Examining Blended Learning Models: Student To Community Interaction

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examining-blended-learning-models-student-to-communityIn part 1 of this 6-part series, Thomas Stanley looked at an overview of blended learning, specifically the critical interactions of a blended learning model. In part 2, he looked specifically at student-to-student interaction, and the reality of synchronous and asynchronous access, and in part 3 he looked at student-to-teacher interactions, and moving from instruction to becoming the “guide on the side.” In part 4 below, he explores the critical student-to-community interaction

Examining Blended Learning Models: Student To Community Interaction

by Thomas Stanley

Why is taking the time to create student-to-community relationships an important part of an online classroom experience? After all, most students just want to get the information and get out of the class. The question that teachers should consider is how rich an educational experience can the online classrooms create for students? What students should be provided with is an educational experience that enables them to become a part of the globalized world.

As a part of this community experience in any blended learning model, students should gain an ability to organize their online experiences and lessons to such a degree that they are in touch with experts or peers outside the digital classroom. This is an invaluable encounter for real-world learning. International, national, and local educational events will enhance an online/blended learning experience.

All subject matters can be included in these projects and most of the lessons are cross-curricular in nature. It is not too difficult to coordinate these lessons, they are fun to do, and not too time consuming.(Note: I disagree with that last sentence. I think it is definitely difficult to create a quality project that includes serious content. I don’t think you should let people think it won’t be a lot of work. To be done right, it will definitely be a lot of work for the teacher and I think you need to let them know that up front. I think it is worth it but I sure would not say “it is not too difficult.”)

Teachers should think of their lessons as an extension of what people do in their communities; these lessons can be used by Social Studies, English, Science, Mathematics, or any departmentalized class or as a cross-curricular program. By using outside resources, it will spark your students’ imaginations and become a unique, important part of a their educational experiences.

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Organizational Resources

There are a number of the international, national, and local activities and groups that you can work with to do exciting academic work. International projects require a great deal of patience but are well worth the time. There are many resources and three of the best political organizations that have wonderful projects are the U.S. State Department, the United Nations, and the European Union. In my classes I have done projects with each of these groups and the students have always been impressed by the excellent work of the people who are a part of these organizations.

These institutions like to use video conferencing, (which can present some special issues), Polycom, or desktop video conferencing, and it makes the process so much richer. Some private associations or groups that have also been very useful and productive include:

  1. Project Harmony 
  2. I-earn 
  3. Global Connections and Exchange program

These are all excellent resources for online cultural exchanges. South Australia’s online schools are also a rich resource; this program uses “mobile Centra Activities” and they helped organized a worldwide Ocean Acidification online conference that included schools from the U.S., Australia, Europe, and Asia. Some of the world’s top ocean acidification experts worked with our students during this conference and project.

Next, there are a number of national projects to engage in, such as, the “Where the Water Goes” project from JDL Technologies, I-Earn’s resources, and Clark County School district’s (Nevada) “Forever Earth Project.” As part of this program, there were live synchronous broadcasts from Lake Mead, and students participated from Virginia, Canada, and Nevada. The Center for Disease control and NASA are two outstanding resources that also have interesting projects that can enrich the classroom. All U.S. Senators have access to desktop video conferencing.

Breaking Down the Digital Walls of the Online Classroom

Locally, my students worked with the following groups: Southern Nevada Water and Air Quality Authorities, the Desert Research Institute, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, the National Park Service, Las Vegas Wash committee, and the Bureau of Land Management. We have also worked with the Nevada Bar Association, the Nevada Highway Patrol and the metropolitan police departments on street crime and domestic violence issues. The activities with these groups included real-time as well as online work for students. It is a win-win situation, the community gets excited about these projects, and it definitely engages the student in becoming a better citizen.

No matter what the project it is important that teachers create a solid lesson plan that both enables and requires the students to be accountable for all of the work they do. These projects either drive the unit or are integrated as a major resource within the lesson of study. When students are done with the unit, they are responsible to present their ideas to “experts” or publish what they find on the Web and then reflect on what the response to their ideas has been by community “experts.”

When doing these projects there are technical, academic, and time issues that come into play. The technical support from your IT staff is critical for success; academic discussions with the teachers interested in doing the projects are a vital factor too. The ability to create flexible time slots for interaction is also a challenge. It is all worth it. The student feedback from these projects makes it well worth the effort it takes to overcome these challenges and problems.

Next year why not engage your class in a number of new and exciting academic adventures? If you break down the digital walls of the online/blended learning classroom, you will create a much richer academic environment for all students and teachers in your program.

Image attribution flickr user delewareestuary