Strategic Design of Blended Learning

Blended learning teachers deliberately design all elements of their students' experience to meet desired learning outcomes
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About This Strategy

This strategy walks teachers through the steps of intentionally designing learning for a blended setting where digital and in-person elements come together to empower students to drive their own learning. Unlike traditional instruction where all students are completing the same work in a single classroom, in blended learning, students may be working in different locations in differing modalities. As a result, it is essential that teachers strategically plan activities, assessments, and the acquisition of course content so that learning is equitable and resources are accessible to all students. Effective blended learning teachers backwards plan, beginning with the learning targets, determining assessment details, and then finally designing activities to meet the learning targets.

Implementation Steps

  1. Begin strategic planning for a blended lesson or unit using the principles of backwards design. The Backwards Design Template with Descriptions document in the resources section below will guide teachers to answer the central question, "What do I want my students to know and be able to do by the end of this learning experience?" In backwards design, teachers work through the following planning stages in order:

    • Identify Learning Targets

    • Determine Desired Evidence of Learning

    • Plan Learning Experiences

  2. Explore various models of blended learning, identifying possible ways of aligning activities, assessments, and course content with the various technology choices.

    • A full discussion of the most common models of blended learning from the Christensen Institute's Blended Learning Universe is available in the resources below.

    • BetterLesson blended master teachers offer innovative ways to transform classroom culture and instructional design to boost student performance. Dive into their Model Overviews in the resource section.

    • Use the Blended Learning Icon Cards from How to Become A Man (or Woman) With a Plan resource to plan your own model for blended learning.

  3. Identify a digital homebase or learning management system that you will use to connect all online activities. Many schools have a required or recommended tool for this purpose. Check with your school technology or media specialist for recommendations and assistance. If your district does not have a preferred tool, try Google Classroom or SeeSaw, which are described in the Tech Tools section below.

  4. Build a culture of student-centered learning in the digital and in-person environment by developing a Community of Inquiry.

    • Provide ways for your students to establish a social presence. Build community through icebreakers and collaborative activities. Encourage students to share (related) anecdotes, experiences, and beliefs online.

    • Be present in the online environment as a learning facilitator. Consider creating and sharing video or audio to connect with learners. Give timely feedback and helpful instructions. 

    • Design opportunities for learners to construct and confirm meaning online. 

      • Encourage engagement by assigning authentic online tasks, tasks that people complete in the real world. See Authentic Assessment in the Online Classroom below for examples of authentic online tasks.

      • Have students demonstrate their learning with media. See the Show What You Know with Media resource below for an example of how to get students creating.

      • Allow for the productive struggle online, not rescuing students by immediately providing answers, but encouraging thinking through questioning. To learn more about productive struggle, check out the Productive Struggle is a Learner's Sweet Spot resource below.

      • For more information about developing a Community of Inquiry, see the Purdue Community of Inquiry resource below.

  5. Curate and create resources to use to introduce content to students. Balance the use of text, images, audio, video and interactives to keep students engaged. Explore the Modes of Online Content Delivery resource below to learn about the advantages, disadvantages, best use, and resources for each mode of delivery.

Digital Discourse in the Blended Classroom

Sometimes teachers don’t see a need for online discussion when students have the opportunity to communicate in person. The assumption is that in-person communication is always the best. However, there are advantages and disadvantages to both forms of communication. This Use Case will explain ways to effectively facilitate online discussion in the blended classroom.

Implementation steps:

  1. Compare and contrast online and in-person communication in order to determine when to use each form.

    • In-person synchronous communication provides a human connection that makes it easier to establish trust. It also allows for unplanned and impromptu discussions as students respond to one another. The main disadvantage of in-person classroom discussion is that all students may not engage in the conversation. Additionally, time is limited in classroom discussion.

    • Online discussion, particularly asynchronous, is more flexible than in-person discussion because the limitations of time and place are removed. Before students post to an online discussion, they have time to think and may give deeper reflections. Often, applications allow students to edit and revise their comments as well. Because of this, online communication may provide for critical thinking. Online discussion tools can also allow students to communicate outside the classroom and around the world. As opposed to in-person communication, online communication might lack the generation of ideas as students respond to one another. Text online discussions may feel impersonal, but video and audio online discussions can overcome that limitation.

  2. Build a positive culture for online discourse.

    • Review step 4 from the main implementation steps above to build a Culture of Inquiry.

    • Introduce and continuously emphasize elements of positive digital citizenship. Do not tolerate bullying.

    • Use online video introductions, icebreakers, and fun activities to encourage students to build a positive online social presence.

    • Use online surveys to solicit feedback regarding students preferences with the online portion of the class. Ask for suggestions to improve the class and implement some of the suggestions.

