Redesigning Normal

Redesigning Normal

A reflection on the MyBlend Summer Learning Day Camp

Written by Jeff Gerlach on Tuesday, 04 August 2015.

My colleague Jamie DeWitt (@jamiedewitt) gave the keynote address at the inaugural MyBlend Summer Learning Day Camp last week. Blended Learning: Why Blend? Why Now? is applicable to blended learning beginners and veterans alike. In particular I really grabbed on to an analogy Jamie made between blended learning and the work of Adolphe Chaillet.

An inventor in the field of electrical engineering, Chaillet developed an incandescent light bulb designed to be more effective and last longer than other bulbs of the time. One of the bulbs that he designed has been shining, almost without interruption, in a fire station in Livermore, California, for over 100 years. It even has its own webcam feed.

Jamie pointed out that Chaillet didn’t try to invent a new tool for illuminating a space, he developed a way to improve the performance of something that already existed. Innovative school design does not mean the wholesale replacement of what we have practiced in the past. It means redesigning our normal to improve teaching and learning in our schools.

Too often schools focus on technology adoption and integration to the point where devices get treated like alien objects. We don’t see much blind shunning of educational technology from decision makers anymore. It’s become consensus that it’s good for learning. Yet, it can be just as dangerous to blindly embrace tools without understanding which components of teaching and learning that they are employed to support. We need to understand why.

We have to break down the components of our light bulb and find ways to improve what we already do.

Blended learning is more about teaching and learning than it is about using technology in the classroom. Successful blended experiences combine high quality digital learning with excellent teaching. The online and face-to-face environments should be thoughtfully integrated so that learning in one space is informed by the other.

We can learn a lot from the work of others, but it’s impossible to “copy/paste” anyone’s whole experience. The Christensen Institute blended learning models are extremely helpful when rethinking pedagogy. Hearing stories from Horry County in South Carolina and Ann Arbor Public Schools of how they are redesigning learning with blended strategies helps to envision how our schools could do something similar. Yet there’s no silver bullet. Because of this, we need to absorb all these things and be thoughtful about how they can influence the aspects of our learning ethos.

I often think of a light bulb as one thing and overlook its impact on my life daily. Chaillet devoted his life to the intricacies of light bulb components, how they interacted with one another and was able to let this expertise fuel his creativity to improve upon something that already existed. Such thinking and actions allowed him to improve upon something normal, the effectiveness of a light bulb.

Similarly, many (especially those outside of the education profession) see school as one thing, thinking that schools are either doing it the traditional way or are off-the-wall innovative. Yet, the art of teaching has and always will be to identify knowledge of value to all citizens, understand how we as humans learn and craft strategies to help learners demonstrate expertise in what they need to learn.

This is the blueprint of teaching and learning. It is our normal. Let’s be thoughtful about building a better normal.

About the Author

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach

Jeff Gerlach (@JGer1) is an instructional design coach for Michigan Virtual University. He works with teachers to design blended learning experiences for students through presentations, school partnerships, online courses and 1:1 coaching. He holds a master's degree in educational technology from Michigan State and has experience as a face-to-face teacher in the metro Detroit area where he blended his classroom for six school years.

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