So, why we are focusing on Blended Learning at HPSS?


For many years now I have been championing the need for all schools and all students to engage in e-learning, and whilst I definitely sense there is a ground swell of support for this notion I am still patently aware that it is important to be clear about why this should be a priority. I initially trialed e-learning because I suspected it would engage learners and would provide an opportunity for students to continue learning and engaging in the work I set, anytime, anywhere. These continue to be compelling arguments for blended learning, however it is becoming increasing clear that this is in fact just the tip of the pedagogical iceberg.

Firstly let's talk about the term e-learning. It is easy to write this term off as twee or outdated, and I agree that it should be about the learning full stop. However we are still, and will continue to be for sometime in a period of transition, and whilst there still remains to be many teachers and indeed many schools who are yet to use e-learning on a daily basis, it is useful to highlight the "e". Personally I prefer the concept of  'Blended Learning' - it allays the fear that we are trying to replace pen and paper, traditional modes and methods of teaching, and instead suggests that we simply want to 'blend' the pen and paper with electronic modes and methods. So for now, until everyone is clear about the potential and need and facilitate learning using both modes - blended learning is fine for me. Remember to look beyond your personal educational circles and echo chambers - e-learning or blended learning is not a norm yet. Far from it.

There are a number of reasons as to why we have decided to make blended learning a non-negotiable at Hobsonville Point Secondary School. We are aware of World trends, we have based it on compelling research findings, we want to prepare our students for NCEA (which is becoming increasingly blended). Blended learning is an incredible enabler of differentiation and delivering learning that aligns with the notion of universal design for learning. Then there is our guiding document- the New Zealand Curriculum which highlights the ways in which e-learning can support effective pedagogy in and beyond the classroom. 

World Trends
Core Education explore a wide range of world trends to bring together an annual summary of trends pertaining to ICT use in education. These provide an excellent starting point that go beyond our own experiences or opinions and encourages us to consider what these trends might need for our learners. We need to consider also the period in which we actually live. Our ancestors came through an Agrarian (agricultural) age where the ability to farm and work the land was essential. Our parents and maybe even we have come through an Industrial Age where the need for industrial and technical skills were very important. We are now entering what is referred to as a Knowledge Age  defined on the NZCER Shifting Thinking website as

 "a new, advanced form of capitalism in which knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth (more important than land, labour, money, or other ‘tangible resources). New patterns of work and new business practices have developed, and, as a result, new kinds of workers, with new and different skills, are required."

and as they also state

"Knowledge Age worker-citizens need to be able to locate, assess, and represent new information quickly. They need to be able to communicate this to others, and to be able to work productively in collaborations with others. They need to be adaptable, creative and innovative, and to be able to understand things at a ‘systems’ or big picture’ level. Most importantly, they need to be to think and learn for themselves, sometimes with the help of external authorities and/or systems of rules, but, more often, without this help."

 These are our students, and many of these skills are best learned in an online space - this is where they can, very quickly, locate, assess and present information. Tools such as Google Docs is what enables them to collaborate and co-construct anytime or anywhere. Blended Learning is key to enabling learning that meets the demands of a 'knowledge' rather than 'industrial' age.
http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/ten-trends
Research Findings
Research by it's very nature is backward looking, so it is important that we do not sit back and wait for the evidence that e-learning is effective before we even deign to dip our toes. It can be tempting to simply say there is not enough evidence yet. However I would suggest that whilst relatively small there is plenty of compelling evidence and research available. This is particularly true if you look at the evidence gathered as a part of 'Teaching as Inquiry' projects where e-learning has been a focus. Literature reviews such as Noeline Wright's 'e-Learning and implications for New Zealand schools: a literature review' brings together a wide range of findings. In her conclusion Wright highlights a wide range of potential benefits, ranging from motivation and engagement to the development of critical thinking and multiliteracies. It is important to remain critical about the benefits of ANY pedagogical approaches, not just the e-learning ones. We seem quick to defend traditional methods and modes when there is little more evidence that they are in fact effective. For this reason it is important that we reflect on all of our approaches, gather pre and post data and feedback from students to ensure that all practice is indeed evidence or research based. We need to ensure our practice (and the research we base it on) is actually current and responsive. It is not okay for teachers to base practice on an approach that might have been exciting when Pong was a cutting edge video game.

