In fulfilling its mission to prepare graduates to be lifelong learners, critical thinkers, and responsible citizens ready for success in today’s global world, Spring ISD will be expanding its Blended Learning Innovator Campus program this fall, with a plan for districtwide implementation in 2023-24.
“Broadly speaking, blended learning is about using technology to expand personalization and engagement in classroom instruction,” said Spring ISD Chief of Innovation Dr. Matt Pariseau, “and allowing students to explore and connect – connecting with their peers, connecting with other students at other schools in the district, and connecting with students across the world.”
Unlike the hybrid and concurrent online learning models many Spring ISD parents are familiar with from the early months of the pandemic, blended learning is a formal education program that integrates learning experiences from the traditional classroom in combination with targeted technology tools for greater impact.
“The truth is that technology is here to stay,” Pariseau said. “As educators, we’re moving from being the provider of all of the information to facilitators of learning, helping students expand their knowledge, skills and understanding of subjects more collaboratively.”
The blended learning model involves a combination of in-person teaching – in both large groups and small groups within the classroom – with a range of technology tools, software and online platforms to enhance and empower students’ learning.
Reynolds Elementary School teacher Kayla Kieffer, whose campus was selected as one of 11 Blended Learning Innovator campuses for 2021-22, said the integration of the new tools had helped her students connect more easily with topics being taught in the classroom.
“I really like using blended learning, just because there’s so much you can do with technology now,” Kieffer said, “and it’s incredible to see how they interact with it, and how engaged they are in the lessons now because of that factor.”
According to Spring ISD Director of Instructional Technology Kevin Holiday, the early stages of blended learning in the district were laid before the pandemic, with initiatives like Math Innovation Zones at select campuses that gave teachers and students a glimpse of the combination of in-person instruction paired with targeted academic software that could assess students’ knowledge in real time and adapt to help them keep learning at their own optimum pace – all facilitated by trained classroom teachers who oversaw the process and delivered instruction aligned to the curriculum.
The pandemic accelerated the district’s implementation of Schoology, its online learning management system, as well as the need for everyone – including students, teachers and parents – to adapt quickly to using technology and online learning tools. Holiday stressed the fact that the current iteration of blended learning is not the same as those learning models employed early in the pandemic, but also said that the district had learned many lessons from that time period that have been useful during the introduction of blended learning at the 11 initial innovator campuses this year.
“Our kids are really good at consuming technology,” Holiday explained. “We want to get them producing with technology.”
Instructional Technology Specialist Ariel Keller, a former Springwoods Village Middle School art teacher and the district’s 2020-21 Secondary Teacher of the Year, emphasized the fact that education must respond to the increasing prevalence of technology and technological tools both in higher education and in the workplace, regardless of industry – or even whether the job in question exists yet.
“As the world expands with more technology, blended learning is not only going to help fill those gaps in instruction to reach kids in different ways, but it will also help teach the technology skills that they need for jobs that are not even created yet,” Keller said. “So it’s also about building those skills.”
With additional tools to manage a combination of whole-class instruction and small-group work in their classrooms, teachers also find that the blended learning approach empowers them by providing more opportunities to support individual students or small groups of students who have questions or are struggling with a concept in the material. By giving teachers more tools – both hi-tech and low-tech – to engage students in a variety of learning activities at the same time, the method aids teachers in providing the differentiated instruction needed to ensure equitable outcomes for all students.
“I think the biggest benefit is that every student doesn’t have to be working on the same thing at the same time,” said Carl Wunsche Sr. High School Associate Principal of Curriculum & Instruction Danielle Williams. “I think that that’s where blended learning will help our students be more successful, and our teachers grow in their presentation of content.”
Keller said one of the most satisfying parts of her job now is when she gets to help create or implement a solution to a problem a teacher has been facing in the classroom – and then those teachers share those solutions with their peers.
“It motivates them, and overall that will continue to help it spread,” said Keller, who as a teacher was an early adopter of innovative technology tools on her campus. Last year, she was recruited to help implement blended learning across the district.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Keller said, “but it will continue to spread as more teachers get excited about it and discover new solutions to classroom challenges. We’re learning from them just as much as we might be giving them to learn.”
Blended Learning Videos