Blended Learning Taxonomy: Not Ready For Prime Time

Blended Learning Model from Clayton Christensen Institute http://www.christenseninstitute.org/

Blended Learning Model from Clayton Christensen Institute http://www.christenseninstitute.org/

Having just returned from iNACOL’s Blended and Online Learning Symposium, I am confused by the term “Blended Learning.” Not confused in my understanding, but I am confused how to explain this concept to executive administrators and boards of education.  The current definition as illustrated above is too confusing and not specific enough.  Right now the definition works for those studying the field, but it is too fuzzy to explain to executives and boards, whose heads are already spinning from the acronyms of state and local budgets, special education, and other reform movements.

For now my best avenue of explain this opportunity is to apply instructional design concepts to this issue:

  • Who is your audience and what are their needs?
  • What do you want them to learn?
  • How will you know when they learned it?
  • What learning strategies can be used to help the target audience learn?
  • What technologies can be used to support the learning?

I work in a graduate program where students learn in fully online settings and in “hybrid” settings, meaning that we meet with some cohorts in traditional settings for about 40% of the semester.  For the balance of the time we work with a learning management system, email, phone calls, text messages, and group video conferencing software.  Yet, the definition labels this hybrid setting “blended.”

Taxonomy is a challenging endeavor.  Michael Horn and his associates have an incredible body of work studying the effects of computer aided instruction and its impact on school settings.  While at the conference, presentations and conversations were about “blended programs;” the explainers described their setting with multiple sentences.

When we have to explain too much to executive administration and boards that’s a problem.  We should be able to explain our settings in 50 words or less.

Here are some suggestions for the taxonomy:

  • Define the online learning component with sharper terms.  Because the field is pushing competency (mastery) education, this definition should distinguish this as data-rich.  Students, teachers, and parents will have data to show progress.  My graduate program has data, but not at the level possible with “big data” from emerging systems.
  • Stop changing the terms.  The term “Self-blend  ” became “a la carte” earlier this year.  I will continue to call this model “supplemental” as it is descriptive and tells me that this supplements a traditional catalog of subjects and courses.  The “enriched virtual model” is a hybrid model, mixing traditional settings with digital learning outside school.
  • Most administrators have witnessed or taught in rotation models.  A traditional elementary classroom employs the rotation model daily without the computerized instruction.  The association is easy.  Make connections to traditional programs whenever possible.  It helps the understanding of risk-averse leaders.
  • Further decide whether we are using instructional models or learning models.  There is a difference.  Instructional models focus in what teachers do.  Learning models focus on what students do.  Notice the instructional design notes above.  For me it’s about learning not teaching.

The researchers will continue to refine the terminology and sharpen the descriptions.  Thanks to Michael Horn, Heather Staker and associates for their continued efforts to refine their descriptions.  Yet for me, the terminology is not ready for prime time.

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Technology Integration: Stuck in an Infinite Loop

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Recently, the advertisement above appeared in a national educational technology magazine.  I sent out a tweet, asking “Why would I want do this in my classroom?”  One response was, “You’re looking to create ICE in the classroom! Independence, Challenge, Engagement! Differentiated classroom with open objectives.”  I replied that I could do that with a book.

This is what “technology integration” looks like.  Doing the same activities with new objects.  Further why are we asking the student to convert digital content to analog content?  My guess is the student is completing a worksheet or “taking notes,” moving information from one place to another (Jamie McKenzie).

How did this hardware get there?  My standing hypothesis is that it’s not curriculum-related.  Some “influencer” attended a conference or other presentation, returned, and stated that “we have to do that.”  “Our students will be behind if we do not do that.” Peer pressure from other districts forced action.  The equipment was purchased, teachers were shown the switches, buttons and a few “apps.”  They were asked to brainstorm how to use the gear, asked to make a lesson, and sent back to their classrooms to “integrate the technology into their classrooms.”  There will be little results related to student learning.  There will be an assorted discussion about student “engagement” and “use of technology.”  Little or nothing about student performance and achievement.

The hardware and software are the fourth most important feature with classrooms and learning:

  1. What should students know and do?
  2. How will we know they understand and can do?
  3. What instructional strategies will we use?
  4. What hardware and software will we use to support the strategies, student learning, and student assessment?

Any framework for technology integration has levels of integration and districts attempt to move teacher practices to “higher levels.”

Starting with student learning and assessment, districts can determine their direction and their practices.  This will transform learning, by unleashing the promise of hardware and software.  Teachers are not left to figure it out themselves by “integrating technology.”

So until we get thoughtful leadership in our schools that quits talking about “technology as a tool” or “technology integration,” learning in school with hardware and software will be stuck in an infinite loop!

