Blended Learning in K-12/Blended Learning in Grades 9-12
Today's high school student often has the maturity and technical expertise necessary to participate in e-learning experiences. However, students of this age frequently require the support of a teacher in a classroom. Blended learning combines the best of both worlds for high school students: the fluidity of using Internet resources and the reassurance of face-to-face experiences. It extends learning beyond the classroom, and expands the breadth of courses offerings, while providing the personal support and encouragement from a teacher still necessary for many students. The following paragraphs describe the effectiveness of blended learning, how to successfully achieve blended learning in a high school environment, and provide specific examples for teachers.
Research on Effectiveness of Blended Learning
High school students are often motivated by online learning, and often have the maturity and self-discipline to work independently and succeed in online coursework. "Evidence overwhelmingly shows that ALN [Asynchronous Learning Networks] are at least as effective as classroom learning" (Hilz et al., 2004). Much of the evidence of online learning success, however, relates to college and graduate level students who demonstrate a better completion rate than younger learners. Some high schools have found that providing hybrid courses, or blended learning experiences that provide more face-to-face support to students have better completion rates. One example is the Mannheim Township Virtual High School in Pennsylvania. While receiving many accolades for their success with individual students participating in their online learning courses, the dropout rate hovered around 25%. The program was uniquely revamped to address this issue. The solution was a hybrid online and traditional course model that has resulted in a 99% completion rate (Oblender, 2002).
The weaknesses of online courses are addressed by hybrid, or blended learning courses. Blended learning provides more structured time for student work while still allowing students the opportunity to proceed at their own pace. Teachers are available to monitor progress and provide encouragement and support to students who may lag behind. Blended learning courses provide physical resources that are not available in courses that are presented completely online, including language, technology and science labs (Oblender, 2002).
Blended learning also provides many benefits not available in traditional classrooms. The need for textbooks is diminished. Material presented is timely and relevant, and student progress is self-paced. The students' learning environment is extended to organizations, people and facilities not available in the classroom. Students who participate in blended learning gain advanced technological competencies (Oblender, 2002).
Distinct advantages exist for at-risk students when exposed to blended learning, particularly synchronous activities. Joining a "cyber-study group" results in higher performance for these students compared to students who study alone. "Peer-to-peer interactions needed for collaboration promote a collective sense of responsibility . . . students who have low self-efficacy or an external locus of control receive feedback and encouragement from their study partners." Also the presence of the instructor is more frequent, and results in more meaningful dialogue between teachers and students (Newlin, et al., 2002).
Getting Started with Blended Learning
For teachers just getting started in blended learning, the simplest approach may be to choose websites that expand on what is being taught in class, and/or provide extra practice for specific skills. In this scenario, the greatest proportion of the learning experience involves face-to-face learning, with a less significant web component. High school teachers who are looking to add a web component should start simple. The purpose is to expand on and clarify topics covered in class, and provide opportunities for students to extend the learning experience beyond the confines of the classroom. Some examples:
Foreign language students can utilize My Language Exchange. At this website, a student can locate a student learning his language who is a native speaker of the language he is learning. Together, the two students can participate in practice sessions using lesson plans, text and voice chat rooms, a dictionary, a private notepad, etc.
Math students can utilize online simulations of math concepts at The National Library of Virtual Manipulatives. Simulations are available in Numbers and Operations, Algebra, Geometry, Measurement, Data Analysis, and Probability. Using these manipulatives can provide a better understanding of math concepts, and well as practice in various areas.
English students can extend their learning of the writing process beyond the walls of the classroom by using Principles of Composition. This site contains a full high school composition course with interactive lessons and practice.
Students of American history can expand and develop their knowledge and understanding of major events in the history of our country by using The American Memory Collection published and maintained by the Library of Congress. Another good source is to use some of the interactive sites provided by National Geographic. The Underground Railroad trip is especially good for upper elementary and jr. high students. It forces them to think and make decisions while explaining what the underground railroad is.
Enriching science students through technology is made possible by the wide array of interactive resources available on the web. Students can conduct an in depth and interactive study of Biology at Interactive Biology. Chemistry students can expand on textbook information with information and animations on periodic table elements by using The Visual Elements Periodic Table. Students of physics can enrich the learning experience by spending time at The Physics Classroom.
Moving Forward: Incorporating Synchronous Web Components Into the High School Class
As teachers and students gain confidence in the incorporation of blended learning, they can discover numerous web components available to enhance the learning experience for students. Live synchronous experiences are good examples. These include video conferencing, instant messaging, chat rooms, and virtual classroom modules.
Video conferencing serves a variety of purposes. Most video conferencing options are not free, but available for an hourly fee, or through a subscription service. Students can benefit from the expertise of specialists in various areas and can participate in virtual field trips. Students living in remote areas can benefit from resources and people only available in more populated areas. The Albany Institute of History and Art offers numerous "virtual field trips" for high school students. Students are active participants as they join in real time with the Institute's historians, examining artifacts and collaborating with experts. History students can interact with holocaust survivors via video-conferencing through The Holocaust Memorial and Educational Center in New York. These are just a few of numerous video conferencing options available across the curriculum.
Video conferencing has purposeful academic applications in language courses, but some controversy exists over whether these needs can be addressed via asynchronous video. CUSeeMe was the grandfather of two-way video conferencing. Successors include NetMeeting, PalTalk and iVisit. Live Video conferencing has its drawbacks, however. Many schools lack the bandwidth necessary for effective and problem-free two-way conferencing (Godwin-Jones, 2003).
