What is the definition of a blended classroom? Well, it depends on who you ask. At the college level a blended class is one that meets F2F sometimes and takes place on the computer at other times. In secondary education a blended class is one where many different students are taking a variety of courses while a certified teacher is present. That they both are online classes is where the similarities end. Public schools systems are doing the best they can to prepare students for college and career readiness. But the blended system of learning in most high school fall short of actually preparing students to succeed in online courses offered by most every college these days.
There are two major differences that must be addressed if educators are to be successful in preparing students for online classes at the college level. First, and most importantly is the development of online community and the sense of belonging to something bigger. College courses are so successful because a major component of the design is that students are either encouraged or required to respond to the work of other students. Collaborative work is also a large part of the college level course. Students communicate through chat rooms or discussion boards and learning naturally develops as a result of this effort. A high school blended classroom has many students taking a variety of courses. There are “Discussion” questions that when clicked on take the student to a “chat” room where they are to post their response. Unfortunately, the chances are slim that the student would receive any reply at all, simply because everyone is working on something different and at different times. One creative approach that gets the student involved in a discussion is when the discussion assignment comes due, have the student email a response to the teacher. The teacher should respond with a thought provoking comment and hopefully the student will be able to build on the idea.
Another major difference between college blended classes and secondary education is that of the teacher. In a college class all students are being taught or moderated by a professional in their particular expertise. Secondary classes are not exactly “taught” as much as they are mentored by the teacher. In a perfect world a public school blended teacher would know each subject intimately. Unfortunately, this is not the case; nor is it even plausible. The blended teacher will generally come from within the staff, trained on the particular LMS (Learning Management System) and only have a certification in one area (i.e. English, Math, Science, etc.). A blended teacher is usually chosen because they exhibited knowledge of technology, and ability to motivate reluctant learners. Often the blended teacher must guide the student on how to find an answer; either by using research tools or securing someone from the staff that they may turn to outside of the blended room.
For now colleges will continue what they are doing and advance technology as needed. Studies have shown that more and more college freshmen are taking online courses and learning the content. Public schools dealing with budget issues are far from homogeneous classes where all students are taking the same course at the same time. There are two reasons for this: First, it is the fear of all teachers that they will be replaced with online curriculum, and second, the vote is still out on just how effective online education really is for the adolescent. There is no doubt that conclusions will be reached, answers found and funded, and learning will take place. Just be wary when you hear “college and career readiness” and assume that online education prepares students for the online environments they will experience at the collegiate level.