A Different View of Digital Citizenship

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Many digital citizenship programs focus on digital citizenship with students  with a list of “don’ts.”  The ideas below look at positive and proactive steps to consider citizenship issues with students.

In recent years, many blue ribbon committees have called for changes in schools to prepare children for their futures.  Globalization, competition, and new economies are dictating expectations to our schools.  The proliferation of new technologies allows students to communicate and collaborate with their peers.  While schools grapple with the implications of social networking, instant messaging, and cell phones, students need guidance from adults to use these power learning opportunities in appropriate ways.  In some cases schools need to intervene because students use technologies inappropriately.

Many professional societies, including the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), provide standards and goals for the implementation of technology in learning.  These standards include information literacy, collaboration, communication, and digital citizenship, among others.

This guide is to further focus on digital citizenship.

The standards for digital citizenship:

  • Manage a positive screen reputation and your personal safety
  • Protect the privacy of others
  • Value your relationships with others
  • Respect the ownership of intellectual property
  • Protect the technology you use at school and the library

Manage a positive screen reputation and your personal safety

Entries on social networking web sites, in microblogging networks, and in digital video collections are virtually permanent records of students’ lives.  A mistaken entry made as a teenage could negatively affect college acceptance, employment opportunities, or even future friendships.  It is essential that students manage their traditional reputations as well as their screen reputations.

Having multiple identities on the Internet may be unwarranted and confusing.  As students develop digital proficiencies, maturity and independence, their screen activities are likely to increase.  Part of managing a screen reputation is with a single identity (screen name).  This screen name can manage educational achievements and personal connections.

With a single screen identity, students should closely manage what they add to Internet sites as well as routinely checking search engines for their names to determine what is posted by others about them.

Meanwhile, students should manage their digital safety as strongly as they manage their personal safety each day.  Post only information that will not reveal home addresses, telephone numbers, date of birth, parents’ names, siblings’ names, and other information that could make a student a target.  This also means that students should never post provocative pictures of themselves, send such pictures through texting, or other means of sharing.

Protect the Privacy of Others

With digital technologies, students can easily share information and photos on social networking sites, phone texting, and peer-to-peer sharing.  While this possible, students should think whether this should be done.  Like personal information, never share another individual’s personal information without permission.  With photos, it’s best not to share them without permission of those in the group.  Certainly, it is not appropriate to share a photograph of others that may be embarrassing or put them into a position to explain their actions to others.  When unsure, ask for permission to share.

Value Your Relationships With Others

Forwarding embarrassing photographs, text messages, or email communication damages relationships is easy with digital technologies.  Resist the urge to share any information that might damage friendships or family relationships, or hurt others.  Common sense should tell students not to share anything about others without permission.

Respect the Ownership of Intellectual Property

Across the world, prosperity is gauged by ownership whether it be homes, office buildings, money, herds of animals, or publication of ideas.  Attitudes and laws have been developed about ownership of ideas expressed through writing, art, and music.  In learning environments, scholars give credit to other scholars through citations and attribution.  When ideas are quoted directly or paraphrased, the original scholar is given credit.  Additionally, scholars, artists, and musicians earn their incomes on selling their work.  Respect that work by purchasing legal copies.  Do not share your copy with others as it deprives the creator from payment.

Protect the Technology You Use at School and the Library

Your community has provided you with many places to learn and for recreation.  You have schools, libraries, and parks.  Leave these places in better shape than you find them.  At schools and libraries use the resources

with great care.  Computers, printers, and networks are expensive to install and maintain.  Share your computer time with others who are waiting.  Print only what you really need.  Maintain your personal storage devices, such as usb drives, so they are virus free.  Refrain from installing viruses or key loggers on computers.  In many states, computer hacking and other digital intrusions are serious crimes.

Regardless of a school’s view of technology applications, viewing citizenship activities as positive measures provides forward-thinking ways to apply important standards for students.

Where’s the Education Leadership on Technology in Schools?

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In 1988, Congress’ Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) reported the “most promising current uses  and demonstrations” (pp.12-13) for computers:

  • Drill and practice to master basic skills.
  • Development of writing skills.
  • Problem solving
  • Understanding abstract mathematics and science concepts.
  • Simulation in science, mathematics and social studies.
  • Manipulation of data.
  • Acquisition of computer skills for general purposes, and for business and vocational training.
  • Access and communication traditionally unserved populations of students
  • Access and communications for teachers and students in remote locations
  • Individualized learning
  • Cooperative Learning
  • Management of classroom activities and record keeping (pp. 12-14)

Looking at the list, the last — Record keeping:  student information systems, payroll systems, business functions, human resources systems, and the like have been implemented in many schools.  We have implemented technology to handle the mundane.  The other applications have spotty implementation and without significant transformation.

