The Parent University was moderated by Morgan Delack, Barrington 220 Director of Communications. The event began with a presentation from LeeAnn Taylor, the Barrington 220 administrator leading the Blended Learning program. Ms Taylor has been working with BHS teachers to try several blended strategies in their current classes during this school year.
Panel members included Tom Bredemeier, Mike Kedzie, and Justin Stroh, BHS teachers involved in this year’s Blended Learning Study Group. Administrators on the panel included Ty Gorman (BHS Associate Principal), Joe Robinson (Director of Instructional Technology), and Matt Fuller (Assistant Superintendent for Technology & Innovation).
Barrington 220 was also pleased to welcome Jason Zobott, a senior at Huntley High School, and his mother, Pam Zobott. Jason was able to provide the perspective of a student who has taken three years of blended learning courses at Huntley—including several AP classes—while he maintained a busy college preparatory schedule participating in up to three sports. Pam Zobott, Jason’s mother and also a middle school science teacher in the Huntley district, offered her perspective as both a parent and a teacher.
The Parent University began with a short presentation that included an overview of blended learning, a brief explanation of the blended learning models, a blended learning timeline for Barrington 220, and a discussion of blended learning "facts and myths."
What is the definition of blended learning?
The blended learning definition we are using in Barrington 220 was developed by Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker of the Clayton Christensen Institute and endorsed by iNACOL, the International Association for K–12 Online Learning.
Blended learning is:
- A formal education program in which a student learns, at least in part, through online learning;
- With some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
- At least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
- And the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
A simplified version of the blended learning definition created by Barrington 220 highlights the most important aspects of the concept:
What are the different blended learning models, and which ones fit best our schools?
The four formal models of blended learning include:
- Rotation Model*
- Flex Model
- À la Carte Model
- Enriched-Virtual Model
*Under the Rotation Model, four sub-categories are identified:
- Station Rotation
- Lab Rotation
- Flipped Classroom
- Individual Rotation
Current formal definitions of all the models can be found on the Christensen Institute website.
In Barrington 220, at least two models are already in use in some of our classrooms across the district, including Station Rotation and Flipped Classroom. Station Rotation occurs when students in a classroom rotate through a series of learning stations during a defined time or class period. Some Barrington 220 teachers also use the Flipped Classroom model where "students participate in online learning off-site in place of traditional homework and then attend the brick-and-mortar school for face-to-face, teacher-guided practice or projects" (Christensen Institute, 2016).
As Barrington 220 works to implement blended learning courses, a version of the Flex Model will likely be used. The Flex Model allows teachers the most control over learning modes and time spent face to face or online. The Flex Model allows assignments and materials to be posted digitally, but some activities may also be conducted offline. The model also allows students to spend time in or out of school with teachers providing "face-to-face support on a flexible and adaptive as-needed basis through activities such as small-group instruction, group projects, and individual tutoring" (Christensen Institute, 2016).
As we continue to study and work with various blended learning strategies, we also find it helpful to acknowledge what blended learning is not. For example:
- Blended learning is not technology-enriched instruction. While technology is used to deliver content in blended models, blended learning does not necessarily require technology for all aspects of a blended program. Conversely, just because technology is being used for instruction, that experience is not necessarily blended learning.
- Blended learning is not learning in an online-only environment. A 100% online learning environment is generally referred to as "virtual learning." By definition, blended learning requires face-to-face time with a teacher.
- Blended learning does not eliminate the need for teachers. In the blended models Barrington 220 is considering, teachers will need to be available for students during scheduled class time. During this time, students may attend (as needed or as prescribed by the teacher) as a full class, in small groups, or individually. Similarly, blended learning is not intended to increase class sizes.
- Blended learning is not solving a particular problem with our current practices. Instead, blended learning is another way to offer more flexibility for our students and is expected to give students more opportunities to experience some aspects of a collegiate schedule.
