Blended Learning Buy-In

It has been quite some time since I was last in an offline classroom; 2 months and 28 days to be exact. And in that time, all of the learning opportunities that I have provided have been based on virtual/remote/distance models. Now, rumor has it that we might be back in schools shortly, and as such we should prepare for a blended learning model! 

Before I start my journey into the blended learning jungle, it is apparent to me that the most important thing is to get all the players to buy into the process – if it is to be successful. This is particularly important for the students and teachers who aren’t in the country at the moment. They, like all of us, will be going through a roller coaster of emotions, which will be made worse by the fact that they won’t be able to be in the same classroom!

How To Create a Blended Learning Environment?

Before setting out what I believe  the blended learning environment should look like, there are some key questions and tasks I must find out the answer to and also prepare for. These are:

  1. An accepted definition of Blended Learning.
  2. Develop an overview of Blended Learning for our school, based on our current circumstances.
  3. How to physically implement Blended Learning (hardware and software).
  4. Create a SWOT analysis for Blended Learning.

Note that whatever plan I come up it has to be adaptable and be able to pivot at a moment’s notice.

Blended Learning Definition

After reading several websites, papers and blogs on what blended learning is*, it is clear that it must require some form of physical in class interaction between teacher and student. *My favourite resource, and most in depth, comes from The Christensen Institute. Now, given that a lot of our teachers and students are not in the country, and cannot enter because of restrictions of entry, we will be using an enriched virtual model (without face to face learning, for some students).

We have already been using a hybrid enriched virtual model since the beginning of February, as have most schools in the world by the time this post comes out. Our school is in the fortunate position of having the hardware and software to best support virtual learning. The main hurdle that we face has been which apps, websites, software work without a VPN. The question of every international school teacher in China. Also, as we are now into our 11th week of Virtual Learning, the technological knowledge of our faculty and students is robust, with all members of our community adapting to the tech and emotional challenges that they face every day.

Blended Learning Taxonomy from christenseninstitute.org

Blended Learning Overview

I will now set out what blended learning will look like at our school, using in class scenarios:

  • We will need to provide face to face lessons for students in the classroom. 
  • We need to provide *online learning for those students not in the classroom; since the borders in China have closed, a lot of students and their families have not made it back into the country.
    • *The online learning will involve the use of Microsoft Teams to broadcast the lesson to those not in the classroom. Students will also be able to use MS Teams to communicate with each other regarding tasks in the class.
  • Group work and collaboration has been very difficult to implement in the virtual learning world. Not only is this down to all of us not being the same room, but not even in the same time zone. Fear not, as I like to see myself as a solution based. So, to increase interaction for group work in the Blended Learning world, students could be allocated channels in Teams to collaborate in. Perhaps we could have 3 offline and 2 online students in each group; this will vary depending on numbers of students in and out of the class. These private groups, moderated by teachers, would serve as breakout rooms, where the students should be able to lead their own learning. Hopefully, this will give value to participation  and increase their buy in!
  • The teachers who did not make it back into the country would provide lesson plans to be facilitated/delivered by supply/substitute teachers. They would also be online in MS Teams to be able to communicate with the students.

Implementation: Balancing Act

Ok, now we have some blueprints to work from , let’s assemble the equipment that we will need. Unlike many governments from developed countries. I did mention this briefly in my previous post on bold predictions, and the good news is, we already have (most of) the equipment needed.

It is incredibly important, to maximize buy-in, that the amount of extra equipment be kept to a minimum, although balance is required. Too much and we run the risk of putting teachers off from using it effectively. Too little, and the blended learning experience may be of poor quality and therefore reduce it’s impact.

  • Teachers to create calendar events for each meeting
    • Training required? Use my awesome YouTube tutorials!
    • Modelling of how a lesson would like should be carried out at least a week in advance or whatever is practical; dependent on notice given by the government of when we can open.
  • A iPad or Macbook to stream the lesson from
    • Including power supplies
    • Extra cabling required?
    • What will be captured – the board? Teacher?
  • Check lighting and audio is sufficient to enable a quality experience
    • Is it necessary to purchase lavalier style microphones? 
    • Wired vs Wireless
  • Additional resources (software) to increase interactivity for those not in the classroom
    • Quizzes
    • Channels within teams to increase participation and collaboration
    • More active blended learning tasks; see Defining ABL from University of Northampton
Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

SWOT Analysis

This is just an initial SWOT analysis of blended learning, and I will most definitely be adding to it as we get closer to the big day. 

This is just an initial SWOT analysis of blended learning, and I will most definitely be adding to it as we get closer to the big day. 

Strengths

  • Our faculty and students have been virtual learning for over 11 weeks now, so their technology levels are at least competent.
  • We have enough streaming devices for each classroom.
  • Our tech team is knowledgeable and will be able to set up all appliances, so that teachers can focus on teaching!
  • All lessons can be recorded and played back by students not in the classroom.

Weaknesses

  • Quality of video and audio will not recreate the classroom experience.
  • The private channels that students will be in will take time to moderate by the teacher.
  • Students in different time zones may not be able to attend all lessons during the school day.

Opportunities

  • Increased collaboration between the tech team and teachers.
  • Upskilling in how to run live streaming events.
  • Upskilling in the many new apps, websites, and software due to the necessity of using them in a live online lesson.
  • Students who may not like to speak up in the classroom may find it more comfortable to do so virtually.
  • Increased understanding of what an upstanding digital citizen is; particularly during MS Team chats.
  • Participation from students’ parents, whereas before it would have been difficult to come into the school, now they can do this from the comfort of home with their children.

Threats

  • Bandwidth could be too low to provide a quality blended learning experience.
  • We are reliant on tech support for advanced troubleshooting problems.
  • Potential for Teams Bombing if meetings are not set up correctly. I.e. only one presenter.
  • Cyberbullying could occur if students do not follow our RUP and digital citizenship advice.
Photo by Stephen Dawson on Unsplash

As I sign off on this post, it is clear that the technology, the implementation, the plans, and the definitions are miniscule without the hard work of our amazing faculty! I, and my team, will do everything in our power to enable these amazing teachers to continue to provide meaningful and engaging lessons for our awesome, adaptable and resilient students.