I’m grateful to Andrew for clarifying some definitions, raising some questions, and stirring the pot a bit. I’d like to get to Andrew’s question around the pedagogy implicit in blended learning models, and his desire to dig into whether they liberate students through learning or shackle children to computer screens, merely drilling them with ostensibly rote learning.
But I’ll need to wait until the next post to get to this great question, because I’d first like to respond to a few particular points:
- Rocketship Schools: We should be careful about interpreting the quote from the PBS interview with too much liberty. Andrew suggests that “one high-profile charter school, Rocketship, for instance, does not receive such feedback from their much-discussed learning labs.” I hear the Rocketship principal recognizing that there are challenges with gathering and optimizing this data as fully and efficiently as they would like, not that they are failing to receive it at all. This post by Charlie Bufalino, a former Online Learning Specialist at Rocketship, addresses this point, suggesting that the problem involves integrating multiple sources of data from different online curriculum programs, and having them aligned and synchronized for efficient teacher use. In other words, there are inefficiencies, as with any new technology, and opportunities for improvement. But this does not mean that teachers are not getting the information at all, nor that a blended learning environment is not far more data rich than a traditional classroom environment.
- In defense of Batman: Despite Andrew’s deconstruction of the Batman metaphor, I will try to defend its relevance (though I need to admit I stole it from Jeff Kerscher, an ACE grad working with Seton Partners’ on their blended learning “Phaedrus Initiative” out in Seattle, and I thought it very clever!). I assume Andrew’s zeal was, in part, for the chance to evoke an image of Donald Trump driving the bat-mobile with his hair blowing in the wind. I’m OK with the hero language in reference to teachers and the travails of education, though I can appreciate Andrew’s points. Yes, it is Batman’s courage, character and karate skills that make him heroic, but the technology brings his game to the next level. The makings of a hero are already there, but the technology optimizes and leverages his skills, virtue and commitment. That’s the point. Blended learning can take a strong teacher’s game to the next level.
Here’s an anecdote to make this point more concrete. An exceptionally talented teacher in L.A. working with Alliance charter schools had been recognized on multiple occasions as teacher of the year for the city and had achieved heroic academic results for low-income children. When Alliance switched to blended learning, she transitioned to the new approach to teaching. When my friend Joe Womac talked to her about the transition, her eyes welled up with tears while saying: “If only I had blended learning earlier there are so many more children I could have reached.” This woman is a hero. She was before and regardless of any technology. But why not give her a Bat-mobile and bulletproof body-armor and see what she can do with it!? According to her own testimony, blended learning was a game changer for optimizing her skills and commitment.