Beyond the Classroom: The rise of blended learning
Blended learning is any time a student learns at least in part at a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home and at least in part through online delivery with some element of student control over time, place, path and/or pace. Schools that use a combination of classroom teachers and some online learning activities are considered to be blended schools. There are many blended schools in North Dakota and the number of them and future involvement is sure to increase.
Last winter, I read a collection of articles titled “Forty Profiles in Blended Learning.” These profiles were two- or three-page articles describing blended learning schools with the following demographics: high poverty, low poverty, suburban, urban, private, public, private charter, public charter and schools connected to colleges. The following aspects of Blended Learning were revealed:
Greater individualized learning
Enhanced curriculum offerings
Students can greater customize their education
Greater student control over classes
Students may work at a faster/slower pace
Parents often want more for their children than is currently offered in traditional settings
Many students want more varied curriculum offerings than they currently receive in traditional school settings
Student advancement is based more on proficiency than time spent in the classroom
Curriculum is updated more frequently than in traditional textbooks
Flexible class scheduling
Teachers spend less time grading assignments and more time analyzing student needs and then working with students individually or in small group settings.
I have people say that online learning is not for all students. That statement is 100 percent correct. But for those of us who have spent any amount of time in a school setting, it is very obvious that the current traditional education system is not for everyone. Wolford has been a blended school in grades 7-12 for more than two years. Our students take math, science, English and social studies from a classroom teacher. Our business department is fully online. At last year’s state FBLA competitions Wolford had six of our 10 participants place in the top 10 in the state.
Some electives Wolford students take are criminology, game design (computer skills), graphic design, fashion design, beef production, ag careers, equine science, farm business management, plant science, sports entertainment and marketing and wildlife management. No, all of these classes are not necessary. But, by offering our students more curriculum choices, our perception is that students enjoy school more than in the past. In my experiences with blended learning at Wolford, I have come to observe the following:
Students have taken greater control of their education
Learning has become more enjoyable
Discipline concerns have decreased
Students have requested extra classes
Many students demonstrate greater motivation to succeed
College preparedness is enhanced
Students can work from home when absent
Students can better prepare for future planned absences.
In my travels around the state I often hear complaints about poor student attitudes and lack of effort. Perhaps giving students more control of their education would lessen some of these issues. In North Dakota, we still require students to sit in a desk 45 minutes a day for 175 days in order to earn a credit. There is no proficiency standard. What if the student only needs 100 days to complete their class? Or, how about the student that needs 200 days? I am in no way saying blended learning is the answer. But it is an opportunity to reach more students and allow another avenue in which to achieve student academic success.
What is happening with classroom technology advances/blended learning in N.D.?
The North Dakota Center for Distance Education had 750 enrollments in 2007 This year NDCDE will approach 5,000 enrollments. Their curriculum is more than 95 percent online. One hundred forty nine North Dakota schools purchase classes from NDCDE. The South Prairie School located 10 miles south of Minot will go from K-8 to K-12 in August of 2014. There will be no textbooks for grades 9-12. These students will have an electronic textbook. The only books will be in the library.
We haven’t just sat back and let blended learning happen. We have brought in a college professor to evaluate our business program, and a retired county agent/ag ed teacher evaluated our online ag ed program. We also survey our students on the good and bad of our online curriculum. The online learning opportunities are not just for those of school age. Many adults are taking online classes and many more adults will be doing this in the future. I think blended learning opportunities deserve serious attention. Through these opportunities, we can really erase limits placed on our children because of our rural geography.
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