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Blended Learning Meets the Ghost of Textbooks Past

As a jumping off point for this week’s blog, let’s first summarize, quickly, the claims we made about blended learning from an earlier blog:

  • Infrastructure: 1-to-1 will be the new normal in K-12 classrooms: Yes, it will take three to five years, but by 2020 every student in every class in every grade in every school in the United States will have her or his own personal computing device.
  • Instruction: Blended learning will be the new normal: the 1-to-1 computers will be used to deliver instruction, while teachers will become managers of instruction, e.g., differentiating lessons for struggling learners or accelerated learners, and localizing lessons before enactment, providing students with scaffolding during lesson enactment, assessing student performance after lesson enactment.

That’s all well and good, but the question still remains: What instruction will be delivered?

In our earlier blog, we also described the rise in online marketplaces for blended learning lessons. For example, Gooru  has over 100,000, K-12, teacher-built lessons, while Edmodo has teacher-built and commercially built K-12 lessons.  All lessons on Gooru are free while some of the lessons on Edmodo are free – with others costing a few dollars, typically.  

Here’s the rub, as Shakespeare might say: While teachers have 180 days of instruction, lessons on such marketplaces typically are composed of one to six learning activities that would require one to three class periods/days (60 minutes/period/day).  What are the teachers supposed to do for the other 177 days?

The problem is this: For the most part, the lessons on the online marketplaces are supplemental, lessons meant to complement an existing, cohesive, coherent, standards-aligned and district/state-vetted curriculum.  How many teachers have the time, or the skills, or the inclination to stitch together supplemental lessons and insure that the resulting composition provides the students with a cohesive, coherent, standards-aligned and district/state-vetted curriculum experience? No surprise, then: In the new normal of blended learning, teachers – and districts – are still going to need “basal” – or the new term for basal – “comprehensive” – curricula for all subjects and all grades.

But wait: didn’t textbooks – those back-breaking, paper-based artifacts of the past – with their accompanying teachers’ guides, provide just such a “basal”, comprehensive, day-by-day, week-by-week, instruction guidance?

Indeed, districts and states have spent and continue to spend time and money vetting textbooks – making sure that the content that a district/state says needs to be taught in a particular grade and subject is indeed covered by a particular textbook. The district can then feel comfortable that its instructional goals are being met since all the teachers will be following the vetted textbook.

We think that for many teachers textbooks have played a key role: textbooks provided day-by-day, week-by-week direction on what instruction needed to be delivered. We think that the online marketplaces providing supplemental lessons are a wonderful resource – but those supplemental lessons don’t provide the underlying basal/comprehensive backbone that textbooks + teachers’ guides provided. We think there is a huge gaping hole that is crying out to be filled! Curriculum developers – listen up!

We’ve told you what we think – now, it’s your turn: what do you think about our analysis? 

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at www.imlc.io.

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at www.imlc.io.

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at thejournal.com/rc.

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