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How we improved our blended-learning program

When implemented well, online and blended learning options give teachers an opportunity to transform the educational experience

Ubiquitous access to technology means that acquiring knowledge is no longer dependent solely on a classroom teacher. Google provides quick and easy access to information while YouTube provides on-demand how-to videos on just about any topic. Access to unlimited new information has created seemingly contradictory qualities in today’s students—more self-reliant and independent, but with a preference toward collaborative learning environments and comfortable learning with other students.

Consequently, students are not interested in sitting through lectures only to be required to regurgitate information back to the teacher on a test. Today’s students believe technology should be seamlessly connected to their academic experiences. Technological tools are integrated into the lives of today’s students and they want those same tools integrated into their educational experiences.

The case for blending and online learning

When implemented well, online and blended learning options give teachers an opportunity to transform the educational experience—to meet the needs of a broader group of learners, individualize instruction, and transform education for everyone.

As new constraints have been placed on school budgets over the last decade, the need for change has become more pronounced. School districts that are not prepared to offer online and blended-learning options for students will experience increased competition for enrollments from a variety of public and private online providers, including charter and cyber charter schools.

The Garnet Valley School District in Glen Mills, Penn., understands that families in today’s complex society need flexibility and options to meet their child’s individual educational needs. The district is constantly developing and improving our systems and structures for all students with the renewed focus on personalized learning for all students.

While Garnet Valley is home to one of the most robust, individualized professional learning (PL) programs around, we understood that having little experience with online learning required us to look outside our district for the expertise needed to fully train our teachers. After months of research and visits to neighboring districts and universities, we selected Global Online Academy as our partner to help us reimagine what a classroom for the future and learning should look like in our school district.

We also realized to truly transform our district, our curriculum and technology offices needed to work together to reimagine how our course design, curriculum cycle, and PL opportunities could be changed as we moved toward offering more blended-learning opportunities.

Here are the six steps we took to synthesize our ongoing curriculum evaluation and revision process.

1. Student-centered lesson design. PL connected to the University of Pennsylvania focused on the before, during, and after lesson-design structure and the model of engagement (©PLN)

2. Student-centered curriculum design. PL on and development of a current, researched-based, backwards-design model. As part of our five-year curriculum cycle, the Understanding by Design (UbD) 2.0 Curriculum Template, housed in our content management system (G Suite), guides our ongoing curriculum work.

3. Open education resource (OER) PL. PL focused on student-centered resource design that is connected directly to our UbD 2.0 curriculum templates. Topics include defining OER, copyright and fair use, attributions, Creative Commons and licensing, collecting, curating, and creating high-level OER—all facilitated with our partnership with Spider Learning.

4. Student-centered resource design. Collection, curation, and creation of OER-based curriculum resource modules specifically aligned to Garnet Valley student learning outcomes. All modules housed in G Suite.

5. Student-centered course design PL. PL centered around instructional design for traditional, blended, and online/virtual learning environment will focus on designing learning experiences, building interactions, and building content—all facilitated with our partnership with Global Online Academy.

6. Course digitization in our learning management system (LMS). Digitization from our G Suite into our LMS (Schoology) for traditional, blended, and online/virtual courses.

Online and blended learning is growing at a rapid pace and holds great promise as an instructional strategy to expand and customize learning opportunities for students. Some national experts predict that 50 percent of all high school classes in the U.S. in the next five years will be taught online or in a blended format. Most states now require students to take at least one online or blended course as part of their graduation requirement.

Having our curriculum and technology departments work together to create personalized learning experiences for our students and to build our teachers’ capacity for blended learning has proven very successful.

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