Making the switch to a blended learning format for a course is intimidating. Frequently, it is referred to as a fundamental switch in the way that we conduct education. Having looked at Kahn Academy and a variety of online courses, I can see exactly why we feel overwhelmed at making this paradigm change.
But, do you really have to turn everything upside down or 180 degrees around to begin experimenting with blended learning?
The answer is a resounding no.
As a classroom teacher and school administrator, I have been experimenting with different elements of blended learning for several years. Do I view myself as a teacher of a blended learning course? No, not yet, but I’m getting there with each experiment.
I started fairly simply by setting up a group of students on WikiSpaces with a few discussion prompts that I wanted to cover, but knew that I was not going to get to in class.
Next, since we were a Google Apps for Education school, I tried out Google Sites and similarly used the discussion forums and comments within the sites.
The response to both activities was fascinating. “Hey, Dr. Yares,” one student said to me. “The homework was like being on Facebook, but we were doing homework, but it was like Facebook.” Not a bad response for an experiment. I had just extended the classroom conversation and created a home assignment that was meaningful and relevant for my students.
From this initial exposure, the experiments with blended learning have continued. I have worked with students who have used Google Docs to collaboratively edit play scripts at school and at home. Students have used Google Sites to create frequently asked question websites for topics in a life cycle unit. I even experimented with Pinterest as an educational tool (more on that experience can be read about here and here.)
Most recently, I have flipped a faculty meeting using Moodle and added online tools such as linoit.com and edcanvas.com to a student-staff committee to help deepen our interactions. The response in each case has started slowly at first, but grown as my teachers’ comfort level increased.
The key is to keep it simple. Pick a single tool and use it to enhance a unit or a lesson. Do not try and film an entire year’s worth of lessons in the hope of creating the next Kahn Academy. Experiment with these tools as you redevelop older lessons as a way of refreshing them even further. With this more modest approach, your confidence will increase and your willingness to take greater risks will come along.
Most importantly, though, you are creating opportunities for the students to interact with your subject matter in an increasingly relevant and meaningful way that will deepen their relationship with the content.
Have you started the blended learning experiment? What quick and dirty tricks are you trying?