In Technopoly, technology and cultural critic Neil Postman states that

“[T]he main characteristic of all tool-using cultures is that their  tools were largely invented to do two things:  To solve specific and urgent problems of physical life, such as water power, wind mills, and the heavy wheeled plow; or to serve the symbolic world of art politics, ritual, and religion, as the construction of castles and cathedrals. . .” (p. 23).

Considering this view with schools, school leaders are largely tool thinkers:  “Technology is a tool.”  So the focus becomes those  issues not directly related to teaching learning:  mundane management things (recording keeping, paying bills).  Yes, states are requiring data and so school leaders respond to the “urgent” demands of regulators.

Further some school leaders contend that their teachers “integrate” technology.  This is not much beyond the tool user.  Hardware and software are purchased independently of their curricular design and use.  Teachers are herded into a room shown the new gizmo and told to “integrate” it into their curriculum.   This is a recipe for failure.  Teachers have no direction, support, or encouragement to succeed.  It’s up to them to find ways to use stuff with their kids.  Just another thing to do.

School transformation occurs when school leaders insist that hardware and software are part of the curricular design and focuses on learning.  It’s time school leaders realize the potential and implement it in their classrooms.  Otherwise the other ideas that OTA identified in 1988 will continue to be on somebody’s list of promising practices.

Successful Online Courses

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The SLATE Conference is October 11-12, 2012 at the Northern Illinois University campus in Naperville, Illinois.  The conference brings together conferees who are interested in non-traditional forms of learning, especially in electronically supplementing traditional courses or implementing online courses.

My presentation is about factors for successful online courses.  They include:

  • issues of curriculum, instruction, and technology
  • the target audience
  • research about successful online students
  • multicontent tracks in courses
  • quality components
  • promising practices

The slide deck is below.

 

Innovation and Democracy

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Is innovation a democratic process?

Innovate:  to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. (reference)

In Disrupting Class, author Clayton Christen informs school boards that introducing digital learning into schools may be hampered by purposeful democratic processes that are part of schools’ cultures.  Cooperative tools like “financial incentives, negotiations, vision statements, training, performance metrics, and even litigation . . . don’t work most of the time. . . . [L]eaders often waste their credibility, energy, and resources when implementing change.  The efficacy of any tools in eliciting the cooperation needed to march in a new direction depends in two variables:  the extent to which the concerned parties agree on what they want, and the extent of their agreement on how to get it.  We have concluded from examining school through this lens that democracy itself — as practiced in most school boards — is a fundamental barrier that will block implementation of many of the changes [needed for successful digital learning] unless leaders deal with it correctly (p. 227).

Reflect on this question:  When was the last time  innovative emerged from a school committee?  I am referencing issues that really improved (changed) learning for kids?  Never seen it happen in a curriculum committee and certainly never in a “technology committee.”  Legislative mandates force certain changes upon schools.  Innovation in schools does not happen from within the established system.

Real innovation occurs with through a visionary leader who gathers like minded supporters that are committed to helping the vision become reality.  Look at the picture at the top of this posting.  Was the light bulb developed by a committee?

Many of us can name innovators  of goods and services from the past two decades.  Can you name a educational leader who really changed learning in schools in the past two decades?   Not one.  Most are historic figures from the early 20th century.  (Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have not innovated education.  They provided “tools” that allow teachers to do the same things electronically.  The delivery, the context, and the result are from the early 20th Century.)

As schools consider new ways to bring digital learning opportunities to their students, they need strong leadership and perhaps undemocratic methods to make this a reality.  Otherwise are kids will remain early 20th Century learners.

Good Advice for School Technology Leaders

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In the May 21 issue of Forbes, the article “Thrifty Does It,” describes how Christian Gheorghe Hates started a billion dollar company with a shoestring budget.  School leaders tell their communities that they must do more with less.

Hates’ strategies show how he cut costs nearly 90% while he was able to deliver quality technical services.  Here’s what he did:

  • Replaced server purchases with leased server space in the cloud.
  • Replaced licensed email products with Gmail.
  • Replaced productivity software with google docs.
  • Replaced database software with databases purchased in the cloud.
  • Replaced telco services with VOIP services for phones.
  • Replaced internal file sharing hardware with box.com.
  • Replaced system testing software with open source.

While school technology departments may not be considering using alternative services and may be against specific brand names that Hates uses, he is successful at dumping expensive licensing and using free or inexpensive services to run the technical services of his company.  There’s a lesson here for school technology leaders.