Differentiated and Personalized: Getting At The Promise of Blended Learning

Edsurge EdTech Index

Edsurge EdTech Index

So I started this post wanting to write something short and quick about a cool online resource and instead ended up analyzing the promised land of Flipped learning.  How did I get there?  Well it all started a few weeks, maybe a month ago while I was exploring online stuff…

I’m always exploring online stuff and if you’re like me, you are probably slightly overwhelmed by the amount of digital stuff that is out there. Just step into  Ed Tech’s Index or EdShelf and you’ll see what I mean (personally, I prefer EdTech’s and strongly urge you to check it out). So while researching resources for Anne’s (@anneathertonLHS) Flipped Class…  I returned to EdTech’s Index page hoping to find free open sources that Anne can use in her Flipped Anatomy and Physiology blended class which she is creating, curating, crafting with some help from me. While at the Index page,  I stumbled upon sources listed under EdTech’s “Other” index and housed under Digital Textbooks, CK-12 that I had heard about but never dug into.



From the CK-12  About page: CK-12 is an online educational content site sponsored by the CK-12 Foundation, a nonprofit that desires to   increase worldwide K-12 access to high-quality STEM content. CK-12’s main offering is a collection of free digital textbooks (called “Flexbooks”) for high school age students, particularly on topics in science,engineering and math. As of September 2013, CK-12 has created a total of 88 Flexbooks that cover approximately 5,000 STEM content areas (from life science, like DNA vs. RNA, to sequences and series in calculus). Need more? Read through their vision here.

CK-12 digital Algebra

CK-12 is free and free is good. And in my opinion the content appears to be well-developed and thought-through open source content.  In my spelunking around, I landed on Algebra, where I could choose from 18 Flex books at various grade levels.  Yes, there are 18 digital textbooks and one of which is in Spanish! And as you can see from the linked image to the left, there are two ways to play in CK-12: one way is by browsing just by concepts the other by browsing entire Flexbooks.  I like that most have built-in videos, and the built in assessments, I like that I can search by CCSS and by content and grade level, I also like that I can  create a class and assign work to students! And I can even create my own Flex Book! And I liked that it is compatible on the iPad Mini. Not too shabby for free digital content. (There are some features that seem to work better on a computer’s browser than the App, and I have read they are working out kinks…)

Use CK-12 for your Class

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But is it a good fit for blended learning? Yes, I think it is.  The CK-12 Flexbooks include digital text, built in interactivity with videos and assessments and what’s more, teachers can also build their own content right into CK-12. In my thinking, a digital text book that includes built-in assessments and provides immediate feedback so teachers can use that information to make decisions about students next steps makes sense for a blended setting.

It was about here, while thinking about the applications of this cool resource that I started wondering about the promise of blended learning to allow for differentiation and personalization and how this resource and others deliver on the promise of blended learning.  

It doesn’t matter how much I read on blended, there’s so much more to learn and am still learning and to be frank, sometimes am lost in the sea of information — And this is what has risen consistently:  high quality blended learning must allow for personalized learning and allow teachers to differentiate–  none of which are possible without ongoing formative assessment and in time feedback. As educators, we know that formative assessment is part of the learning and supports learning as learning is happening. As educators, we also know that with formative assessments teachers check for understanding and use data to inform and differentiate their instruction. Online content that has built-in assessments and provides immediate feedback is one way we can use online resources  to help teachers differentiate instruction, and personalize student learning- key components of exemplary blended models.

In a good blended model, teachers have and implement excellent instructional practices AND the model also integrates effective online tools and resources, well-developed online content that includes or allows assessment to be embedded.

When the online component can be used to administer and gather data which students and teachers can then act on and which empowers teachers to differentiate in real time, we are then getting the most out of the promise- now we can differentiate and personalize. We should leverage good online learning tools so that data is in-time and looped within student-centered feedback. Teachers and students need that data to differentiate and personalize their paths. I’m not saying embedded online assessments is the only way to assess formatively, but in a blended model it is certainly an advantageous component . Blended learning models allow us to build in face to face and online formative assessments which if done well allows teachers to be more efficient in reviewing assessment data before students arrive in class and thereby allowing  teachers to tier activities based on that data and then continue to assess needs and adapt paths as needed.

A blended learning model that supports this approach is The Flipped Model

where students complete lecture viewing and quick quizzes at home and in a well-designed system, the data is automatically generated and informs the teacher of how to tier activities before students arrive. In a Flipped classroom, students essentially get the bulk of  lecturing and information online and not during the class time. They  read, watch, engage with the lesson, pause, take notes, re watch etc as often as they want to. The Flipped class time is an opportunity for teachers like Anne Atherton at LHS who has Flipped her class to be able to use face to face time more thoughtfully (7 Things You Should Know about Flipped) . Instead of lecturing in class on anatomy and physiology, Anne will be spending time in class utilizing the best of teaching practices, driving small group instruction,  focusing on content, mind sets, skills, relationships, and instilling more student agency, “more time to implement more literacy and numeracy activities to align with Common Core.  Now I have an opportunity to include small group instruction so I can include more of the SIOP strategies  I learned about in my Masters classes, but have only had a little time in class to implement until now. So what has this flip done….it has given me the gift of time.  Time to engage students in critical thinking, apply content into real world case studies and to differentiate content with more small group instruction!” (From Anne’s blog post on Flipping her class, The Atherton Chronicles). With the data gathered from the night before, Anne can conduct small group instruction and rotate and listen and identify misconceptions and thus allow her to make decisions on how to move groups of students along that personalized path towards mastery of content . Because when Anne has data before her students come to class, she will be able to spend time on students critical thinking skills. She will spend time on assessing students needs, making decisions about appropriate intervention. And with her incorporation of a rotation class model in a Flipped class she has many opportunities to continue to assess formatively and she can use the data to make decisions that offer opportunities for students to advance or correct their understanding. The varied formative assessments that can now happen in class as a result of a Flipped class will give teachers like Anne a clearer picture into students learning and allow for differentiation and personalization. When learning is personalized, it is no longer fixed but flexible, and when it is flexible it means students are in varied learning places, so more than ever, teachers need to have effective ways to stay on top of measuring student learning so as to know how to tier future activities, how to move them along.

So here I am  with Anne, entering the promised land of blended learning, standing at the start of a Flipped world. Here we are  looking for the promise of the blended model to offer flexible learning pathways and along the way discovering first hand that to get the most out of that promise and get to that flexibility, we should be harnessing the power of good online stuff/technology, harnessing the power of exemplary classroom instructional practices, and in turn harnessing the power of using formative assessments to generate actionable data that informs and guides so that we can differentiate and students can personalize learning.

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