The panel discussion part of the presentation allowed many specific aspects of blended learning to be addressed. Here are just a few highlights from the Parent University panel discussion:
Which of the blended learning models are we thinking of using next year, and how might that look in Barrington 220?
Ty Gorman reported that next year, a group of 10–12 teachers will be piloting blended learning classes at BHS. He expects to see in-class Rotation Models and also some instances of the Flex Model. Using the Flex Model, on some days, some students could meet in the library or commons area while other students meet in small groups in the classroom with the teacher. Even on a day when all students are not required to be in class, every student has the option to meet with the teacher in the classroom. Using these models, students can be learning the same things, but at different paces and at different times.
Joe Robinson pointed out that many teachers in the district had been using blended strategies before formal definitions of the strategies were shared. In fact, when BHS students were surveyed in November 2015 regarding their uses of technology in their classes, one-third of the students reported that their teachers were using blended learning strategies. 34% of BHS students reported that their day consisted primarily of classes "where the teacher provides instruction part of the time in a physical classroom with a class of students, and part of the time the students follow an online curriculum at their own pace at home or at a school" (Project Tomorrow Speak Up Survey, 2015).
To the Blended Learning Study Group teachers: What did you feel the benefit was to students in offering a blended learning class?
Tom Bredemeier, a computer science teacher at BHS, was new to the concept of blended learning, but when we heard about the definition and models, he realized that he was already teaching about 90% of his courses in a blended format. Since Mr. Bredemeier is teaching classes that he defines as "post-Advanced Placement," he wants to continue to use the blended format to give his students a "college experience." He plans to be present in the classroom five days a week, but with blended, he can be more flexible with students and shift the time, place, path, and pace of his courses. He believes this will help students learn to manage their time in preparation for college in a supported environment.
Ty Gorman added that flexibility in blended courses can be designed to meet the academic readiness of a particular group of students. For example, students in Grades 9–10 will likely have less freedom, at least initially, than students in Grades 11–12. Teachers also have the option to make decisions based upon specific classes and even individual students regarding elements such as time spent out of class and room setup.
Justin Stroh, a science teacher at BHS and a member of the District Technology Committee, was able to learn about blended learning early in the school year and realized that he was already using many blended learning strategies. He plans next year to teach his Grade 9 Biology class as a blended class and hopes to work with a peer teaching partner to offer blended configurations using physical classroom space in new ways.
Mike Kedzie, another BHS science teacher, plans to work with Mr. Stroh by taking advantage of their adjacent classrooms and allowing students to move between classroms in a Station Rotation model.
Both Mr. Stroh and Mr. Kedzie acknowledge that since they will be teaching students in Grade 9, they plan to initially design blended experiences that keep students in their classrooms. While they plan to approach the situation with open minds, they believe that by Semester 2, they may be able to begin to offer more out-of-classroom options for some of their classes.
From the student/parent perspective: What is your overall impression of blended learning classes?
Jason Zobott, a senior at Huntley High School, reported, "I was able to learn at my pace; I was able to work on subjects that I needed more work on at certain times." He believes that blended classes allow him to manage his time better and he credits his teachers for offering blended structures that help him and his peers successfully navigate more flexible schedules. Huntley teachers use a Learning Management System to post course assignments, deadlines, and required meeting times. Jason also mentioned that students not doing well in a course are required to attend every day for more one-on-help. His belief is that overall, he and his peers find blended learning very beneficial and students value the flexibility blended classes allow.
Pam Zobott, Jason’s mother and also a middle school teacher, is the mother of three high-achieving and involved students. She understands the challenges of high school students with significant homework and scheduling demands. Ms. Zobott has seen first-hand how a blended environment presents time management choices and ultimately allows her son to choose how he spends his time to best fit his schedule. The structure also allows students to seek more individualized help when necessary. For these reasons she suggests, “I think every student should try at least one blended class.” Blended learning, she says, helps students learn how they learn best.