By: Melanie Nathan, Creative Director, Education Technology Websites at Top Draw.
The use of technology in classrooms is meant to help students hone the skills necessary to succeed throughout life. Most schools now include computer or tablet use as a regular part of their educational programs, but study data suggests that having access to technology doesn’t always translate into better performance. Today’s educators face the challenge of integrating technology with traditional learning systems, and blended learning could provide the solution that gives kids the greatest benefits.
Are Computers Really Helping Kids?
A recent report from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shook the world of education technology when it failed to show a positive correlation between computer use and academic performance. Kids who used computers the most in school and at home tended to be worse off in skills such as reading and mathematical aptitude.
The study used scores from the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) to gather data for students from around the world. Results were fairly consistent for all countries included in the assessment. Students in schools that invested in and used technology “heavily” showed little or no improvement in key subjects. This was true whether students used computers to practice skills, complete educational drills or engage in typical activities such as chatting and browsing the Internet.
Although these results seem to show that technology may not be the boon that educators were hoping for, it only addresses a small number of ways that computers can be used in classrooms. With the right systems and instruction in place, technology can help students expand their horizons and become more well-rounded learners.
Overcoming Obstacles with Blended Learning
Technology is meant to broaden the scope of traditional classrooms by allowing students to explore more in-depth information about the subjects being taught. The trouble comes when schools make technology an afterthought rather than an integral part of daily instruction. Sitting kids down in front of computer stations and running them through a predetermined series of tasks every day does little to enhance the classroom experience.
Blended learning aims to change all that. This innovative approach to teaching balances traditional teaching methods with modern tools to achieve better educational outcomes. Technology is used as a mechanism to bring everyday lessons to life through engaging supplemental media such as videos, websites and apps.
Active learning is what differentiates a blended approach from the tedious computer drills that are often tacked on to traditional lessons. Giving kids access to a dynamic landscape of constantly updated information makes them more likely to take an interest in what’s being presented. When students can see immediate practical application of what they’re learning, the subject becomes more engaging. They begin to want to seek out more information on their own, and teachers can provide this through collections of digital resources that can be accessed any time.
This “always on” aspect of blended learning allows students to work at their own pace, so it’s possible for teachers to provide individualized instruction for every child in the classroom without being spread too thin. Kids who are able to go ahead can access the necessary materials online while teachers focus on helping others who need more guidance.
Programs and tools such as Brightspace give teachers a platform to design, implement and monitor blended learning programs. Comprehensive analytical tools present a clear picture of student progress. Being able to monitor individual achievements helps educators support the continued success of all the kids that they teach.
Implementing a Blended Learning Program
A successful blended learning approach begins with a set of goals. When educators know what they want kids to be able to achieve, they can choose the appropriate tools to make it happen. An ideal platform allows teachers to present information in new ways that excite students and give them the freedom to explore subjects in more detail. Access to collaborative tools that allow for greater interaction among students and between students and teachers is essential for driving the conversations that make blended learning unique.
For this approach to work, both teachers and students need to understand how to use technology as an integrative tool to enhance learning rather than something separate from traditional instruction. Educators must evaluate the current classroom framework to identify which aspects can be digitized to make instruction easier. Working with administration to create new resources and put plans in place for future growth helps ensure the success of the system.
By offering encouragement and engagement in a self-paced environment, blended learning addresses the challenges of integrating technology into traditional classrooms. Students receive the benefits of individualized instruction and increased interaction, and teachers get the tools necessary to modify programs based on student performance. For schools that are committed to educational excellence through technology, blended learning could be the key to success.