In March of 2020, the pandemic was in full force. At the time, EC&I 832 (my first educational technology class) was wrapping up and I had just completed a research project on YouTube that focused on its educational value. I remember this feeling of dread washing over me when I tried to conceptualize what the pandemic meant for the remainder of the school year. However, with every dark cloud there is a silver lining. The prospect of using the knowledge acquired over the past few months lingered and gave me some hope. As nervous as I was, I had a few things going for me:
- I had a YouTube channel set up with some of my students already following.
- I had created a unit on Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy and had already taught my students the basics about these concepts, making interacting online with them a safe and productive place.
- I had learned how to use a camera, tripod, and iMovie to edit my videos. This way, I could create some instructional videos for my students.
This sounds pretty solid, but full transparency, I had NO idea what I was doing. Connecting with students and engaging them in a virtual environment was incredibly challenging for a myriad of reasons. Lack of Internet bandwidth, devices, time, and struggles with mental/physical health, to name a few.
As emergency remote learning continued on, I was beginning to see that this is not what online/blended learning is… I really felt like I was making it up as I went, even though I was trying my absolute best to be intentional and thoughtful with my planning.
What I Thought Blended Learning Was…
Prior to Covid and couple of educational technology classes, I had never heard the term before. From my very surface-level understanding, I figured that blended learning was simply a combination of online learning and face-to-face or in person learning. However, after this week’s class I am beginning to see that defining blended learning is not nearly as simple as I thought. This was highlighted in my breakout room meeting with Jeff and Lindsey. Here is what we came up with:
I would say all three of us had somewhat of a similar understanding, but different aspects of blended learning stood out for each of us. Jeff had mentioned that blended learning can be more student-centred/inquiry oriented, while also offering more flexibility. In my initial understanding, these qualities did not stand out for me, but once Jeff mentioned them, I had an “ah-ha” moment!
After we dug a little deeper from class discussions and looking at a few other examples and definitions of blended learning, this is how our original understanding evolved:
Again, I would say the general idea remains the same. However, the collaboration piece surprised me. Although I did not mention this in my previous definition, I always thought of blended learning as somewhat of an isolating experience and lacking in collaboration. When done effectively, I am beginning to see that blended learning can be a collaborative experience. This goes back to our very first day of class and Katia casually mentioned the importance of community in online/virtual settings. The more I sat with the idea, the more I realized that I’ve actually collaborated more with my colleagues throughout my master’s online than I have in person. That being said, this is largely due to Covid, but the fact still remains that I have met some incredible colleagues through my virtual courses and we still keep in touch. The funny thing is, I haven’t actually met these colleagues in person. Needles to say, I’ve been very fortunate to have worked alongside individuals who cultivate an environment that allowed this to happen.
So I suppose it is fair to say, I really don’t know how to exactly define blending learning and it appears others are feeling the same as well.
What Blended Learning Is…Sort Of…
I think that blended learning is dependent upon a school’s situation (e.g.: student/community needs, access, location, etc.). According to Julie Randles’ article, “Four Tips to Make Blended Learning a Success”, blended learning is defined as, “The deliberate connection of edtech with face-to-face instruction to enhance and personalize a deep and meaningful curriculum.” However, it is also noted that how blended learning is carried out looks different depending on circumstances. Although there is variation in how blended learning occurs, the article highlights four pieces of advice to make blended learning successful:
- Start with a vision: Make a plan and don’t worry so much about devices. Try working with what you have.
- Don’t go it alone: Any blended learning initiative must include the voices of teachers, coaches, curriculum and instruction staff, community, families, students, etc.
- Create a to-do list: Moving to blended learning doesn’t happen over night. Communication with the curriculum and instruction staff and creating professional development opportunities is key.
- Schedule a launch event: Explain how blended learning can enhance student opportunities and stick with consistent terminology that supports the vision created for blended learning.
Again, this proves my initial vision of blended learning being an independent or even isolating way to learn was not accurate. All four of the tips noted above involve, “deliberate connection” as described in the article. Not only in the learning process, but also in the teaching process.
Developing a definition for blended learning is messy and varies in different contexts. However, what has remained consistent for me is the need for deliberate connection, meaningful curriculum, and a combination of face-to-face and online learning.
