Hyde County Schools, located in eastern North Carolina, is working closely with The Friday Institute on an experiment: what if instead of delivering face-to-face PD focused on blended learning, teachers experienced blended learning for themselves? Many schools and districts are beginning to wonder about this and are also experimenting in creative ways. Some are beginning to “flip” their faculty meetings, asking teachers to watch a video that relays all the necessary content so meeting time can be used for questions, discussions, or extension activities. Others are creating online modules and courses for teachers to complete on their own time. These modules and courses are increasingly being paired with competency-based micro-credentials that allow teachers to skip as much of the content as they’ve already mastered while providing the appropriate scaffolds to be successful. This model also allows teachers to demonstrate that they have the needed knowledge and skills to fulfill the school or district’s professional development goals.
In a true hybrid format utilizing blended learning, Hyde County’s approach involves online modules paired with aligned face-to-face sessions. The PLLC, along with Hyde County’s Instructional Technology Facilitator, Sabrina King Bowen co-developed the online component while working closely with both Superintendent Dr. Randolph Latimore and Chief Technology Officer Shelby Gibbs to make sure teachers would experience relevant, useful content aligned with the goals and needs of the district. From the outset, the goal was to make sure that this experiment in blended learning was engaging and positive for participants. The online modules, as much as anything, could not feel like just another online course. Most of us have experienced online learning at some point and all too often it is formulaic and rote, following some variant of watch a video lecture, read a couple of articles, then post in a forum before responding to a couple of your peers’ posts. So how do you make an online course that doesn’t feel like an online course? By remembering the human element.
According to design team-lead Abbey Futrell, “having considered research from previous online projects, one main focus was how to keep interest throughout the entire course in an effort to combat the drop off that usually happens. We knew that mandating the course was not the answer. The team worked hard to create unique and differentiated experiences for participants. These elements combined with Sabrina’s expertise on the ground gave us a starting point for a beautiful blended project.” As the design team worked through each of the professional development topics, they began thinking about what activities would work well in a blended format, how to facilitate asynchronous conversations that teachers would want to participate in, how to tie the online work with the teachers’ grounded, classroom-based instruction with their students, and how to model new tools and best practices.
“The Blended Learning professional development experience not only deepened our educators’ instructional knowledge, but empowered our educators with confidence to effectively and efficiently integrate technology that enhanced personalized learning for our students.”
– Sabrina Lynn King-Bowen
Embracing the flexibility of blended learning for professional development comes with myriad benefits. Teachers have the ability to choose when they want to learn the content and how they want to engage with their own learning. Administrators can realize some amount of cost-savings from eliminating the need to hire subs or pay for travel costs in addition to the ability to repurpose and scale efforts by only needing to develop online content one time and then making appropriate edits on-going. This stands in stark contrast to big, expensive contracts for single-session professional development while instructional coaches and administrators try to figure out how to keep that content fresh and relevant without incurring additional monstrous costs. With a true blended learning model, if the district wants to continue some form of face-to-face training, with the online learning already established as a ‘backbone’ for teacher PD, it makes it easier for local leadership to build out their own material and activities.
We know blended learning isn’t right for everyone and will require some individualization to make it work for your specific context before it can make its way to student learning environments, but we are hopeful that models and experiments like these will spark interesting questions and ideas for future educational innovation.