charter schools, already adept at educating today’s students in their native digital language, begin to compete for your students in Maryland as they are across the United States.

 

Consider subjects that could be taught more economically district-wide, subjects long-ago eliminated in many public schools: foreign language,  advanced math and science, specialized instruction for kids who are behind.

 

Imagine hiring teaches to teach these subjects, synchronously, to students across the district. Imagine taking one of those empty school buildings in Baltimore, filling it with teachers and technology, and using it to give every student more options virtually overnight.

 

Consider an advanced high school student. Imagine, instead of going to a 2nd period class at her own high school, she logs in to a Mandarin class being taught by a teacher broadcasting from another building.

 

With even the most basic current technology, she can raise her hand to ask a question, get feedback from her classmates, and share her screen as she translates a sentence.

 

Consider a high school student who’s behind grade level in math. Every day, he can go to the computer lab and have a virtual tutoring session with a math expert housed in another building, with two other students who need the same instruction. Logged into a virtual white board, the students and teacher can solve a math problem together.

 

Most importantly, a virtual academy is run by the school system, not by an outside provider. It would mean more Baltimore City Public Schools teachers to teach subjects virtually, better investment in technology for individual schools, and most importantly – the student, and dollars, stay with the school system.

 

It’s a win-win-win. But only if Baltimore City schools get ahead of the trend.