Technology Integration & Blended Learning: Opportunities and Challenges
When I think of technology integration, my mind immediately goes to the SAMR Model. Initially when I learned about this model, I felt as though the modification and redefinition stages are where teachers should aspire to be… I suppose you could say I was thinking of it as a ladder to climb in order to reach the highest level of technology integration. However, in Youki Terada’s article, “A Powerful Model for Understanding Good Tech Integration”, it is explained that certain levels of this model cater to certain kinds of tasks. The ultimate goal is not to climb your way to the redefinition stage. The SAMR Model is intended to lay out four tiers of online learning and the teacher chooses appropriate tools and strategies to meet the learning objective. Perhaps my two biggest challenges when it comes to technology integration is the lack of one-to-one technology in schools and professional development regarding different tools to engage students. During remote learning, I was feeling like I was stuck in a rut, as I kept using the same tools over and over. It would be helpful to have some guidance on how teachers can mix it up!
To be honest, I don’t have much experience teaching in a blended learning environment. However, drawing from experiences with remote learning (which is not the same as blended learning, but bear with me) I experienced many challenges. However, I did also see the potential of a blended learning structure when given more time to plan intentionally. On Wednesday, Jeff, Lindsey, and I continued to hash out some ideas…
In terms of benefits, I appreciate that blended learning lends itself more to a student-centred/inquiry-based approach. I believe that this makes learning, not only more engaging for students, but easier for teachers to differentiate. I’ve taught students in the past that are uncomfortable when other kids know they require adaptations. In the classroom, it is somewhat difficult to hide. In a blended learning environment, it can happen in a seamless, discreet manner. In Breakout Activity # 2, Jeff had pointed out that students have the opportunity to take risks and develop some of the digital competencies that could serve students well in the future. In addition, technology can be motivating for students. Anytime my students get to use the Chromebooks, they tend to be more engaged. If blended learning is done effectively, learning opportunities offer active engagement rather than passive. However, this point here leads me to where some challenges may arise.
Randles points out that going blended is a process and there are steps involved. In order to go the blended learning route, you need to have time, funds, and support (e.g.: school division, families, students, communities). These aspects of blended learning can highlight the digital divide and cause issues of equity. Furthermore, not only do teachers need to make major adjustments, so do students. This shift may not happen as smoothly for some students as it may for others. Blended learning certainly poses some challenges, but in the right conditions it can be an enriching experience.
HyFlex Learning: The Good, The Bad, The Trend?
Initially, when I started this post, I was planning on sticking strictly to the first blog prompt. Once I got started, I couldn’t help myself and just had to weigh in on HyFlex learning as well.
This was a new one for me! I love a good graphic, so I appreciated it when Katia shared the image defining HyFlex Learning. From what I can see, it truly takes learning to a new level of flexibility. Students have the choice of how they learn (online, classroom, or both), which helps students avoid scheduling conflicts and learn in a way that resonates with their learning style. While I was perusing Beatty’s work, I was drawn to the chapter titled, “One Size Fits None.” Since students have options in how they engage in a course, I think this type of online learning is quite empowering and very student-centred. In addition, this chapter noted that more students are able to be served by using this model. Amidst the pandemic, I also think that students may simply feel safer learning at home certain times, rather than being forced to attend class.
I also stumbled upon another article that outlined the qualities, benefits, and challenges presented by HyFlex learning. Educause’s article titled, “7 Things You Should Know About The HyFlex Course Model”, explained that this model can be quite difficult to do well. Like blended learning, it takes a significant amount of organization and planning, plus the technology must work for everyone. In addition, it could potentially create issues of equity if one mode of learning is working better than another. When I tweeted about this model, I received some interesting feedback. Check out the Twitter feed below!
Of course, as an elementary school teacher, I do not see this model being successful with younger students. Although, with proper guidance and parent support, you never know what can happen! I see this model becoming less of a trend, as I believe it is slowly becoming more common. Many universities and colleges have started going this route because it is an appealing way to learn for adults who live in remote areas, have families, or other barriers that may prevent them from attending in-person classes. I am also finding that even if a classroom isn’t purely the HyFlex model, there are variations that seem to be moving in that direction. Patricia mentioned that she teaches in a hybrid classroom and has been doing so for the past three years! This leads me to believe that slowly, but surely, we will be seeing more HyFlex learning models popping up!
As you can see, I have a lot of ideas swirling around and I am curious about your opinions on blended and HyFlex learning…
- What three qualities do you think define blended learning for you?
- Do you see HyFlex learning being successful with elementary age students? Have you seen it done before?
- What has your experience been with remote, blended, HyFlex, or flipped learning? What was biggest “take away” from the experience?
- If you’ve heard of the SAMR Model, how have you used this to guide your technology integration?
Thanks for bearing with me and taking a read!
Until next time,