– Dan Jones –
This past spring, it seemed that most of us, as educators, were taking what we knew how to do in our traditional classroom settings and trying to make it work in a virtual environment. We were thrown into new environments with new technology, and we tended to create something, try it out, and hoped that it would stick. If it didn’t work well, we reset and tried again. Essentially, we were jamming lots of round pegs into lots of square holes. This process continued throughout the rest of the school year. By the end, we were just glad we made it to the end of the school year. Then a magical event occurred: The Second Wave Summit. This was a month-long conference featuring an incredible amount of resources for teachers planning to teach next term. It included a panel that discussed Best Practices for Remote Learning. I had the privilege to be a part of this panel discussion, and something that continued to come up was the idea, how do we know what needs to be done and how do we know that we are doing it well when it comes to remote learning.
Pandemic learning was a temporary fix, a band-aid if you will, but that period of temporary grace is over.
Robert Talbert said in a clip from The Second Wave Summit about remote learning, “We are now in this position where we have to iterate on this and get good at it. Everyone was okay with not being that great, and we gave each other grace and permission to not be at our best. Now we have to get this right.” This may seem like an impossible task when it comes to identifying best practices for remote learning because we are all just feeling around in the dark, right? Wrong. Pandemic learning was a temporary fix, a band-aid if you will, but that period of temporary grace is over. The lights are now on; the room is no longer dark. “The best thing about the past is that it shows you what not to bring into the future,” an inspirational quote based on a powerful truth. Normal will never return to the classroom, and we have to stop treading water in hopes that it does. We have to get remote learning right because our students need us at our best.
How do we get it right if we are all doing remote learning a little differently and calling it different names? Let’s break this down. According to Dr. Kecia Ray, author of the article What is Remote Learning, “Remote learning provides an opportunity for students and teachers to remain connected and engaged with the content while working from their homes.” She goes on to say, “Remote learning is something a district should be able to switch off and on based on need.” The other term that is being thrown around a lot is blended learning. Blended learning is such a complex term that encompasses so much that there isn’t a short, sweet definition. The Blended Learning Universe gives a three-part definition breakdown to try to explain what it is and what it isn’t. They state, “First, blended learning is any formal education program in which a student learns at least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace. Second, the student learns at least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home. Third, the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.” The other term that is hot right now is Flipped Learning. Flipped Learning is defined as “a framework that enables educators to reach every student. The Flipped approach inverts the traditional classroom model by introducing course concepts before class, allowing educators to use class time to guide each student through active, practical, innovative applications of the course principles.” To summarize, remote learning simply describes a temporary structure in which instruction is not occurring in a school. Blended learning is a combination of synchronous and asynchronous educational opportunities, both online and face-to-face. Flipped Learning, like blended learning, uses synchronous and asynchronous educational opportunities but focuses on achieving active learning among some of those opportunities (after students are familiar with the content).
Flipped Learning is blended learning, but not all blended learning is Flipped Learning.
Now that we have a better understanding of what remote learning, blended learning, and Flipped Learning are, it is time to do them right. Let’s start with the simple truth that Flipped Learning is blended learning, but not all blended learning is Flipped Learning. That is worth repeating: Flipped Learning is blended learning, but not all blended learning is Flipped Learning. Flipped Learning is the best, most effective blended learning, and it comes with an entire set of globally sourced and vetted best-practices. It is a precise method of blended learning. There has been research, collaborative global cohorts, and educational leaders who have collaborated to design how to effectively flip a class, a unit, or a lesson. The Global Elements of Effective Flipped Learning (GEEFL) were identified by over 100 educators in forty-nine countries. These elements enable you to see what should be done in a flipped format, self-evaluate areas of strength and areas of weakness as a flipped instructor, and set you up to design your classes, whether virtual, in-person, or hybrid, to have the most significant impact on student academic growth.
Remote learning is too general of a term to have specific, research-based, well-defined parameters that support a set of best practices. Blended learning is too varied to be associated with specific best practices, but when viewed through a lens of Flipped Learning, we know what should be done and how to do it well. The GEEFL are so thorough that they are actually divided into 12 sectors or families: Understanding Flipped Learning, Communications and Culture, Planning for Flipped Learning, Individual Space Mastery, Group Space Mastery, Assessment, K-12 Focus, Learning Spaces, IT Infrastructure, Student Feedback, Evidence and Research, Professional Development.
If you are really struggling with how to engage your students in a classroom or virtual environment, you will want to explore “Group Space Mastery.” If you are interested in best practices when students are not working with you, explore the sector called “Individual Space Mastery.” Assessments are always an area that educators are trying to improve, so dive into the sector of “Assessments.” There is so much in the GEEFL that you will pour over them again and again to develop the best education that your students deserve. And when someone asks, “Why did you do this or that in your class?,” you will be able to point to the GEEFL as research-based educational best practices that guide your instruction.
There may be many ways to do remote learning, and many ways to do blended learning, but there is only one way that supports students, takes them deeper into their understanding while providing time for excellence to be achieved, and that is Flipped Learning. We are going to be expected to get this right, and now we have a roadmap to get us from pandemic learning to excellence in education. The roadmap is the GEEFL and they’ll lead you straight to effective and rewarding teaching and learning.