Technology can make a positive difference for students at risk of failing and dropping out by personalizing instruction and making it more engaging. With the right balance of classroom instruction and technology-based instruction, any educator—including those who consider themselves less technologically savvy—can blend learning.
Blended learning is a thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experience with online learning experience. Morten Fahlvik, education researcher at itslearning in Bergen, Norway, says blended learning, combined with project-based learning, allows students to demonstrate acquired skills and knowledge through technology, which aligns with Australian education researcher John Hattie’s doctrine of making learning visible.
Students in blended-learning models contribute to their own learning, and teachers receive the analytic data to measure their impact on student achievement. To make this happen, Fahlvik stresses we must put learning first. “Technology works only when it’s connected to a desired learning outcome,” Fahlvik said, “Have a clear understanding of the impact of technology in your class. If you don’t have an answer to it, leave the technology out.”
Increase Student Engagement
Chip McDonald, middle school math teacher at Novi Middle School and a certified Google Educator, believes students learn through engaging content. “They will love using technology, as long as the content is fresh and you’re not repeating yourself,” McDonald said. “The biggest thing I see since I started to blend learning is that students want to come to my class, and their engagement level is through the roof,” McDonald said, adding that student engagement is integral to form a constructive student climate. “There’s a difference between seeing students listen to me lecture and seeing them learn,” McDonald said, “When lecturing, they’re not paying attention and you don’t even know that. Getting up and moving around also increases engagement. It’s an eye test for me.”
Give Students Autonomy through Project-Based Learning Models
Project-based learning solicits students’ contribution to their own learning. Working with peers on a project, students gain autonomy of their work. In addition, teachers get to know students at a personal level through the ways they choose to present themselves when demonstrating their learning to other peer groups.
During this process, education researcher Morten Fahlvik advises, give the technology to the students. “Some teachers think they should be the sole content producers,” Fahlvik said, “Instead, let the students be the producers. Let them demonstrate and visualize their progress.”
Fahlvik also recommended educators create a safe and private online space to showcase students’ works. “Uploading several versions of work to a learning platform will allow students to see how their products develop over time,” Fahlvik said, “and promote one another to give feedback in the process.”
Measure Thy Impact
As a teacher, McDonald believes the main advantage of technology is its ability to give expedited feedback for students. However, he also believes technology should impact all three groups: students, teachers and parents.
“Technology isn’t just a placeholder. It needs to increase students’ learning and engagement, and measure them,” McDonald said, “The data analytics tools I use, like Google forms, grade automatically and email results instantly.”
McDonald also sees room for parents to connect with their children’s education process. “Parents must be drawn into education process. Apps, emails and even texts expose them to students’ work,” McDonald said, adding that most of his students’ parents use smartphones to access students’ academic data.
To analyze his impact, McDonald uses an inversed instruction model where he asks his classes for feedback using online surveys. “I have an open line of communication with students where they feel comfortable enough to tell me exactly what they like and don’t like about the class, and I make adjustments,” McDonald said, “I solicit feedback because I want to make this a great learning experience for both me and my students.”
Seek Resources Tailored to Your Needs
Search on Google resources in your content area, and you will get a handful of them tailored to your needs. Fahlvik and McDonald suggested Kahoot and Flubaroo as two of the popular apps in classrooms.
You can also seek resources at your school. Kali Root, technology integration specialist for East Lansing Public Schools, assists teachers with technology needs, such as creating interactive classrooms using file share products like Microsoft OneDrive.
Root said the most rewarding part of her job was helping a teacher who wasn’t technology savvy design a tool. “One time I helped a teacher who was about to retire design a newspaper template for his students,” Root said.
Educators and students in high-poverty schools often lack adequate access to technology. Fortunately, blended learning can happen even with only one computer in the classroom as long as it supports learning. Educators in high-poverty settings often find a way to implement blended learning, using creative apps that address their needs.