What are your experiences and perceptions related to your own use of blended learning and/or technology integration in your professional context? What challenges and opportunities have you experienced?
I have a variety of experiences with blended learning in Secondary and Post-Secondary contexts. When working as a Secondary teacher, I used blended learning almost daily in my classrooms. At the time, I was teaching primarily English as an Additional Language (EAL) students. It was critical to use blended learning techniques, as most of the students were at different learning levels. The ability to integrate technology into my daily plans allowed the students the freedom and flexibility to work at their own pace. As well, since the majority of the students were at different places in their learning, it gave me more time to work individually with students, personalize the content, and build a classroom community that thrived on inquiry-based assignments and student-led learning. In order to do this successfully, I utilized the institution’s Learning Management System (LMS), Google Classroom, to create tailored lessons, extra practice assessments, fun surveys and Kahoots, and a discussion board that allowed students, from any level, to ask their peers questions. One of the largest challenges that I experienced teaching EAL with a blended learning model was the time commitment. Since I was not just preparing materials, content, and assessments for one level, but typically two to four, it required more time than was allocated to me during my prep periods. As well, the ability to book and use computers was a challenge since they were in high demand and the school did not have enough for students to use.
Eventually, I transitioned into the Post-Secondary realm and began instructing in the Mental Health & Wellness program at my institution. Unfortunately, I made this transition just as COVID-19 hit. Thankfully, my institution understood the importance of learning in person and adopted a hybrid blended model of learning instead switching to fully online. This allowed me to connect with students in the classroom by holding discussions and debates, but also build content and assessments online using the LMS Brightspace for students to access and work through on their own time. However, as we all know, students get sick. Due to this, I would often have students who could only join our in-person days through Zoom or Microsoft Teams while other students were learning in person. This created a challenge for me since I did not have a microphone, so I was metaphorically tied to the front of the room near my laptop so the students online could hear and see me. Walking throughout the classroom to engage students, hosting fun learning activities like gallery walks, and discussions suddenly became challenging. Students online had difficulties hearing the students in the classroom, information would get misunderstood, and I could see the frustration from the in-person students who would rather be online. Although this particular model of blended learning had its benefits, I found that the challenges outweighed the benefits.
After a year of teaching in Post-Secondary, I was given the opportunity to become a Program Coordinator for Post-Secondary Studies and I oversaw the Mental Health & Wellness and Business Administration programs. As part of my role, I helped assist, educate, and manage the instructors in my programs. Due to this, I was able to witness their challenges and successes with the blended learning model. The majority of the instructors used blended learning in a similar manner as I did when teaching through COVID-19 since we had no other choice. However, once the programs switched to fully in-person again, instructors were able to transition to a blended learning model shown in the video linked here. The instructors were visibly less stressed when the transition happened because they could again focus on student success, instead of being pulled in multiple directions. As well, by this time I had also spent time writing curriculum and assessments for the institution, so I was able to create development course shells on the institution’s LMS, Brightspace, for instructors to export and import into their courses to reduce their prep load. This also helped make the institution’s courses universal amongst their campuses, so students at each campus would be reading the same materials and assessed in a similar way. In addition, the LMS shells strengthened our institution’s articulation and brokerage agreements.
Blended learning can look a variety of different ways and each way has its own benefits and problems associated. Just like how each classroom is different and diverse, there is no set specific way that blended learning must look, which allows instructors to tailor each course for the students that they have.