Leadership and (Blended) Learning Department

On March 28th, the team was invited to present on Blended Learning — what it is, and how it looks within the learning spaces in HWDSB — to the members of the Leadership and Learning Department. The term Blended Learning is not an Ontario Ministry term, although referencing documentation released from the Ministry on their Blended Learning website might tend to infer the connection. According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, Blended learning is defined as the use of “the tools of the provincial learning management system (LMS) to teach and support learning in a face-to-face class.”

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning defines blended learning in more broad terms, claiming that “blended learning, combining the best elements of online and face-to-face education, is likely to emerge as the predominant teaching model of the future.”

Our department would tend to adhere to the second definition, affording learners within HWDSB with choice, freedom, and opportunity to explore any number of different online learning tools to “blend” the learning in the classroom. To push the thinking further, from our vantage point integrating digital tools and resources into the instructional practice occurring within our learning spaces does not require a separate definition. Allowing students asynchronous access to learning spaces and learning materials within this anyplace/anytime world of access, where life-long learning happens when curiousity strikes, as readily as it occurs in the classroom, is just good teaching. If I know that not all of my students are comfortable contributing in whole class discussions, and that some might prefer to allow the learning to percolate, and be shared within an online discussion space accessible later that evening, I have an obligation to differentiate for those students who don’t tend to raise their hands and dominate the discussion, but still have worthwhile ideas to contribute and share with the other learners within that class.

Our hope for the event was to ensure that the learners were immersed in an environment similar to the ones we would see out within the classrooms. With that in mind, we were cognizant that a 1:1 “student” to device ratio was not a reasonable expectation. We made attempts to “instrument the classroom” in ways that would be attainable: a few netbooks, a couple of ipads, an ipod touch, and the invitation to share these devices to collect the thinking going on at each table, and each breakout, in collaborative ways. There were 4 different sessions we held, in attempts to ensure we weren’t delivering a “sit and get”, and that the learners were immersed in the learning, using the Ministry platform, but also leveraging the HWDSB Commons, Google Apps, Adobe Connect, and apps like Screenchomp and Audioboo for recording whiteboarding and voice recording.

Learning Goals:
We will understand the importance of embedding rich learning tasks that are relevant, engaging, connected to the real-world.
We will understand how digital-age learning conditions and rich learning tasks differentiate for the strengths, needs, and learning preferences of the students that we support.

Success Criteria:

  • I can understand how digital tools make student thinking visible in a variety of ways
  • I can understand how digital tools and blended learning increase sustained reflection and metacognition (eg. screencasting, blogging)
  • I can understand how digital tools and resources allow for asynchronous participation anytime and anywhere, any place (beyond bricks and mortar of school)
  • I can understand how digital tools and resources increase collaboration and co-learning
  • I can understand how digital tools allow students to differentiate how they communicate their ideas
  • I can understand how digital tools and resources provide descriptive feedback in a timely and collective manner
  • I can understand how digital resources allow opportunities for parent engagement in their child’s learning

The feedback from the event was positive, and hopefully introduced new ways of thinking about how our classrooms can operate to meet the needs of ALL learners. The title of this blog is Learning, because we don’t feel we need to make explicit the blended part, that occurs everyday within the world, and should be happening every day within our classrooms. Giving it a different name makes it sound like something different and new. Once upon a time, when you didn’t know something (like the name of an actor, or the next time your favorite band was performing), you would ask a few people, then shrug and wait for the information to hopefully appear in newspapers or on the television. There is no longer a need to wait for the information that we want and need to learn about to be delivered to us. We have the ability to immediately find the answer on small devices we carry in our pockets. We are life-long learners constantly receiving information face-to-face and through digital tools and resources.

Our lives are blended. We are learning.

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