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Blended Learning and SchooVR

With the increase and availability of technology, many instructors have adopted blended learning into their everyday teaching. Essentially, blended learning combines face-to-face learning with online learning (Garrison and Kanuka 2004). It requires the presence of both teacher and student; however, unlike the traditional classroom, the student has some control over aspects such as time, pace, and place.

Many models of blended learning exist including the Flipped Classroom model and the Enriched Virtual model. These two blended learning models facilitate learning in the classroom and at home. In the Flipped Classroom model, students are introduced to new concepts while at home and come together in the classroom to work collaboratively, solve problems, or learn more advanced information. The Enriched Virtual model is similar to the Flipped Classroom except students may not attend face-to-face sessions daily. Picciano, Dziuban and Graham (2013) explain that the Enriched Virtual model is a ‘full school experience, not a course-by-course model’ (p. 295). For many educators, transitioning to blended learning happened organically since technology is easily accessible to both teachers and students.

With the easy accessibility, many instructors have been integrating technology with traditional face-to-face instruction for several years. Because devices are ubiquitous, students expect to use them as part of their daily learning. Smart phones, iPads, Chromebooks, and laptops are in the hands of most students. It is how they communicate and socialize, so it is only natural for teachers to meet them where they are and take advantage of the available technology for learning.

For students to be successful in the future, they need to develop 21st century skills, so they can compete with others from around the world. The use of technology in the classroom promotes these skills which include communication, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. An education program that emphasizes blended learning is rich in technology, an essential component of preparing students for their future. In addition to 21st century skills, blended learning increases student engagement, interaction, and motivation (Roach, 2014; Kim et al., 2014; McLaughlin et al., 2013; Galway et al., 2014). It also affords teachers and students more flexibility with planning, pace, and place.

As educators our responsibility is to prepare students to be successful in whatever future they choose for themselves. We teach them 21st century skills so they can thrive in college, career, and beyond. To be successful in teaching these skills, students must be exposed to technology as part of their learning. Students rely on technology as part of their daily lives, so a classroom that does not take advantage of this only hinders students’ growth. Imagine a classroom without technology, and you will find a community of learners who is unable to function in the real world.

Blended learning encourages the use of technology. While at home students may learn a new concept from watching a video coupled with a reading. When they return to the classroom, small groups of students can then use the information to create their own video or slideshow to share with others. From using YouTube, screencasting, and digital technologies to creating slideshows and sharing GoogleDocs, technology engages students in learning and generates an atmosphere where students are motivated to learn more. And, although these technologies have become an essential part of learning, there are barriers to consider.

Yes, technology and devices are everywhere; however, not all students have equal access. Schools must consider cost and how to reach all students when creating a technology rich environment. WiFi speeds, age of devices, and location are just some of the problems associated with access to technology. Some programs require high speed internet as well as the most up-to-date devices. If students live in rural areas, they often do not have access to WiFi, and many cannot afford the cost of highspeed internet.

To address students’ needs, schools must provide access to hotspots and devices to ensure equity for all. If the budget does not allow for this fix, teachers must know which students do not have access to WiFi and/or devices. With this knowledge, teachers can create alternative assignments and paper copies. But, unfortunately, this inequity places the students at a grave disadvantage to their more affluent peers. Depending on the number of students in need, blended learning can be difficult to accomplish.

Along with access, learning the technology as well as teaching it becomes a burden for teachers. Schools may invest in new technologies and learning management systems, yet the users (mostly teachers) must understand how to use them. Teachers need adequate training and practice with the new technology. If teachers do not see a benefit to the technology or are not comfortable using it, they will not adopt it. Yet, administrators expect the technology to be utilized, and they often expect results. When teachers are fully trained, they then must instruct their students on how to use the technology. So, along with teaching math or history, teachers also create lessons on how to apply the new technology before allowing students to interact with content.

Technology has transformed how teachers teach and learners learn. Yet, with most transformations, barriers arise and must be solved. Blended learning will continue to evolve as more educators adopt the various models and meet the needs of their students. And, students will continue to expect to use the latest technology on the most up-to-date devices.

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