Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Coming Clash in Blended Learning: Part II

This past weekend, Tom Vander Ark tweeted about Michael Horn from the Christensen Institute kicking off a small wonkish blended learning conference.  Horn was one of the authors along with Clayton Christensen and Curt Johnson of a book called Disrupting Class. That book was all about using technology to replace teachers and create new models for the U.S. K-12 education system.  As I pointed out in a post in 2010 that included an exchange with Horn, the first edition of their book didn't mention blended learning.  They've since added a section on their brand of blended learning in later editions.

I replied to Vander Ark's tweet with the following tweet: " Not differentiating replacement / empowerment of teachers"

To which Vander Ark replied: "off base (like your blog); all about Improving Conditions & Careers for teachers, see paper I think he was referring to this post.

We then exchanged a series of tweets;  I'm @sabier on Twitter if you want to look them up.  The Disrupting folks are beginning to realize that disrupting class or disrupting the public school system which appears to be their ultimate goal is a big job, and their teacher replacement model is not likely to get much traction except in schools that are really desperate.   The schools that Vander Ark has worked with so far are all charter schools, or new schools of some type, or home school networks, or severely stressed school districts like Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Nashville, and Clark County. 'Working with them' seems to involve some kind of private foundation support and some kind of reorganizing how teachers are paid. They don't seem to know how to implement blended technology without disrupting the governance/financial structure of a school.

One of the tell-tale signs that they're really interested in teacher replacement is how Vander Ark's group explains how a teacher will earn more pay with their brand of blended learning  "teachers can extend their reach by teaching a larger number of students without increasing class size because, at a given time, some of their student are using digital instruction with paraprofessional supervision, while teachers use the face-to-face teaching time for higher-order learning and personalized follow-up" - see here for more details on this clever scheme.  They're replacing teacher time with digital instruction and paraprofessionals.

One of the later issues in the Smart Series that Vander Ark suggested that I look at is actually pretty good. It contains some sound advice about steps that districts should take when implementing blended learning, especially the section on using a learning management system.  But the paper doesn't get at the basic decision that a district needs to make about how teachers will be included in the implementation.  What are the district's core values about teachers and teaching?  Is the blended learning system going to be a top down directed system utilizing corporate created content, or will it be driven by teachers using teacher created content and  using assessments managed by teachers.  Will all teachers be empowered and supported, or will the system be used to sort teachers into the keepers and the expendables?

Blended learning doesn't mean the same thing to everybody. 

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