This is the continuation in a series about the 6 Elements for the Implementation and Sustainability of Blended Learning initiatives that I helped develop for iNACOL.
The six elements that are needed to sustain and implement a blended learning program include:
* Professional Development
* Teaching / Instructional Practice
* Operations, Systems and Policies
I have written about the importance of leadership, professional development, teachers and operations, systems and policies. Today the focus is on Element #5, which is Content.
When talking about content, there is an initial decision that needs to be made by each system or school district: Will teachers use content from an online provider or vendor, create their own or a combination of both?
Regardless of which content decision is made, it is important to learn from the past. In the past, dating back to when computers were first introduced into schools, many school districts believed that administrative leaders should choose the technology or content first, and then invite teachers to participate. There are so many examples of technology implementation over the years where administrators or tech coordinators chose a technology and then rolled it out to teachers. In most cases, there were a few teachers who initially adopt and use the technology and then there are those who really are not interested. When considering a blended learning implementation, the involved teachers or a group of teachers should be involved in selecting the content for blended learning. This can be part of the planning process, but should also be part of the ongoing program evaluation process. Throughout most school districts today, there are a variety of vendors being chosen to meet the different teaching and learning needs rather than selecting one vendor who can meet all needs.
The key questions to ask regarding content should be:
- Will your school purchase vendor content or have teachers build the content?
- If your school chooses to purchase vendor content, what process will be utilized to select the content that best meets the needs of your school?
- If your school chooses to build their own content, what professional development will be provided for the content developers?
- Which content management platform will be used with your purchased or developed content?
- Which funds will be utilized to purchase or house the content?
- How will your school ensure content meets the goals of the program (best fit)?
- How will your school ensure content is aligned to standards?
- What ongoing professional development will be provided to teachers regarding the use of content, the platform and alignment to standards and quality?
- What measures will be used to indicate if the content is effective?
- What ongoing process will be put in place to measure the effectiveness of the content?
Overall, promising practices have emerged in the content element for the implementation and sustainability of a blended learning program. Specifically these include: 1) A common platform; 2) Content Decision Making; 3) Platform Reporting, and 4) Customizable by teachers.
Having a common content and technology platform chosen by teachers makes ongoing professional development much easier. No content provider will meet all of the curriculum standards or technology needs of any school, so it is good to select one and then work with it to understands it’s strengths and weaknesses. A good content provider will work with schools and teachers to modify and improve their system to best meet the needs of the customer. Overall, having a common platform facilitates:
- Professional development, consistency and common reporting across schools and teachers
- The opportunity to share content between teachers and across several schools
- Learning about the technical aspects of the platform by teachers to better deliver instruction
Choosing and evaluating the common platform is something that administrative and teacher leaders should be engaged in on an ongoing basis. Content decision making is important to consider so that:
- Schools choose the vendor content that best meets the needs of the students that attend their school.
- Teachers are involved in the selection of the content used at each school.
- Students in older grades can also provide ongoing feedback about the effectiveness of the online content.
The reports that are available from the chosen content management system should be easy to use and in the ideal world, easily integrate into the other technology systems used by teachers and the school. Efficient and effective platform reporting is important so that:
- Administrators can utilize the platform to view usage and reports to indicate teacher use and student engagement
- Teachers can utilize platform reports to determine student learning and then customize learning for students as well as reporting information to students and parents
Finally, the platform should be customizable for daily use. The platform should be customizable so that administrators and teachers can:
- Use the platform customize learning for students
- Develop their own content in the platform to enhance the vendor content to customize learning for students
- Provide individualized learning plans for students
- Students have some choice in how they learn the content (e.g. audio, video, text, etc.)
- Teachers can archive all lessons for the entire year so that content can be reused
- Integrate functions of the platform on a daily basis including lesson content, assessments, student dropbox for turning in work, and the electronic grade book that integrates with the district electronic grading system
Utilize the above content promising practices to identify and develop the ongoing review and evaluation plan for your school or district.