Walk into any classroom in the country and odds are there is a big, shiny SMART Board affixed firmly to the wall facing the front of the class. It could be a kindergarten classroom, a biology lab, or a foreign language room disguised as a French patisserie. Everywhere you look, it seems you’ll find the high-powered interactive whiteboards standing triumphantly in their place. Ten years ago, these devices were the wave of the future. SMART Boards were going to revolutionize how students learned in class.
Now, think about all the ways SMART Boards are used today. I’ll bet you can count the ways on one hand. This isn’t to say interactive whiteboards can’t be a key tool in the classroom of the future. Instead, it leads to my point: educators can be given the most advanced technology or the most effective teaching methods, but without proper training, these devices and methods will go unused like so many SMART Boards are today. And without better education programs available on instructional technology, this could be the fate of blended learning. Unless we step in and ensure educators are being properly trained on how to implement blended learning in their classrooms from the outset of their career, it could get pushed aside.
Why are we stacking the deck against teachers?
Now before my friends in the academic community start sending me nasty e-mails concerning their masterful use of SMART Boards in the classroom, please read on. I love teachers and feel they are absolutely critical to a student’s academic success regardless of the technology used. The expectation everyone—administrators, vendors, districts, and society—places on teachers is that they will automatically know how to integrate every new device and teaching method flawlessly into the classroom. With just four hours of professional development from the vendor, a traditional teacher will immediately grasp the importance of and understand the need for the 253 features instantly available through the gold-level license package.
Sadly, the way the educational system is set up, from the time teachers decide to become teachers, the deck is stacked against them. You see, very little has changed in how we’ve taught teachers during the past fifty years. A quick scan of the US News and World Report’s number one ranked education school—Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education—reveals no majors or minors in instructional technology or online and blended teaching. Even trying to find graduate-level certificate programs can be an exercise in confusion.
If those who teach the teachers do not incorporate online and blended learning in their curricula, and the opportunities to proactively study it after college are few and far between, how can we expect the promise of the blended classroom to ever be realized? In short, we can’t. And until we fundamentally change how teachers learn to instruct, most of these devices and models will help advance learning no better than an unused SMART Board.
But there is hope on the horizon
Some colleges and universities such as University of Michigan–Flint and University of Wisconsin–Stout are beginning to offer certificate programs in online instruction. Penn State Online and other—largely online—universities also offer classroom technology integration programs. And some universities are exploring partnerships with the online and blended learning community to better prepare future teachers for what lies ahead. Likewise, curriculum and professional development companies are beginning to train teachers on the softer skills associated with online and blended learning.
So there are signs that blended learning and the positive outcomes it brings to schools can survive. But as an industry, we still need to ensure that the proper training is available for all teachers from day one. Online instruction and technology integration should be as much a part of a teacher’s education in teaching colleges as Bloom’s Taxonomy is today, or it too could become another unsustainable innovation.