The importance of technology in today’s world is obvious everywhere you turn.
Technology drives innovation and business, it’s how we communicate with friends near and far, and sharing and collaborating is done more through cloud-like collaboration tools rather than with pen and paper.
There is constantly talk about how technology is the gateway to future success, innovation, and creativity. As we find ourselves in a world where technological knowledge and know-how is a pre-requisite for jobs, how do we teach this skill from an early age? What is the role of technology in the k-12 classroom?
The generation of 21st-century students more and more are using computers and smartphones to communicate with one another.
This is the preferred method of communication for K-12 classroom students so it only makes sense that these tools should be an essential component in their education. If they are used to expressing themselves via email and Twitter updates, it would make sense that they might respond and engage more to an online homework assignment that incorporates online discussion and links to pictures and videos that go with the lesson rather than say a handwritten essay.
We spoke with Catlin Tucker, High School English and Google Certified Teacher, Speaker and Author about the “Blended Learning” model for Grades 4-12 and how technology can and should play a roll in the classroom. Read below to learn more about Catlin and the blended learning model.
Tell me a little bit about yourself, your educational background, your current position, etc.
I am an English teacher at Windsor High School and have worked in Sonoma County for ten years. I teach 9th and 10th grade English Literature. I compliment my in-class instruction with online discussions and group collaboration using a variety of web 2.0 tools in a unique teacher-designed blended learning curriculum. In 2010, I was named Teacher of the Year by my school district.
In addition to my high school classes, I have taught online college level research writing courses through Axia College.
I write an education blog at www.catlintucker.com, lead professional development, design curriculum, and speak frequently at education technology events. My book Blended Learning in Grades 4-12: Leveraging Technology to Create Student-Centered Classrooms was published by Corwin in June 2012, and Creatively Teach the Common Core Literacy Standards with Technology: Grades 6-12.
I earned my B.A. in English Literature from the University of California, Los Angeles and my Single Subject English Credential and Masters in Education from the University of California, Santa Barbara. My Masters in Education focused on creating and maintaining a safe space in the classroom to lower the affective filter and create a more effective learning community. Recently, I have begun adapting this work to meet the challenges of creating a safe space in an online learning community.
For someone who isn’t familiar with the term, what is “Blended Learning”?
Blended learning is a formal education program in which a student is engaged in active learning at least in part online where they have some control over the time, place, and/or pace and in part at a brick and mortar location away from home.
This definition is an adaptation of Innosight Institutes newest definition released in their May white paper. They emphasize “online delivery of content;” in contrast, I emphasize “engaged active learning online.”
How have you personally incorporated a blended learning model in your own classroom?
I shifted to a blended model slowly. I began by replacing much of my pen and paper homework assignment with online discussions, debates, and collaborative group work with Collaborize Classroom – a structured and free online discussion platform.
Once my students learned how to communicate in a respectful, supportive and substantive way online, I began to branch out. I started exploring the flipped classroom model and recorded my writing and vocabulary lectures to present online so we could use precious class time for collaborative group work and practice. They were able to move at their own pace online, and I was better able to support them in the classroom with more individual attention.
Now, I am working to leverage their mobile technology in the classroom to put students in control of their learning in the physical classroom. I am using QR codes to connect them with resources, which has been fun. We do everything from “grammar challenges” to in-class “WebQuests” using cell phones and QR codes.
Obviously, technology is at the center of the Blended Learning model. Education has always been successful with books, a pen, and some paper. Why is a blended learning model preferable over a “traditional” teaching model?
I disagree. I see “learning” as the center of the the blended learning model. Technology is just the vehicle to engage students in a more active role in the learning process. Technology can be leveraged to encourage collaboration and creative problem-solving.
Fewer students are turning to pen and paper as their preferred method of communication outside of the classroom. The increasing number of digital texts available have made it easier for students to find the information they need online.
The classroom needs to mirror this shift, as much as is possible. Technology literacy is no longer a luxury, but rather a necessity. Students must learn how to leverage tools available to them to be successful in college or a career. Teachers can support this shift into a digital age by shifting from a curriculum grounded entirely in pen and paper assignments, which tend to encourage a solitary practice, to an increasingly blended model that is by nature more collaborative.
What are some obstacles for current teachers to begin incorporating technology into the classroom? What are some solutions, especially for teachers who may have limited resources?
Whenever I present on integrating technology, teachers ask “what do you do if students don’t have access?” Increasingly, my answer is “find them access.” Many teachers feel they are disenfranchising students without access. If they leave our class without cultivating these skills, then we are disenfranchising them.
I’ve embedded a Google map of our school and town with pins dropped in all of the locations where there are computers with internet access available to students. I want to raise awareness about where students can go to get online. I have also made sure students and their parents are aware of the opportunities for low-income families to get significantly reduced high-speed internet and refurbished computers. Lastly, there are computer recycling programs that regularly donate computers to classrooms and families in need. Teachers need to be proactive and creative to ensure their students get online.
You’ve said before that blended learning is more about “rethinking the way we teach students” than it is simply changing “content and instruction”. Can you elaborate on this?
As educators, we must think outside of the box in the way we integrate technology. It should not be an “add-on” or “frill.” Instead, technology should be seamlessly woven into our educational fabric to engage students in critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, innovation, and creation. To radically shift the teaching paradigm, we must use technology to shift students from a consumption role to a production role.
What is your “big picture” hope for the future of K-12 education? What would an ideal school look like for you?
I would love to see the classroom transformed into a space that is flexible – characterized by movement, conversation, collaboration and the strategic use of technology. Ideally, teachers would have smaller class sizes to offer more one-on-one support, while embracing innovative approaches to teaching and learning (i.e. project-based learning). Students would have more opportunities to progress at their own pace.
I encourage other educators to claim and define the term “blended learning” to ensure that we help shape the future of blended learning in K-12.
Thanks Catlin for taking the time to speak with us! Regpack is based on the idea that technology drives innovation that improves business and it’s through technology that we are constantly challenging ourselves to redefine the status quo in our field. It’s always great to see educators like Catlin who do the same in their fields, using innovation,
It’s always great to see educators like Catlin who do the same in their fields, using innovation, creativity, and passion to inspire and teach others.
You can learn more about Blended Learning on Catlin’s blog. Technology isn’t just for students! Engage and learn more with Catlin or other educators online via Twitter. Chat with Catlin directly through her Twitter handle @Catlin_Tucker if you have any questions for her or want to connect.