I have taught high school science for 25 years. When I entered the teaching profession, I wanted my classroom to consist of more than me lecturing students on what I insisted that they learn and then them replaying those facts at scheduled testing times. I was concerned that I was expected, as the teacher, to be the authority. (“Question Authority” had been my bumper sticker while in college.)
As I began my teaching career, technology was being used in very limited ways. While I was comfortable with it, I could not have imagined how technology would change teaching and learning. Over the course of my career, I have seen firsthand how blended learning, especially, can enrich the classroom environment, breaking down the walls between school and the broader world as well as between the learner and the teacher.
My own blended classroom began with my school’s implementation of a 1:1 iPad program four years ago. The school provided professional learning with the program’s launch, primarily on how the devices worked. While this type of training can be an important starting point for someone new to mobile technology, it can provide little information about or incentive to change the actual teaching occurring in the classroom. In fact, during the first year my students had iPads, they used them primarily to research answers (“just Google it”) and to create traditional text-heavy documents.
In contrast, today my students come to class with new resources (apps, videos, websites, and more) that they are excited about. They ask questions. And because mobile devices have since become much more readily available, blended learning can occur with borrowed devices and student-owned devices (also known as BYOD) as well as in 1:1 programs.
One year into the 1:1 iPad implementation, I was offered the opportunity to learn about iTunes U. Through an intense, one-day workshop, I was provided with the information I needed to get started curating and delivering a media-rich collection of digital learning resources. Support was in place to help me succeed, including a team of other teachers working on their own courses, access to people who could answer technical questions, a few well-placed deadlines, and review by professional peers.
The first iTunes U course I developed was Chemistry; a course that currently has over 115,000 subscribers. That course really demonstrated the benefits of blended learning to me. My students had organized digital resources available to them anywhere and anytime. They could catch up easily if they missed class, work ahead if they wanted, and most importantly, come to class ready to share in their own learning.
I quickly developed iTunes U courses for other other subjects I taught, including Forensics: Profiling, Forensics: Evidence, and Greenhouse Management. While I did create some of my own material, much of my work was organizing and presenting quality digital content that was already available.
During that year, I was honored to be selected as an Apple Distinguished Educator (ADE) for my innovative use of Apple technology in the classroom. Being an ADE gave me a connection to an amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN). My fellow ADEs are my tribe; they provide me with laughter and tears as well as abundant ideas and support.
I also began presenting about what I was doing as much as I could--at local, regional, and national events focused on content, pedagogy, and technology. It can be intimidating to even consider presenting at events like ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) and NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) conferences. However, doing so provided me with the opportunity to share my story while learning so much from the stories of others.
Never Stop Learning
I attend professional gatherings whenever I can; I have found that the most successful conferences, or sessions within larger conferences, are those that challenge me to discover new resources and try new skills--instead of just hearing about them. Hands-on learning is the goal for me as well as my students.
EdCamp and CUE, for example, have provided me the opportunity to shape my own learning and to work directly with teachers who are leading change in the classroom. In addition, the EdTechTeacher iPad Summits and iPadpalooza offer the opportunity to meet and learn alongside other educators using tablets.
For me, blended learning means developing the habit of seeking out new ideas. And it means trying out these ideas outside of the classroom as well as within its walls. With the introduction of mobile technology and blended learning in my classroom, I have become a better teacher. I am more responsive to my students’ unique learning needs and more flexible in how students express their learning.