Blended Learning: Better than Hermione’s Time Turner

By: Chris Mabley and Michael Dolan
Extra time is a godsend for students with far more opportunities than hours in the day. In Harry Potter, Hermione was provided a Time Turner so that she could simultaneously attend multiple classes. At St. Andrew’s School in Austin, Texas educators and parents are looking for innovative ways to more efficiently use student time and reduce student stress.
Educational innovation is far more difficult than innovation in many other sectors of the economy: research happens live in the classroom as opposed to developing prototypes in a research center.  Schools with great teachers, bright students, strong infrastructure and support are well positioned to lead innovation.
Last Fall, Chris Mabley, an educator with 45 years experience at several of the best private schools in the country, saw enough potential in personalized learning to pilot blended learning in one of his two Algebra 2 sections.
Michael Dolan, an educational technology consultant, worked with Chris to develop and implement a pilot that could be reasonably compared to his “traditionally taught” class. Identical pre-course and chapter assessments were used for both classes. Blended learning software that integrated well with the traditional class textbook was selected.
Conclusions from the pilot included:

  1. The majority of students were more engaged and learned more efficiently, completing their homework in half the time of the traditional class.
  2. Students took more responsibility for their learning.Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 9.52.33 PM
  3. Managing the complexity of students all learning at their own pace and on different paths requires new teaching methods and high quality software tools.  Transforming to a blended learning classroom requires a significant investment of teacher time and professional development.
  4. Once the software was mastered, the teacher also had more time, approximately ½ the class time, for an individualized impact on each student’s learning. The software quickly made multiple versions of tests and quizzes along with step-by-step answer keys. It also provided daily insight into the knowledge level of each student, and into the time, effort, and results of each night’s homework. All homework problems included interactive lessons.

Both classes achieved the high level of mastery expected at an academically rigorous school. The pilot class however showed intriguing potential to free up significant student time as iterative improvements are made to learning methods and supporting software.
St Andrew’s is considering many alternatives to leverage extra student time gained in blended learning classes. In addition to using extra time for better intellectual understanding, the time may also be used to enrich students’ esthetic sensitivity, physical well-being, athletic prowess and moral decisiveness.
Our recommendations for educators considering a blended learning pilot are:

  1. Identify and support a teacher with strong interest.
  2. Target specific learning outcome improvements.
  3. Carefully select software that enables those outcomes with flexible, engaging, easy to use content.

A short video including student testimonials, pilot methods and detailed results is available for interested educators.
For the past 45 years Chris Mabley, has been an educator, serving as a teacher, department chair, head of school, and trustee at Noble & Greenough, St Stephen’s, St. Mark’s, Fay, Trinity and St. Andrew’s Episcopal School.
Michael Dolan is an educational technology consultant at STI eLearning, helping clients select, develop and implement emerging technology assisted pedagogies to increase student achievement, teacher quality, and operational efficiency.

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