Online + On-Campus Learning: Blended Learning Demystified
The term blended learning is being sprinkled on top of many mid-pandemic return-to-school plans. While it’s reassuring to know that there are options for every parent to decide what is best for their child amidst a challenging era, it may be a little confusing as to what exactly blended learning is, what the benefits are, and how the program works.
At Avon Old Farms, the New England private day and boarding school for boys, online learning—or AOF Online— has been a key tool for students to get ahead during the summer. We’re no stranger to teaching boys in an active and engaging way via the computer screen; now, we’re simply combining—blending—the virtual learning landscape into our vibrant, boy-centric on-campus classes. We've been successfully running a summer online program for credit for eight years now; subsequently, many of our teachers have been digging their hands into the toolbox of communication technology, video conferencing, and digital rubrics and assessments. As an added bonus, those seasoned online-ready faculty were able to provide valuable information about online teaching tools and techniques during department meetings this summer as we collaborated to re-think the curriculum in a blended environment.
What exactly IS blended learning?
Blended learning is an integrated approach to education that mixes the option to partake in traditional in-person classes and/or the resource-rich digital version of that class. In other words, if a student is ON campus, then that student would go to his classroom and experience R.E.A.L. Learning in person and have access to digital resources for assignments and assessments. Alternatively, if a student is OFF campus, he will experience R.E.A.L. Learning via AOF Online by attending his prerecorded content (led by his Avon Old Farms teacher) and have access to the same additional digital resources as his on-campus classmates. Every student receives the same teaching and the same resources.
What’s the benefit of blended learning?
“The online environment is the only thing we have control over. Everything else is subject to change. We have that online platform; we have that online space. And we can be very deliberate with how we create that platform and space for our students.” Graham Callaghan, Dean of Studies
Plain and simple, the advantage of creating a solid blended learning program is a direct tether to the strength of continuity. Our on-campus classes are geared to how boys learn best, by creating an energy-filled (and sometimes competitive!) space by teachers who’ve formed meaningful relationships with students. Make no mistake: it’s our goal to bring all the boys back into these thriving spaces of learning. Yet, in this time of ambiguity, planning a stellar online program is the key to maintaining the foundation of excellence in academia.
There may be times when a student needs to step away from on-campus learning. In the past, that student would have to find a way to catch up on the work he missed. Now, with AOF Online, he can continue with his classmates on-pace. Without skipping a beat he can pivot from his in-person lesson taught by his teacher to the same lesson STILL taught by his teacher ...just accessed online. Once he’s ready to return to his campus classroom, he will be equipped with the same knowledge as his classmates that have been present in the room.
What will an actual class look like?
Teachers are heroes. At Avon, they not only teach but they mentor and they coach. When a student attends a boarding school, the teachers are an integral part of his daily life. He eats with them, lives in dorms monitored by them, rides to games with them, and attends life/health/wellness Prep4ward sessions led by them. The relationship between a student and his teacher melds into the Brotherhood—that thread of care and empathy that binds our community in integrity.
When tasked with this monumental expedition into teaching both on-campus and creating a complementary and equally-as-awesome online lesson, our faculty added “pioneer” to their litany of roles. They brainstormed; they researched; they synergized with each other, and they reimagined their courses for an online setting.
Our on-campus classes will remain as remarkable as ever. We will continue to explore our magnificent outdoor campus in academic ventures to Beaver Pond, the Vista, Oak Grove, and the rambling life-filled brook. Alongside these lessons, using tools such as Hyperdocks, Sporcle, and Edpuzzle, teachers will create a manageable-in-length video lesson, link up valuable educational resources, and assign projects for online learners. The students will work asynchronously, meaning they can view the videos and complete the projects at their own pace up to a certain deadline. Teachers can use creative and engaging ways to track if students are watching their video with ed-based technology that can pause the video periodically and elicit a relevant response.
Here's some personalized videos Mrs. Larson made for her Aerodynamics Engineering classes:
The flexibility of asynchronistic learning is especially valuable to our international students who operate in a different time zone: now they can access the lesson and the resources when it makes sense for them. We understand that asking students to manage their own time is a brand new concept for them; therefore, planning an at-home completion schedule may not come easy to them. That’s why our teachers, advisors, and learning center team is being intentional about reaching out to students on a regular basis to communicate their expectations and give guidance for time management. We’ll be partnering with parents more and more as the online learning environment takes shape as well.
What about extra help?
As students move in and out of the blended learning environment, it’ll be important for them to feel supported and connected to their teachers and learning center guides. On-campus students will still have access to their teachers during enrichment activities. At Avon Old Farms, the high school in CT, we’ve extended our open-teacher hours to lunchtime accessibility on top of evening hours. For AOF Online learners, teachers will schedule times to video conference with the students and our learning center team will coordinate meeting times to collaborate and give students the extra care they need. Ultimately, we are being very deliberate about setting up check-in points and reaching out to make sure students are very aware of what is required of them in the virtual classroom.
We're entering uncharted territory in the fall landscape of learning. With months of preparation, a safe campus, and innovative teachers, blended learning will be the tool to help us navigate with power. The online lessons created in this pivotal era focused will propel us to think and teach in creative ways.
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Associate Director of Marketing and Communications