Discover how teachers use blended learning to help students succeed.
As a former school teacher, I know as well as anybody just how pressed for time teachers are. So much to do, so little time. When deciding to implement a new strategy, technology, or resource, I often evaluated the time/effort required to learn it versus the payout. If it’s not going to pay high dividends, I didn’t want to put in the time to learn it. A buzzword that has been floating around for quite some time is blended learning. While I am not one to use buzz words lightly, blended learning is a classroom program I can get behind. Put simply, blended learning uses a combination of technology-based instruction and face-to-face instruction in your classroom. We’ve all seen the hughe amount of articles boasting the benefits of blended learning – Increase student engagement! Increase student outcomes! Support 21st century learning! And while these are all great, I’d like to give you a slightly more selfish reason to implement blended learning: It can save you time. More specifically, the use of a School VLE (Virtual Learning Environment), specifically designed for schools can easily facilitate your blended learning and personalised learning strategy, and ultimately, save you tons of time. And who doesn’t want more time? Especially if you are a teacher.
Below I’ve outlined some of my most common struggles as a teacher and then described how using a VLE can alleviate that struggle. Admittedly, these “saves” require the students to have some sort of tech themselves, either a smart phone, their own computers, or access to shared computers, which I understand is not a reality for every school. Sigh…maybe one day. That is a resourcing issue, a whole different beast, and not one this article is going to attempt to tackle. If tech is scarce in your school (and I’ve worked in schools where it was), consider implementing a BYOD (Bring You Own Device) policy. If you share in any of my struggles below, perhaps a conversation with your principal about getting access to a VLE is in order!
Dealing with absent students
When students were absent in my class, I would try to make a note of it (somewhere) so I could ensure they got the missed work when they returned. However, I would often forget to jot names down, would forget to follow up with them, or they would be absent the next day and I would again have to remember to make a note of it. When the student returned, sometimes she would come to me and ask what she missed (thank you!), but then I would have to remember what we did while I am trying to get set up for the lesson (“gosh, what did we do?”) and I would hopefully have my extra copies handy if I was really organised that day.
Using a VLE in the classroom removes this struggle. If you make your content available online on your VLE, you can teach your students to always check the online platform when they miss days. Not only does this save you from having to have spare copies on hand, but anything missed that did not exist in hard copy (a video, displaying an image, a web link) is also available to the student. Finally, not only does putting your content online help out students who miss days, but students who need to watch that video a second time or who lost their copy of a hand out all have continued access.
Managing the complicated assignment process
The whole assignment process was frequently a pain point for me: collection, grading, feedback, and returning. Collecting and handing back assignments can take up class time, carting home the collected assignments is bulky, and when I returned assignments, I often found myself making photocopies of my completed rubrics so that I could refer to them when report card time came which amounted to a lot of paper being used.
When the entire assignment process is online, the benefits are numerous. Students are automatically reminded of overdue assignments, teachers do not need to carry work home for marking, and students and teachers both always have access to the feedback. When report card time comes around, the teacher has access to the students’ assignments and the feedback no matter where he is.
Involving parents in a blended learning program
When I was teaching, I would set aside time at the end of the day to make some phone calls. And while I enjoyed connecting with parents over the phone, the reality is that they were often at work during my prep time and so I would have trouble catching them. This resulted in issues being drawn out over several days as I continually tried to reach the parents. And if I’m being honest, the purpose of those phone calls were more often than not to discuss an issue with the student’s progress. I would have loved to have the time to call every parent every time a student excelled at something or worked hard on something (though I always tried to squeeze some of those calls in).
A high-functioning School VLE can allow parents to log in and get a pretty good picture of what each child has been doing at school and how they are progressing. Parents see a summary of upcoming tasks, notices for any late work, and recent grades. Any posts the teacher made during class (links to websites, content students need to view, reminders, announcements, etc.) are visible to the parents. Any items that students have recently put into their Portfolio would display to the parents as well. This is a super simple way for parents to know exactly what their child is working on in class and how they are doing with no extra work on the part of the teacher.
If you have made it this far, you’ve probably been able to relate to some of these struggles. From one teacher to another, I promise embracing the use of a VLE in your classroom will make your life easier! There is always that initial time investment to learn a new technology but as you can see from the many saves above, this investment will pay big dividends! Now go bug your principal to get a VLE or even just ask about it- you may be like me and have access to one and not even know it!
Check out the story of the Ontario Ministry of Education and see how teachers and students are adapting and adopting technology to enable a blended learning program.