NCEA
Many would argue that NCEA is actually an argument for protecting the mighty 'paper and pen', indeed external exams are written by hand...for now. In April 2013 NZQA's Dr Karen Poutasi stated in a speech to SPANZ "we are reasonably confident that we can reach a position within 8 years where most students will be sitting examinations using a digital device." That means your Year 1-4 student will most likely be sitting their exams online. Our Year 9 students will most definitely be creating and submitting internal assessments online. To do this well, and to ensure our learners gain the skills they need to gain Excellence or at least achieve the very best results they are capable of, then we need to give them practice. More than that, we need to be explicitly teaching them, or giving the time and space to develop the skills to do this well. Learners will need to be able to locate, synthesize and present information. They will need to be able to do it safely, lawfully and effectively. This takes time. We need to start now. In fact all students need to have started yesterday.

Differentiation and Universal Design for Learning
There is also the fact that pedagogically speaking e-learning or blended learning is actually a no-brainer. We have a responsibility to ensure they way in which we facilitate learning and gather evidence of said learning is inclusive. All students have a right to learn and enjoy success, therefore we must be meeting the needs of a diverse group - not just the select few that learn the way you do or did in your day. Consider differentiation as defined by Carol Ann Tomlinson which seeks to provide a range of learning opportunities differentiated for student readiness' learning style and interest. This is possible in a paper based classroom, but choices will still be limited and controlled by the teacher and the resources made physically available to the learner. You might provide a small range of different activities and maybe texts that a either written or more graphic based. Consider this now in a blended learning environment where if a student can access the Internet they can access unlimited resources - written, visual and oral. A teacher may well need to support a student in locating appropriate material or may even curate a collection for them. The speed and ease in which differentiated learning can be facilitated in a blended environment is incredibly enabling. If a teacher can also let the student take the lead and have the power to negotiate methods and modes for learning and evidencing learning,, then you on to something quite magic. Similarly if you consider the diagram below with a blended learning lens it is again a no-brainer. As stated on the Cast website 

" Universal Design for Learning was initially is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs." 

Who wouldn't want this for their learners? Providing multiple means of representation (of information), means of expression (evidencing learning) and means of engagement is nigh on impossible in a purely paper-based  classroom, and again it limits it to a single teacher perception of what they think they know about the students ability, learning style, interests or even their mood or tiredness on any given day.

http://www.cast.org/library/UDLguidelines/version1.html

E-learning and Effective Pedagogy 
There is of course the small matter of our guiding document - the New Zealand Crurriculum. If nothing else,, look at the document, I think it's about page 35??? E-learning is clearly identified as a powerful means of supporting effective pedagogy in and beyond the classroom. As the NZC states:

"Information and communication technology (ICT) has a major impact on the world in which young people live. Similarly, e-learning (that is, learning supported by or facilitated by ICT) has considerable potential to support the teaching approaches outlined in the above section.

For instance, e-learning may:
assist the making of connections by enabling students to enter and explore new learning environments, overcoming barriers of distance and time
facilitate shared learning by enabling students to join or create communities of learners that extend well beyond the classroom
assist in the creation of supportive learning environments by offering resources that take account of individual, cultural, or developmental differences
enhance opportunities to learn by offering students virtual experiences and tools that save them time, allowing them to take their learning further.
Schools should explore not only how ICT can supplement traditional ways of teaching but also how it can open up new and different ways of learning."

When all is said and done, it is simply important to realise that blended learning is not a priority just because I said so. Blended learning is not a priority because we spent all that money on wireless and the students spent heaps on devices (although we DO need to respect this investment). Blended learning is a priority because of world trends, because we want our students to ready for THEIR world, not our past. Blended learning is a priority because we want our students to achieve excellent results. 

But mostly, blended learning is a priority because we want our students to experience learning and express their learning in a way that suits THEM - that means face to face, paper and pen, online, anywhere and anytime.

Comments

  1. Claire you write with depth and clarity. Love the article and will share with our staff. This is the second time in two days I have read about UDL. Thanks for sharing. There are a couple of references I want to follow up too.

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