Selecting Digital Curricula to Complement Blended Learning Models: Hone in on Specific Criteria When Choosing Online Resources for a Blended Learning Curriculum

District Administration, January 2014 | Go to article overview

Selecting Digital Curricula to Complement Blended Learning Models: Hone in on Specific Criteria When Choosing Online Resources for a Blended Learning Curriculum


A District Administration Web Seminar Digest * Originally presented on November 7, 2013

More and more districts are pairing digital resources with classroom instruction. The variety and number of available curricula is also growing, which may leave administrators confused about how to evaluate their options for tools that help to meet Common Core and other standards, boost achievement, and more. This web seminar featured interactive, adaptive technology expert, Tim Hudson, and his tips for selecting the appropriate digital curricula for your district's blended learning program.

In Classifying K-12 Blended Learning, Michael Horn and Heather Staker define blended learning as: A formal education program where at least part of the learning is online, and where there is some element of student control over time, place, path, or pace. At least part of student learning must occur in a supervised brick and mortar location away from home. The key distinction is where the learning is taking place. Two models of blended learning are flipped classroom and enriched-virtual. Both involve at-home instruction on a computer and in-school practice and project work with a teacher.

But ultimately, blending is a means to what end? The quality of what is being done with a teacher and what is being done on the computer are both critically important if blending is a strategy that your district is going to use to improve student achievement. You need to define your goals, and be sure that blended learning is an appropriate strategy to achieve those goals.

The quality of digital learning experiences needs to be considered just as important as the quality of the classroom experience. Everyone knows how crucial quality teachers are to the learning process. Oftentimes when we choose to engage students with computers, there's not that same high emphasis when reviewing and evaluating software.

Blended learning should not be the ultimate goal. The goal should be improved learning, and the question should be, "how can a blended strategy be leveraged to achieve that goal?" In Alive in the Swamp, Michael Fullan and Katelyn Donnelly discuss how technology-enabled innovations often are not focused enough on pedagogy and outcomes. Too often, online content uses basic pedagogy and acts as a tool that allows teachers to do the "same old practices" in a digital format.

The "SAMR" model, developed by Dr. Ruben Puentedura, helps administrators analyze whether technology is substituting, augmenting, modifying, or redefining the learning that students are doing. The "S" and the "A" are enhancements, while the "M" and the "R" are transformations. When you are looking at different digital resources, you should consider whether something is just a digitized worksheet, which is just substitution, or whether the technology empowers students to engage in new tasks.

Before you implement blended learning, you need to define what you want students to accomplish, how you will know they have achieved it, and what resources you will need for student learning. Practical student learning needs have to be considered first when digital curricula are being selected. Different resources support and align with different grade and proficiency levels and content areas.

The second consideration is learning outcomes: What are our goals, and what is the assessment evidence that will prove students have accomplished these goals? There are long-term, overarching goals that sometimes get overlooked, such as creating capable, confident, curious learners. Resources should not only focus on a specific skill, but help teachers and administrators facilitate a community of engaged learners. …

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