Guest blog post by Idit Bendavid, Hebrew and Bible teacher at The Epstein School in Atlanta, GA
Among the different challenges I face as a teacher, the challenge of maximizing learning and teaching is among the most crucial. I usually feel that I do not have enough time with my students and I have so much that I want to achieve (sound familiar?). Therefore, I turned to blended learning to maximize the time of learning and teaching in my classroom. In a blended setting, my role as the holder of knowledge needs to shift to facilitator of learning. I asked myself, what steps do I need to take to give students more control and autonomy? What tools are out there which would allow me to maximize and enrich student learning?
I found that by implementing a blended environment, with a mix of online and in-person instruction, I am able to make the most of my class’s time together. Moreover, it allows students to grow in their empowerment and independence.
There are a wide variety of blended models to choose from, and I started with the rotation model, as I thought that would be the best fit for my class. In this setting, students rotate between different activities, including online learning.
Here are the main advantages that I have found:
- The online world offers students tools that otherwise are unavailable to them.
- Because of the nature and character of these tools, they are available everywhere at any time there is a computer with an internet connection.
- Online tools allow students to learn in various ways, personalizing the learning experience for their respective, individual needs. Additionally, students have more time to learn since the sources and practice exercises are always available to them. For example, when students were practicing new words in my class, the students scored an average of 27% in a fill-in-the-blanks exercise. But after two more tries (at home and in class), the average rose to 79%. The same thing happened with a grammar exercise. The first time, the average was 57%, but after two to three trials the students’ average was 89%.
- While working at their own pace, students receive immediate feedback on their work. This helps them understand which areas require more practice, and which ones they have mastered. I believe that in many cases this makes the learning process more efficient since the feedback often causes students to respond in ways that enhance their learning. I also noticed that at times students took more time to complete their online work, as they hesitated and checked for feedback before they posted or moved on to the next question. They knew that the program would give them immediate feedback, which encouraged them to think more about their answer before clicking the “OK” button.
- Since practicing was available online, my students spend more time learning vocabulary words, grammar, and syntax in class and at home. Judging from the tests, most of the students knew the meaning of the words (the grades were 85-100). Furthermore, the students knew how to spell 73% of the words correctly, a skill I did not ask them to practice and master. In addition, the students shared with me that they practiced when they felt they needed to, even if it was not for homework (!)
- Moreover, blended learning makes it possible for me to better use class time. After my students master the basic skills, I’m able to facilitate, for example, writing and conversation skills exercises with in-class time. It is important to add that using flipped lessons (another blended model) can achieve the same goal. In a flipped model, students watch or work through a lesson at home and practice the skills in class.
- Equally important, using the online tools I can contact my students who missed class with links to online exercises. For instance, I did this during their week of standardized testing. The students practiced at home even without coming to class. As a result, students’ learning is not dependent on a place, time, or person.
- Because of the availability and nature of these tools, students’ independent skills improve as they take responsibility and control over their learning. The posting practices of our online portal allow students to take control over their learning; I offer opportunities for them to practice by posting words and practice problems online, and the students take advantage and practice at their own discretion. The online tools and programs also introduce more ways for students to collaborate, such as having online discussions in the evenings from home.
- Online tools and programs affect learning by offering students an endless supply of authentic up-to-date cultural material. The Internet brings culture closer to students; they are able to understand the Hebrew language’s colloquial use through Israeli advertisements, news articles, movies, songs and more.
I found challenges as well:
- When using a computer as a pedagogical tool, students’ interpersonal connections are a challenge. It is important to allow and to be carefully attentive to students’ feedback. We have to remember students’ social preferences, as well. Some will prefer working individually, while others will succeed working in groups. It is necessary to keep the right balance between online learning and face-to-face learning.
- It took time for the students to learn the different online applications and it took an even longer time to shift students’ work styles. As I offer the students the option to practice at home at their own pace, I also need to teach them to assess their own learning needs in deciding which skills they need to practice and how they want to do that. However, even a time consuming process starts with small steps. I make sure to have many conversations with my students and to pay careful attention to their behavior in class and at home in order to see the changes the students are making.
- It was challenging to use Israeli sites to expose the students to Israeli culture. These sites are designed for Hebrew speakers and present authentic text and culture. Since my goal was to provide the students with authentic text (text that is written by and for native speakers), I overcame this challenge by carefully choosing the sites and providing the students with pre-reading activities.
As teachers, it is essential that we educate ourselves in understanding how to take advantage of technology’s potency as a pedagogical tool. This is essential to implementing online and blended learning well. It is so important that educators come to the point where they feel “ownership” of the tools they are using.
By learning and understanding the disadvantages, we will we be able to take full advantage of the world of online resources. In addition, teachers also face changes in organization and practice. Giving the students control over elements like time and place demands more advanced planning. Teachers shift roles from the holders of knowledge to facilitators of learning
Technology is here to stay and educators should take advantage of it. Teachers and students should not only use technology to complete assignments, but they should also consider the unique possibilities that online tools offer to enhance learning. The question is not – do we use technology? The question is, how do we best take advantage of technology as a pedagogical tool? The online world offers important contributions to the realm education, so let’s get all we can from it.