A relatively new idea in education was tucked into a recently passed package of education changes. Ohio Public Radio’s Karen Kasler has more on blended learning, and why Governor John Kasich wants to see it in more school districts around the state.
A group of 17-year-old students are in a district-owned building near Gahanna Lincoln High School taking a break from their summer vacation to talk about school.
KASICH: “How many of your classmates do you think could fit into this environment?”
Student: “I think at our age pretty much everyone should be able to…”
The teens each have a laptop and sit around a table, not at desks, talking to Governor John Kasich about an experiment the Gahanna-Lincoln district is trying called blended learning. It combines the traditional classroom experience under the guidance of a teacher with online or distance learning via computers and broadband, and allows students to customize their education but still have help from educators in the classroom.
Ryan Kitzmiller teaches junior-level English at Gahanna-Lincoln High School using blended learning.
KITZMILLER: “Having taught in a traditional classroom for a number of years, it can be quite daunting, when you have a classroom that contains honors-level students, AP-level students and struggling learners. It can be a tremendous challenge to find a way to ensure that everyone in that environment is learning.”
And Gov. Kasich, who’s often seen walking around with an iPad, is a fan of the concept.
KASICH: “Why not give young people a chance to learn in exciting new ways that are consistent with what they like to do most of the time?”
But so far, while Ohio is considered a leader in online only schools, only a few Ohio school districts are trying blended learning. More will likely join in, since the concept was included in the recently signed education package that also includes a provision allowing third graders who can’t read at grade level to be held back.
Sarah Luchs is with eTech, the state’s educational technology agency.
LUCHS: “A teacher can access many more students than was traditionally considered a good idea. In a traditional format, you had very much the constraints of space and time. With technology, those constraints aren’t quite the same.”
Terry Ryan is vice president for Ohio Programs and Policies for the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an Ohio-based educational think tank that some consider conservative because of its support for school choice. Ryan says blended learning can be a big investment, but he says it needs to be coupled with training and curriculum for it to work.
RYAN: “Where we’ve seen it not implemented best is where the school and the teachers have this technology, they have all this capacity thrust upon them but they’re not sure how to use it and it results in a chaotic learning environment – or wasted learning time because there are kids sitting in front of computers but it’s not real clear what the computers are supposed to be used for.”
And charter schools in Ohio are getting into blended learning. David Hansen is the board chair at the Nexus Academy of Columbus. Hansen says all classes will utilize blended learning, which he says helps teachers reach more students and avoid some teaching chores.
HANSEN: “They’re going to be freed from the work of filling out grade books. They’re going to be free from the work of moving kids from one class to the other, collecting papers and all that. Technology allows them to do more of what they are really good at, which is working one-on-one or in small groups with students.”
Other Nexus Academy schools will open in Cleveland and Toledo, and are being operated by Connections Education, one of the largest online education companies. It’s also opening a blended learning school in Michigan.