I have the privilege to meet with many school districts engaging in blended learning at various stages of implementation. Some are just starting their journey, while others have been on the leading edge for close to ten years. And, though each brings unique energy, personnel and local flavor to their program, they want and struggle with similar things.
Districts want to improve student engagement and academic performance. They want to offer scheduling flexibility and expand course offerings (especially in high school). They want to create a 21st Century classroom experience for students to prepare them for their next steps in the increasingly digitally connected world. They want to tap into teachers' desire to develop and curate, or personalize, content to support achievement goals. In short, while ambitious, they want to transform the education experience for students, parents and teachers.
However, districts struggle with how to pursue and manage this transformation. How do they integrate digital tools and curricula and innovative, blended learning models while leveraging their current investments in instructional resources, facilities and student systems (SIS, LMS, Gradebooks, etc.)? They want to move fast, but are afraid to make a mistake that will stifle progress before it gets started.
So, what are districts doing to manage this transformation? What trends will continue or emerge in 2014 as districts continue their shift to blended learning?
1. Interoperability – districts are losing patience with managing a growing number of solutions that do not integrate with their SIS and other key management systems. They envision an ecosystem of solutions where data flows seamlessly to and from their key systems and students and teachers can launch their increasingly digital academic experience from a single platform.
2. Personalization – with the recent explosion of digital content, assessments and teacher tools, the ability to personalize the academic experience is only a few keystrokes away. However, not surprisingly, more is not always better. Districts want a streamlined way to manage personalization—a simple way to aggregate, search, provision and curate, or author, digital content. We hear things like, “Let me bring together a lot of different resources, align them to standards, and allow my team to search and deploy based on students’ needs. Let me do this from a single interface, but don’t limit my options from a content or tools perspective.”
3. Data and Analytics – this has always been important, but improving interoperability and personalization unlocks new and enhanced possibilities with data and analytics. Soon, in just a few clicks, a teacher will be able to view student performance in a single place across multiple solutions. And, even better, they will be able to quickly determine which solutions to apply to different types of students with increasing confidence that the students will realize success. Eventually, we’ll see recommendation engines proactively push suggestions to teachers and students based on data trends.
What’s fundamentally being expressed by the teachers and administrators I have visited across the country is a desire for a convergence of technology, content and instruction that will fuel the academic experience of tomorrow. Whether it is a traditional classroom like the ones we knew as kids—or the bleeding edge, innovative learning environments like Springs Studio for Academic Excellence (formerly Falcon Virtual Academy) in District 49 of Colorado, Springs, CO, or Alexandria City’s T.C. Williams Satellite Campus (Alexandria, VA), we’re seeing districts merge content, technology and instruction to improve student achievement.
Students are responding and demanding more. In 2014, look for this convergence to accelerate as districts refine their strategies, demand more from their partners, and expect more of their programs.
Gregg Levin is general manager of Fuel Education.