The more pervasive technological tools become in learning, the higher the standard to which those tools are held. These days, technology in the classroom is much less of a luxury and becoming much more of a necessity; therefore, educators and educational leaders are coming to expect more from their digital tools and making more informed decisions about where schools and districts invest their time and money.
The educators at Zorbit’s Math have been conducting interviews with parents, teachers, and administrators to better understand what they look for when it comes to vetting existing and new digital resources. Invariably, these conversations steered away from what these tools are, and towards how and why they are used.
It quickly became clear that we were looking in the wrong direction. Instead, we began to investigate the characteristics of blended resources. From these conversations with educational leaders, seven pervasive themes emerged which have been compiled into a report designed to help educators better understand, “Does Your Blended Resource Make The Grade.”
Depending on the context, blended learning can take on many different forms and has become one of those terms that if you ask 10 people, you’ll get 10 different definitions.
For our purposes, we refer to blended learning as an instructional modality in which teachers leverage technology with a high degree of intentionality so as to augment the hands-on learning experience they are already implementing in their lessons. In other words, technology should enhance learning experiences – not replace them.
No piece of technology or software will ever know students better than their teacher. However, technology does have the unique ability to lower the barrier to things that teachers want to do more of like personalized assessment and differentiated instruction. The benefits of these pedagogical ideas are well known and rarely refuted. However, coordinating such lessons in a class with 20 students, for example, is logistically challenging.
Taking a blended approach to the application of technology does not take a teacher’s professional judgement, autonomy, and expertise away by didactically doing their job for them. Instead, blended learning leverages that expertise and elevates their efforts by magnifying their differentiation, helping facilitate diverse and concurrent forms of assessment, and streamlining lesson planning by presenting emerging performance trends and recommending next steps. Blended learning uses technology and hands-on learning experiences to empower teachers – not replace them. In an interview with a district math coach, they joked that, “we know teachers need technology in the classroom, but we don’t want to turn teachers into robots – we want to help them become teacher cyborgs! That way, we get the best of both worlds.”
The interviews the Zorbit’s Math Education Team conducted highlight seven pervasive criteria that educational leaders investigate when considering new classroom resources and evaluating existing tools. Here is a summary of those criteria and some accompanying questions to ask when doing your own research on specific blended learning resources.
1. Do the digital resources augment hands-on experiences?
Are the digital and hands-on components connected? Do the digital resources promote exploration within and beyond the digital environment?
2. Are the resources built on research-based pedagogy?
Do the resources engage students in rich tasks rather than rote drills? Does it promote conceptual understanding, adaptive reasoning, and numeracy development?
3. Does it support teachers and build teacher-capacity?
Do the resources facilitate qualitative observations by the teacher? Do the resources inform lesson-planning decisions and best practices?
4. Is it versatile?
Does it support multiple teaching and learning styles? Can the tools be used for in-class and remote teaching scenarios?
5. Does it have a positive impact on students’ mindset?
Do the tools encourage students to keep trying? Does it focus on the problem-solving process and celebrate effort rather than focusing on correct answers?
6. Do students and teachers find it enjoyable and useful?
Do the tools have a balanced blend of pedagogy and play? Do the tools have a history of widespread and lasting adoption across school boards.
7. Does it have tools for administrators?
Can school and school board administrators monitor impacts on adoption and student learning? Do the tools provide insights regarding professional learning decisions and ROI?
The full report expands upon each of these criteria and is available for download here. It also includes a handy printable rubric to help compare resources you may be considering.
Written By: Matt Murphy
Matt Murphy is the Educational Designer for Zorbit’s Math Adventure, a K-3 game-based learning platform for the classroom. Matt has a Masters degree in Curriculum Design from the University of New Brunswick and has over five years of experience working in educational technology as an Instructional Designer, and Gamification/Game-Based Learning Consultant.