Instant messaging, discussion boards and chat rooms provide a means for remediation and consultation for students outside the school day. "Communication tools like discussion boards and chat rooms can be effective in inter-team collaboration as well as in faculty-student communication" (Eastman, et al., 2002). Students can become motivated in directing their own learning. Through these synchronous activities, students become empowered, can develop better communications skills, and develop their ability to work cooperatively. Students who are more timid in a face-to-face environment often gain confidence in online discussions. Teachers frequently become more accessible to students through these types of synchronous activities (Eastman, et al., 2002). Traditional text chats can now be enhanced with voice and/or video. "Apple recently announced multimedia enhancements of its iChat application, along with introducing the new iSight camera" (Godwin-Jones).
Use of Asynchronous Web Components in Secondary Education
Blogging, which began as an online journal several years ago has escalated to "several hundred thousand diarists . . . actively posting blogs about almost every conceivable topic." Blogs provide an instant, online writing space with the potential for an audience of thousands; free and instant publishing. Teachers will find that the "presence of an audience can increase engagement and a depth of writing" (Bull, 2003). "Blogs also help students exchange ideas much like a group of students waxing poetic at a . . . coffeehouse. Blog sites often prominently display the e-mail addresses of [their] creators, letting readers instantly provide feedback to the site" (Toto, 2004). Blogging has numerous instructional applications in high school. Literary activities using blogs include character journals, character roundtable, think-aloud postings, and literature circle group responses. Revision and grammar activities include nutshelling (extracting a line from a paragraph that holds the most meaning), devil's advocate writing (online debate), and exploding sentences (slowing down a student from an earlier post and adding rich, descriptive detail). At Hunderdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, students use a blog to discuss "The Secret Life of Bees" by Sue Monk Kidd in an American Literature Class (Bull, 2003).
Blogs can also help improve student writing. While students often begin their blog experience with sloppy grammar and spelling, the presence of an audience generally changes that. Since students are often the most critical audience, the blog writer begins to strive to improve writing to avoid criticism. Also blogging "forces students to become more savvy about the world around them." The need to feed the interest of the audience inspires students to be clever and interesting (Toto, 2004). Blogging is a tool that inspires collaboration, and encourages students to extend learning well beyond the traditional school day. Appropriate use of blogs "can empower students to become more analytical and critical; through actively responding to Internet materials, students can define their positions in the context of others' writings as well as outline their own perspectives on particular issues (Oravec, 2002).
Course management systems provide a mode of presentation and organization for blended learning. Moodle is a good example. Moodle was design to "provide a set of tools that support an inquiry- and discovery-based approach to online learning" (Brandl, 2005). Being available free of charge, it also has good financial benefits for school districts, as opposed to commercial course management systems. Teachers using moodle are able to provide a virtual classroom round the clock. "Moodle has great potential for supporting conventional classroom instruction, for example, to do additional work outside of class, to become the delivery system for blended course formats (Brandl, 2005). It is based on socio-constructivist theory, promoting cooperation among and between students and teachers. It provides for both synchronous and asynchronous discussion through a chat option and threaded discussion. "At the core of the concept of an asynchronous learning network is the student as an active—and socially interactive—learner" (Hilz et al., 2004).
Pulling It All Together: The Teacher's Perspective
The goal of blended learning is to use technology as a tool for learning and to promote a discovery-based approach to online learning. It is also intended to help students become "anytime, anywhere" lifelong learners. Keeping abreast of the technology is a challenge for teachers as well. The teacher needs to participate in ongoing professional development, read the latest research, and share ideas with other teachers. Teachers must actively seek out and utilize individuals that can act as mentors and technical support providers in their quest for effective blended learning techniques. If teachers must be lifelong learners themselves in order to promote lifelong learning among their students -- they must lead by example.
The Role of Blended Learning in the Future of High School Education
While teachers grapple with the challenges of staying up-to-date on new technologies, students being educated in this technological era are confident in their use of technology. New teachers enter the workplace well-equipped to face the technological challenges that await. As access to technological resources improves for all students and the digital divide narrows, high schools find themselves better able to implement blended learning. In the near future, high school learning will no longer be limited the length of the school day or the confines of the school building. Resources will be available for all students to learn anywhere, anytime.
Across the country, high schools are already making this vision a reality. One example is the Urban School in San Francisco, which has incorporated a 1:1 student laptop program. Foreign language courses have been improved with the use of voice files to improve listening and speaking skills. History students contribute meaningfully beyond the confines of the classroom and school to the broader community beyond by providing web-based election materials to the local community and producing an award-winning website that contains oral histories of area holocaust survivors. Math and science simulations are available for extra practice and enrichment to students when and where they need it, and language arts students participate in online literature circles, generating “more thoughtful and meaningful responses” than would typically be expected in a traditional classroom discussion (Levin).
The benefits for students abound in blended learning. Teachers have the opportunity to individualize instruction at all levels and for all students. Extra help is available to students who need it, and enrichment opportunities can be provided for students who move at a faster pace than the rest of the class. Teacher availability extends beyond the confines of the school day and the school building. Learning opportunities are expanded for all students. Students become actively engaged, and are well-prepared for the technological workplace that will be theirs. Collaboration is encouraged, and students have the opportunity to collaborate with a diverse and worldwide student body. Curriculum connections can be made which encourage higher level thinking (Morehead et al., 2004). Great potential exists for both students and teachers, and the future of blended learning is significant. What of the questions that would seem to need to be addressed is the availability of the technology to allow for blended learning. It would seem that wealthier districts would have a significant advantage in the resources available to them. Many poorer districts have poor student to computer ratios or do not have the ability to make computers available to classroom students on a regular basis.