Blended classrooms open a world of possibilities for your students. However, this new world of learning comes at a cost. Read on to learn more about the downsides of blended classrooms.
What are Blended Classrooms?
Technology has become an integral part of day-to-day life. From ordering a pizza to learning how to program the television remote, online media floods nearly every aspect of our existence. It only seems logical, then, that classroom instruction should follow. After all, it prepares our children for the future and uses a media they are familiar with from birth. This integration of online technology, to replace a portion of teacher instruction, is known as blended learning.
Blended classrooms certainly offer a wealth of benefits, but they are not without a cost. Before you make the decision to transition your classroom to a blended learning environment, consider some of these downsides.
Startup Can Be Slow and Painful
Technology is everywhere, so how hard could it possibly be to incorporate it into your lesson plans daily? Harder than you think! Much of what we do every day has been slowly evolving over time, and we add to our knowledge base with every software update and new app. However, the transition to blended learning is more like jumping off the high dive than dipping your toe in the water — and the water may feel pretty cold!
Most of us do not lovingly embrace change, and for many teachers, the conversion to a blended classroom is big change. Even for new or seasoned teachers who are tech savvy, the incorporation of media instruction is often uncharted territory. Before you can really incorporate a technology, you need to understand its capabilities, limitations, and availability. In a day when teacher-student ratios are high and teachers are feeling the pressure to meet assessment standards, the prospect of learning and embracing technology may seem like an overwhelming task. It takes dedicated time — and lots of it at the beginning.
Even if you're ready and raring to go, blended learning classrooms require a commitment on the part of your school district to provide hardware, software, and technical support. This can be a long and slow process, as the wheels in that system often turn slowly — especially when it comes to committing resources. Many districts require grade-level teachers to teach the same lesson plans, so blended learning may have to occur across your grade level. And, the cost to acquire licenses and software can be staggering. Worse yet, it takes dedicated monitoring to keep up with changes and upgrades.
Surprisingly, the districts struggling to fund technology advancements in the classroom may not be the at-risk schools. Often Title I schools receive funding that allows for technology, and the districts in affluent areas can pass bond issues to secure the funding. However, those districts caught in the middle are often struggling just to provide copy services, let alone access to technology.
Limited Resources at Home
Classroom resources are just one part of this puzzle. Without access to technology at home, the true beauty of a blended classroom is lost. Many families do have technology at home, but it may not be readily available to students. Will they have the hardware configurations necessary to run the software or access online files? Will parents understand enough about the technology to get the student up and running? What happens when things go wrong? Who do they turn to and what accountability exists for the student who cannot complete work due to technical difficulties?
Not only is the parent responsible for keeping students on track with their homework, but now they are responsible for keeping hardware up and running. For some parents, this could be virtually impossible, and in some households, the money may simply not be in the budget for a computer and internet access.
In addition, the internet is a big — and sometimes inappropriate — place. Parents who choose to allow their children online are responsible for monitoring their behavior. When school districts begin to require student access in a setting where they can't control the content, that can open a whole new can of worms. It takes parental involvement and responsibility to a new level.
Finances are not the only thing that might suffer from overload when transitioning to blended learning. Both teachers and students can fall victim to the stress of technology. Teachers are faced with the challenge of sifting through what seems like a never-ending possibility of content and preparing it for classroom use. Even with the cavalcade of content sites, it takes time to wade through the myriad options available for what seems like nearly every topic you may teach.
Eventually, when you have your list of favorite sites, it can be easy to find yourself adding this and that to your existing lesson plans. Pretty soon, the content may become so overwhelming and possibly overstimulating that your students can't begin to digest it all. The temptation to use digital content to inform and engage can become addictive. Human interaction could soon be replaced with technology, and in a day and age where social and conversational skills seem to be declining, the loss of human interaction within your classroom could be a tragic thing. And of course, the controversy over homework continues to rage on, and blended learning adds a new paradigm to that discussion as well. While students often find digital content entertaining and engaging, it still takes time to complete, and some parents may resist the additional workload.
Conclusion: Teach from Your Heart
Blended learning offers some undeniable benefits, but identifying the challenges and pitfalls before taking the plunge can help smooth the transition. Ultimately, love your kiddos and teach from your heart. Use technology to connect but never to replace. Great teachers don't need technology, but they can learn to use it to their best advantage!