Research on professional development approaches continues to show that blended learning—a combination of online and face-to-face components—is an effective model for successful professional learning (Owston et al., 2008; Rovai & Jordan, 2004). Eduplanet21’s informal research suggests the same trend. In order for teachers to build trust and fully participate in an online learning experience, there must be some face-to-face interactions with colleagues.
Here are some practical strategies to ensure a successful blended learning experience:
Explain the Blended Learning Model to Teachers
This is a relatively new form for delivering professional development, and teachers will need to fully comprehend what is expected. It is very important that they see the value in joining an online environment. In Eduplanet21, this environment includes digital learning, activities for implementation, and participation in discussion based communities. Each of these is a departure from the usual “sit and git”. How can you orient teachers to this method? You can begin by:
- Introducing the purpose at a meeting—grade level, PLC, faculty, or department. Choose the meeting based on your purpose for offering the online learning path.
- Showing an orientation to the Learning Path. Describe what it is and what is expected of each teacher when participating.
- Offering some guidelines for the face-to-face component: When will people meet? What will be the purpose of the meeting? How frequently does this need to happen?
Use Face-to-Face Meetings to Enhance — Not Repeat
Accountability is always an issue. How can you be certain that the participants are engaging in the Learning Path? Too often we depend on seat time to tell us whether everyone is engaged. While that may be one way to measure engagement, it’s not sufficient enough. To increase interest and engagement in the blended learning professional development experience, don’t assign the same work during face-to-face time that you have also assigned to be done independently. Participants should use those real-time, synchronous meetings to enhance the meaning of the Learning Path work. Here are some ideas for making face-to-face time more meaningful:
- Chunk the material so that you are using face-to-face time in regular intervals.
- Review the discussions that have been taking place online and asynchronously. Pick up on some of the comments.
- Create a question starter for the face-to-face meeting.
- Rotate responsibility for the question starter so that everyone in the group participates.
- Exchange stories related to application of the learning that is occurring. What works? What needs to change?
Ensure that Participants Feel Comfortable with the Technology
Many people of a certain age will claim that they either do not have the technology or that they do not have the tech skills to do this work. This, of course, is not acceptable. It is a worse excuse than the “dog ate the homework”. Here are some ways to ensure that you are providing the kind of support that people may need to overcome technophobia:
- Identify a tech coach who will be available to walk people through the process of using the software.
- Identify a discussion facilitator who will help with the online discussion feature as well as prompt some discussion.
- Make certain that the bandwidth in your school or district can accommodate the tech needs of the Learning Path. If not, see what adjustments need to be made so that people can use their own devices.
Communicate to School/District Leaders what Teachers are Doing
Too often the leadership team in a school or district is not aware of the process of a Learning Path. Administrators do not need to be familiar with all of the content, but when they do not recognize the importance of this form of professional development, the teachers will likely ignore it as well. Here are some tips for making the Learning Path valuable to both administrators and teachers:
- Take the time to recognize the importance of the learning. Ask teachers to share how they are applying what they are learning. Arrange a five minute pair-share exchange at a faculty meeting.
- Correlate the content of the Learning Path with the teacher evaluation rubric you are using. For example, if there is an indicator for planning, check to see whether the Learning Path has some activities that require planning (all do!).
- Learn alongside the teachers, whenever possible. The more you know about the content of the Paths, the better you will be as an instructional coach, supervisor, and evaluator.