Luckily enough, I was able to meet this author, Liz Arney, when I was on a research trip in San Francisco visiting innovative schools up and down the Bay Area. Liz made time to meet with both Justin Medved and I to explain her organization’s approach to finding schools that are innovative and finding ways to support them in their initiatives. Prior to joining NewSchools, Liz was the Director of Innovative Learning at Aspire Public Schools, where she created Aspire’s blended learning model and led the transformation of 12 Aspire schools to the model. While at Aspire, Liz raised more than $2.8M to support blended learning initiatives. Prior to doing blended learning, Liz worked as a humanities instructional coach, providing professional development, instructional and content support, and induction coaching to grades 6-12 humanities teachers across Aspire1. New Venture School Funds is a non-profit organization that describes itself this way:
As a national nonprofit, we raise philanthropic capital from individual and institutional investors, and then invest those funds to support education entrepreneurs who are transforming public education. The charter school movement would likely look very different today had it not been for the more than $150 million we have directed to over 300 charter schools around the country serving 157,000 students. Recently, we have also supported innovative thinkers with $9 million in funding invested in ed tech start-ups through the NewSchools Seed Fund.
Liz’s experience goes above and beyond this mandate, having lead schools and districts through massive pedagogical shifts. This book is about how to shift schools to a blended learning approach. In this book, you’ll learn how to:
- Investigate leadership and staff readiness to “go blended.”
- Learn how to evaluate and purchase the right educational software.
- Keep the program’s goals in mind throughout the development process.
- Teach lessons that set students up for success when using classroom technology.
- Tailor the program to the students, not the other way around.2
In my own work in education, I have taught using this approach, and have supported teachers to build their own pedagogical approaches using blended learning. What makes me recommend this book to you are the stories that are sprinkled throughout. Understanding what blended learning is is important; however, hearing how teachers new to the profession and teachers new to the concept in its totality, have adopted it is very valuable.
Challenges to Blended Learning: there are stories that help the reader understand the challenges that some teachers face in adopting blended learning. Some have difficulty understanding the HOW (how will my students work? how will I work with them? how will I design my curriculum?), the WHAT (what is blended learning? what is the software/hardware? what is my role in purchasing and maintaining these?) and WHEN (when am I teaching now? when will I have time to create these resources?)
Each of these stories have great ideas and initiatives to help overcome these challenges.
Blended Learning is Cultural: one of my big take-aways is that the adoption of blended learning as a school-wide initative requires a long, well thought-out process. Sure, individual teachers can take some stabs at it, but to create a culture of blended learning means it is a shift for administration, IT specialists, teachers, students and parents. This book lays out some great ways to lay a strong foundation to make this change a success.
What I like about this book too, is that it is full of examples of how difficult this shift can be. From my own experience too, it is a shift that requires patience, education and above all else, constant communication between all the stakeholders.
For more on innovative teachers exploring different approaches to Blended Learning, check out these Cohort 21 peeps:
– Elissa Gelleny: @elissaglenny and her blog
– Tim Rollwagen: @trollwag and his blog
– Ed Hitchcock: @sciteachered and his blog
1. “Our Team.” NewSchools Venture Fund. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.
2. “Go Blended!: A Handbook for Blending Technology in Schools.” Wiley:. Web. 12 Aug. 2015.