The ‘blended learning’ strategy
Blended learning is described by Garrison and Kanuka (Garrison and Kanuka , 2004) as ‘the thoughtful integration of classroom face-to-face learning experiences with online learning experiences’. This approach is particularly useful in building learning communities, and there is a reasonable body of supporting evidence for the benefits of digital learning technologies (Higgins et al., 2012).
However, it is important not to over-rely on digital technology. Studies suggest that physical cues in a book (spatio-temporal aspects, such as touch and page-turning) better support readers in navigating texts in an intuitive way (Jabr , 2013), and that longhand note-taking on paper is more effective than on a laptop (Mueller and Oppenheimer , 2014). With all this in mind, we developed and trialled our own approach to blended learning.
The blended learning goals
Our goals were based around a strategy for teaching and learning rather than the use of a particular type of technology. A balanced, cross-platform approach was needed, which modernised our approach to teaching without discarding what has worked in the past. Our philosophy was to combine the best of face-to-face teaching with digital activities, and to trust the teachers to choose the best tool for the job at hand.
The project goals were:
- to foster independent, creative and resourceful learners
- time-shifted and place-shifted learning: to extend learning beyond the confines of the classroom and the school day
- to encourage collaborative and active learning
- to personalise the curriculum and place no limits upon learning.
Blended learning in practice
We launched a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scheme as a pilot programme in May 2014 with Year 7, extending to Years 8 to 11 over the following 18 months. We integrated blended learning into our whole-school teaching and learning strategy, which also includes subject knowledge, challenge, differentiation, assessment and classroom climate, as well as into lesson planning observation and the ongoing provision of training. The final evolution of the project was BYOD for the sixth form, with larger-format devices, such as laptops and Chromebooks, adopted due to the increased complexity and duration of the tasks.
Equality of access was a guiding principle. Students eligible for the Pupil Premium had devices loaned to them. We also set aside funding to support families that may not be eligible for Pupil Premium funding but may have financial or other circumstances where the school could support them. Over 200 devices have been loaned to students since the start of the programme, and there is also a daily loan pool for students who may have forgotten their device that day. While platform-specific apps potentially raise problems for the BYOD approach, we have found that there are substitute versions available across platforms, and browser-based versions of learning tools have grown in capability. We have not mandated any app that only runs on one platform or has a cost attached.
Establishing a model for pedagogy
In the early days of the programme, it was important that technology was not used just for its own sake. We used Puentedura’s SAMR model (Puentedura , 2013) as an underpinning pedagogical model (see Figure 1).
An example from the early days of blended learning for a Key Stage 3 geography lesson on earthquakes illustrated the approach:
- Substitution: locate the world’s earthquake zones using Google Maps instead of an atlas
- Augmentation: use the US Geological Survey overlay for Google Earth to explore earthquakes in detail
- Modification: understand the Richter scale by using a seismograph app to simulate different earthquake magnitudes
- Redefinition: use a simulation app to choose appropriate building materials and defences and examine what happens when earthquake forces of different magnitudes are applied to a model building.
To support teachers in finding the right apps for teaching needs, we narrowed the thousands of apps down to a single one for each purpose and share this list with students, teachers and parents. The Blended Learning Toolkit eBook used the metaphor of a tree with foundational apps at the roots, cross-subject apps in the trunk and subject-specific apps at the leaves (Moane , 2016).
The next stage of pedagogic evolution was to move beyond task design and to consider the wider learning goals we had for the programme. The iPAC framework (Kearney et al., 2012); see Figure 2) gave a set of mobile pedagogical approaches that encouraged the personalisation of learning, the authenticity of task and the collaborative possibilities of mobile devices.
Collaboration was explored through a number of tools that allowed the sharing of data and conversation. Each faculty has a Twitter feed that flags wider reading and events to students of that subject. Google Sites was used to construct a home page for resource-sharing for each subject, from past papers and revision videos to entire schemes of work and lesson-by-lesson resources. Whole teams of students could work on their DT projects collaboratively after school using Google Slides, even if they weren’t physically together.
Task authenticity was also supported by the blended learning programme – for example, launching a Raspberry Pi computer on a weather balloon to the edge of space, and the possibilities for video were transformative in dance, drama and PE.
Agency was encouraged by the choices of task opened up by digital technologies. No longer bound by the worksheet (or at least the worksheet links to the digital world via a QR code), students were able to stretch themselves with extension work and also ‘unstick’ themselves without waiting for their teacher.
The student pioneers of the blended learning programme finished their GCSE studies in summer 2018 and have achieved excellent results in terms of attainment and progress. While impossible to attribute this success to any one factor, 80 per cent of Year 11 students reported that having a mobile device had helped with their learning, that they used their devices combined with online learning resources for over 16 hours per week on average and had successfully used digital technologies to improve their outcomes in the exams. In our biennial survey of staff, students and parents, over 80 per cent of staff and students and 77 per cent of parents agreed that blended learning had added significantly to learning at school and home.
The next phase of development will be to broaden the dissemination of successful digital pedagogy. As one of the five UK associate partner schools of the DEIMP (Designing and Evaluating Innovative Mobile Pedagogies) project (Burden , 2018) we will, over the next two years, develop a mobile app and MOOC to support teachers in the identification of the most effective digital pedagogies.