  3. Teach students to give quality comments.

    • In the the Learning How to Comment resource below, Mrs. Yolis's students share what makes for a good blog comment. The same content also applies for a quality discussion board comment and the video demonstrates a project that teachers can try with students of any age. 

    • Provide an online or paper anchor card that lists a few sentence starters that will help students express their thoughts.

  4. Go beyond text. Use images, videos, or audio in discussion prompts and encourage students to include media in their responses as well. See an example of this strategy in practice in the Better Than Online Discussion by Charles Cooper resource.

  5. Start the discussion with a high-level, open ended question.

    • Use the Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy – Question Starters resource and make sure your questions are at the top.

    • For more help with formulating questions, consult the Designing Effective Discussion Questions resource below.

  6. Be present in the discussions, not taking over or overtly correcting, but providing probing questions and affirmations.

EL Modifications

Providing the following may help your English Learners be successful with the online portion of a blended classroom:

  • Vocabulary list of terms with images for navigating digital tools.

  • Captioning for video or visual media in the student's original language. Utilize Google Translate for digital translations.

  • Prior to assigning online discussion, facilitate an off-line discussion helping the students utilize sentence stems.

  • For the first online discussion, choose a simple non-content topic with which the students are familiar.

  • Instead of assigning a whole class online discussion, create smaller breakout discussions where students are communicating with a partner.

  • Teach students to use Computer Support Hand Signals from the resource below so that they can quickly receive help without calling out.

Special Education Modifications

  • Utilize technology tools to provide read-aloud support, transcripts and captions, definitions, and highlighting to help students access and organize content. Tools such as TextHelp's Read&Write supports students who struggle with reading online texts.

  • When introducing a new digital tool, walk through the steps of BetterLesson's Launching a New Digital Solution in Your Classroom strategy to be sure that you are ready to support learners. Be sure to facilitate an activity that allows for low-stakes student practice with the digital tool.

Questions to Consider

  • What systems and supports will you need to ensure all students have equitable access online?

  • How will you organize your materials online and in person?

  • How will you build and uphold a positive and productive culture both online and in person?

  • How will you communicate with students and families online?

  • How will you introduce new content to students online and in person?

  • How will your students engage in learning activities online? What tools will form your core?

  • How will you check to be sure that all students are actually learning from online activities?

  • What will you do if some of your students struggle with the online portion of your class?

Coach Tips

Tracie Cain
BetterLesson Instructional Coach

Start small. Do not try to plan out your whole blended course in one sitting. Instead, start by blending one lesson at a time.

Begin with a core set of digital tools that students will use repeatedly. My core always includes a homebase that everything will be linked to and from, Google Suite tools, a creation tool, and a discussion tool. I introduce them to students one at a time.

Find a friend. Recruit a colleague or Twitter buddy to go on the Blended Learning journey with you. Share ideas and resources and overcome road bumps together.

Tech Tools

Seesaw

  • Seesaw allows for the documentation of artifacts, audio, video, and writing that can easily be shared with an entire class or with parents as students build their seesaw portfolio. 

  • Seesaw is an excellent online homebase for digital learning that is accessible even for the youngest learners.
     

Google Classroom

  • Google Classroom is an online platform that empowers teachers to simplify creating, distributing, and grading assignments online.

  • Google Classroom is a free learning management tool that can serve as a digital homebase in the blended learning classroom.

 

Padlet

  • Padlet is a digital corkboard type tool that students can use to post information reflections. 

  • Padlet can be used as an online discussion tool that allows for embedding media. Students can create their own Padlets for discussion or even presentation.
     

Flipgrid

  • Flipgrid is a video discussion platform great for generating class discussion around topics, videos, or links posted to the class grid. Students can video record their responses to share with the teacher or class. 

  • Flipgrid ups the ante on digital discourse by allowing for video posts and comments.
     

Screencastify

  • Screencastify is a Chrome Extension that allows users to quickly record a video of  whatever is on the screen. Users can include narration and an embedded webcam.

  • Screencastify is a simple to use tool that teachers can use to create their own online content.

Related Lessons

  • Explore the Google Form Warm-Up lesson by twelfth grade ELA BetterLesson Master Teacher Johanna Paraiso included in the resources below to see how Johanna uses Google Forms during the first 10 minutes of class to activate student interest in learning.
     

  • Explore the Collaborative Pre-Reading lesson by third grade ELA BetterLesson Master Teacher Mark Montero included in the resources below to see how students generate questions before reading online in order to increase their comprehension.
     

  • Explore the ThingLink for PBL in Science lesson by ninth grade science BetterLesson Master Teacher Jessica Anderson included in the resources below to see how students can use ThinkLink to compile information from research.
     

  • Explore the Tech-Enabled Graphic Organizer lesson by eighth grade social studies BetterLesson Master Teacher Tanesha Dixon included in the resources below to see how students can use digital graphic organizers for learning.