Welcome to Leading Blended Learning

"The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means to an education." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Friday, July 23, 2010

Change Agents

In a recent conversation with a parent whose children attend my school, the book "Tribes" by Seth Godin came up.  I picked up and have started reading through it. Its really a book about inspiring people to be innovative leaders in areas that are what Clay Christianson and Michael Horn have called disruptive innovations.  The basic premise is that we are all part of different tribes and that the internet has allowed those tribes to not be constrained by time or geography. But the kicker is not just being a member of a tribe, but rather gaining credibility and becoming a leader of those tribes so that you can move out of the muddle and be amazing.  The vignettes in the book speak of members of corporations and communities who have taken ideas and spread them and fertilized them and nurtured them into existence and allowed them to flourish. It is about influence, power, and innovation and that leadership is really about harnessing the tools to rally folks to an idea and then give those who follow the ability to flourish with freedom.  None of the ideas are really new ones or groundbreaking from other leadership texts I have been exposed to, but the tone and energy is definitely spirited and designed to enthuse and inspire. 

I mention this in this blog because I would like to have our push to build a blended learning environment inspire our staff and faculty to be leaders of a new tribe of teachers who are not constrained by budgetary constraints or bureacracy and are able to push out and expand the possibilities of individualizing instruction and learning for students.  As Michael Horne writes in his blogs at the Innosight Institute and how he highlighted in a recent open letter to Massachusetts Secretary of Education, setting up barriers to blocking the improvement of online learning and access and funding for students is a no win situation. It merely maintains a system that relies on the social contract tacitly agreed to by schools and parents that we will provide a safe orderly day care environment for your child so that you can go to work from 8-4 and if your lucky, we will educate your kids a little along the way.  The prevalent thinking is that they will get educated if they want to learn, if they work hard at it, and if they learn in the ways and pace that adults, who have different degrees of investment in the process, set. We also all agree that mastery of any content or skill level isn't really that important as long as the "grades" are good and my child doesn't get in any big trouble.  It extends to say that we would really like our child to go to a good university or college when they are old enough to no longer need the supervision schools provide.  This link to a blog posting from Innosight talks about the how the structure of school supports this social contract.

Now, that view highlights the more cynical parts of the institution of public schools in America, but if we are honestly examining ourselve, we realize that it isn't really that far off from reality.  Seth Godin's book would suggest that those who want to move away from this social contract schools have entered into and create a new one could be leaders of the Tribes.  The power of his book is that tribe leaders come from anywhere and can be at any level of an organization.  Who will be the leaders of these tribes?

Friday, July 9, 2010

Building Content

With money and funding being an issue, we have decided that building our own content is the most cost efficient way to implement online/blended learning.  I am beginning to wonder whether its really the best way to get teachers to use the technology. Our staff is becoming curriculum developers, technology developers, and the best at building content, but I am not sure that work is going to translate clearly into the classroom and using the technology because they will be tired and worn out.  Having content that you can adapt, adjust, and customize would be a better way than starting from scratch and having to build it up.  There are resources that are open source for some of it, but its tough to put together lessons that align with the state curriculum and make use of engaging, rigorous, high level work that kids can do both digitally and in the classroom.  The shift we are making is towards more personalized learning, but it is tough to build it from the bottom up.  Its become clear that the power of online learning is embedded in the quality production of good lessons, good units, and good work for students to do so they can demonstrate mastery.  Simply having a flash movie or a link to United Streaming or a good powerpoint with notes isn't enough. The kids have to work that requires demonstration of mastery.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Why would you blend f2f and online learning for your teachers?

Besides the obvious benefits of time management and giving teachers the professional courtesy to respect their ability to work on their own craft at their own pace, there are several more reasons to consider using a blended learning model for your staff.  At our school, we are working through the problems of establishing a blended learning environment for our students.  It is a challenge for our teachers, many of whom have never had an online course and who approach Web 2.0 applications with abject fear at worst and with impatient trepidation at best. They are working to build courses that provide multiple pathways to mastery learning through the use of diagnostic pre-tests, formative check point assessments, and performance tasks as culminating activities.  While learning how to use the technology tools available to them, they are also being forced to change the way they teach in their classroom. It is precisely because we are forcing them to change the way they teach that we must model the instructional model for them so that they can experience it as students.  If we teach teachers to use a learning management system and an online course to augment their instruction by showing them powerpoints in collaborative planning meetings and expecting them to make the leap in their own practice, then we are hypocritical at best and probably destroying the initiatives from the top down.  If we want teachers to change their practice, we must change the way they experience learning.  We must use a blended learning approach for teachers if we want a blended learning approach to work for our students.

Leading Blended Learning

As a middle school principal in suburban Atlanta, it has been exciting to be engaged in leading our school in a blended learning initiative that includes an online course blended with face to face instruction in every single academic classroom. We have learned so much in our first year about how to best integrate the Learning Management System, about the limitations we have in time and resources, and how frustrating it can be when not all your systems are integrated. I hope this blog will be a place to discuss what we learn, to hear from others with their experiences, and maybe even a place to push my own ideas out there. With iste wrapped up for the year and the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year right around the corner, there is so much to do.

Our school has chosen, both as a cost savings on the front end and to help us control the content, to build our own courses from scratch. We utilize ANGEL as our LMS and we have had to largely train ourselves on how to use the tools of ANGEL. It is not the best way to do to it, but I would rather be crawling forward than sitting still and we had to use what was available to us. Of course, I believe that if we had ready made content that teachers could integrate as different modules into their own courses, they would use it more often and more efficiently, but the dollars don't add up and therefore we have to create, find, and build all of our own courses.

It does serve as a model for other schools, though, on how to integrate 21st century tools without all the money, resources, hardware, and/or software that you want.