Nicole Krueger
Get started with blended learning

Bringing technology into the classroom is the easy part. Integrating it seamlessly into a lesson plan is another matter.

Blended classrooms, or those that use online content and tools as an integral part of instruction, go beyond using the latest gadget to get kids' attention. They apply technology to expand classroom learning into new realms, providing unique learning experiences that enhance, rather than replace, face-to-face interaction.

" "The time you spend online should support and lead into the things you're doing face to face, and the time you spend face to face should support and lead into the things you're doing online," " said Kristin Kipp, author of Teaching on the Education Frontier.

A successful blended learning environment — one in which there is no clear distinction between what's happening online and what's happening during class time — helps students connect not only with the teacher and the class content, but also with each other. When students connect with their peers, " "they challenge each other's thinking," " Kipp said.

An online discussion tool, for example, can help learners connect with each other by giving every student equal space and opportunity to participate. Without having to jump in or talk over peers in a face-to-face setting, those who are quiet and shy are able to gather their thoughts and engage more fully in the discussion. Everyone's learning is enriched as a result.

Creating a wiki where students gather sources for their research papers helps foster connectedness by creating transparency, so students in the class can see what their peers are working on.

" "Where it starts to get really cool is where kids find sources that help each other," " Kipp said. " "So instead of me just researching whether or not music impacts babies' development in the womb, I'm also finding information about steroid use in sports. When we finish up the wiki project, the kids have a whole variety of sources from different people for their research project." "

For educators who are new to the concept of blended learning, Kipp offers the following tips:

Start projects face to face, then bring in digital elements. Rather than conducting an entire lesson online, begin with an in-class discussion and then pull out a kernel of an idea that becomes online homework, Kipp suggested.

Take advantage of time-saving tools. Create a home base for your class via a learning management system (LMS), which can help you stay organized by allowing you to post announcements, share due dates and collect digital assignments for grading. An LMS can pull together both online and face-to-face elements of your class so everything is in one place.

Don't try to do it all at once. " "I think people get overwhelmed by blended learning because they feel like they have to do everything online and use every tool. That's not the case," " Kipp said. Ease into it by adding just one digital element to your class, such as an online discussion tool to supplement in-class discussion time. Work with it until it becomes a fundamental part of instruction before adding more tools to the mix.

Want to learn more about blending your classroom? Read Teacher as Architect: Instructional Design and Delivery for the Modern Teacher.