Blended courses are a mix of instructional strategies that are delivered both online and face-to-face, with the goal of allowing the student more flexibility in meeting the course requirements while developing twenty-first century technology skills in a safe learning environment.
The combination of instruction delivered both face-to-face (synchronous) and online (asynchronous) gives students the time needed to process the materials as well as to critically engage the content to respond appropriately and with confidence. The dual learning environments offer students the opportunity to interact with the content on a deeper level, resulting in increased comprehension.
Because of the nature of instruction in a blended course, students are given the opportunity to learn with some degree of autonomy. This provides them not only with a more authentic connection to the content, but also a more flexible learning environment. In a blended course, there is some degree of freedom with the pace of interaction with the content, the freedom to work in a different and more comfortable environment, and the opportunity to create genuine educational products.
One of the stated objectives of the PAUSD is to prepare students for the future. Being a university student in the twenty-first century is different than it was for prior generations. Today, there is an expectation at the college level that students are learning beyond the classroom. Universities also focus less on the day-to-day content accountability as compared to their secondary school counterparts. The asynchronous environment in a blended course promotes student centric learning in preparation for this shift, while maintaining an environment of accountability. Additionally, because of the nature of these courses, individual time management becomes a necessary skill for students to master as they prepare to participate in a college or university environment.
Student Centric 21st Century Skills
With technology rapidly changing, knowledge is open to the masses. Students, with the click of a button, have the ability to use the world as a resource. However, working with this seemingly endless body of material is a skill that must continue to be honed. The blended environment encourages this by bridging the resources and tools readily available to students with face-to-face instruction that encourages both incorporation and evaluation of information. Additionally, as communication has moved into a more electronic format, students need to know how to function and collaborate properly and professionally in this environment.
In 2009 the District began to think outside the box regarding instruction. At the end of that academic year, one of the high school instructors proposed the idea of teaching a “hybrid” course, the idea was to incorporate the best parts of online communities, while using online resources along with a more seminar style face-to-face instruction. The objective at the time was to make a more student centric environment that would bring down the level of anxiety that eleventh and twelfth graders experience at the culmination of their high school careers. This was proposed in a very low risk setting in an effort to pilot the program. This format was then tested in a summer school course and had mixed results. As this blended learning movement started to expand globally, there was growing concern regarding its implementation and the district’s goals for student learning. At that time there had been no formal discussion as to how PAUSD was going to address this shift and how it would best meet the goals of the district and stakeholders with respect to this new pedagogy. In 2011, we began to explore a more formal approach to developing hybrid courses. A teacher was given a twenty percent release and tasked with researching everything from best-practices to teacher training methods. During the 2012-2013 school year, in conjunction with the Santa Clara County Office of Education, a cohort of PAUSD teachers were led through a certification program and began to build courses from the ground up, always keeping student learning at the forefront of this development. During the 2013-2014 school year the district launched its first set of official blended courses. During that same year the evaluation process was expanded to include the UC A-G standards and feedback from students, parents and teachers. While these courses were being implemented at both sites, a second cohort began to develop another round of courses ready for implementation in the 2014-2015 school year. PAUSD continues to train teachers and offer new classes to students in the blended modality.