Academic journal article Education Next

Blending Face-to-Face and Online Learning

Academic journal article Education Next

Blending Face-to-Face and Online Learning

Article excerpt

The way the 1st graders hurtle toward their computer workstations, you'd think they were headed out to recess. It's an unseasonably warm winter morning in San Jose, California, and the two dozen students at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary School get situated quickly in the computer lab, donning headphones and peering into monitors displaying their names. The kindergartners follow a moment later, until 43 seats are filled. The effect is of a miniature, and improbably enthusiastic, call center.

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This lab--and the larger plan for the school surrounding it-has probably done more than any other single place to create enthusiasm for "hybrid schools." Such schools combine "face-to-face" education in a specific place (what used to be called "school") with online instruction. (Rocketship uses the term "hybrid," rather than the increasingly prevalent term "blended learning," because the computers are not actually "blended" with face-to-face instruction in the same classroom.) It's a sign of how young the hybrid and blended field is that this school at the epicenter hails all the way back to 2007. Rocketship Education, a small but burgeoning network of charter schools that serves an overwhelmingly low-income immigrant community in San Jose, has made a name through its, forgive the phrase, high-flying student performance. Two of its three schools are old enough to have test scores. They rank among the 15 top-performing high-poverty schools statewide, and the site that opened in 2009 was the number-one first-year school in the state in the high-poverty category. But what positions Rocketship on the cutting edge of school reform is its vision for how technology will integrate with, and change, the structure of the school. (Disclosure: Our firm, NewSchools Venture Fund, is a significant investor in the work of Rocketship and of several other organizations mentioned in this article.)

The scene in the computer lab represents the first steps toward realizing the Rocketship vision. In the lab, the 1st graders log in by selecting from a group of images that acts as a personal password, and then race through a short assessment that covers math and reading problems. Faced with the prompt "Put all the striped balls in one basket and all the polka-dotted balls in the other basket," a student named Jazmine uses her mouse to move the objects to their places. Then it's on to the core activity of her 90 minutes in the lab: a lesson on counting and grouping using software from DreamBox. The scenarios are slightly surreal-more objects to move, in this case mostly fruit, and the reward for getting it right involves an animated monkey bringing yet more fruit to a stash on her island-but she and most other students take on the task assiduously. It may be a lesson, but that's not how Jazmine sees it. "This game is really easy," she says. A bit later, she'll read a book from a box targeted at her exact reading level, and make a return visit to the computer to take a short quiz about what she read.

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Despite the kids' engagement in the online lesson, no one is claiming that time in front of the computer is directly responsible for the extraordinary performance of Rocketship students. Rather, the online work is essential to the long-term vision for the school's instructional model-and for Rocketship's growth trajectory. Crucially, the lab requires an adult who has experience with children, but no teaching credential (nor, indeed, bachelor's degree) is required. For this class, it's a young mother named Coral De Dios, who dispenses help and order as the moment requires. Her ability to monitor the 43 kids here means that the school requires less staff, ultimately saving hundreds of thousands of dollars each year that can be plowed back into resources for the school, including staff salaries. In cash-strapped California, that's no small matter. …

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