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Atomi Brainwaves Podcast S1 E4: Su Temlett on Blended Learning

By Thomas O'Donahoo on 3 March 2020Atomi Brainwaves PodcastUKstaffroomNSWstaffroom

Su Temlett joins us to explore blended learning, what it is, it’s different forms, and where the prevailing wind is blowing in the education community towards the practice.

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Atomi Brainwaves Podcast Blended Learning with special guest Su Temlett
Atomi Brainwaves Podcast: Su Temlett on Blended Learning

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Simon Hennessy

Hello and welcome to Atomi Brainwaves. I'm your host, Simon, and I'm joined today by Su. What's up, Su? Not a lot Simon, how are you? You ready for the last recording of the day? I won't say how many we've done today, but I'll just say this is the last. Yep, rearing to go. 

Simon Hennessy

Ready and rearing to go, that's what I like to hear. We are according here in the studio at Atomi HQ. What is Atomi? It's an online resource for second level education, a platform used by students and teachers alike to help make education awesome and engaging. We provide content for schools and students in Australia and the U. K. in the form of short, digestible syllabus, specific videos and classroom activities. Unsurprisingly then, ours is a podcast about education for educators. We take a look at some key issues in the world of education and today we're doing so with the help of our resident teaching expert, former head of English, Digital Learning Leader for Curriculum and Pedagogy and Director of Curriculum, Su. Today we are taking a look at blended learning a subject close to your heart I believe Sue. Absolutely. Yes big fan. So straight off the bat, let's dive into blended learning and what it actually means because this a few misinterpretations out there of what the term actually means. I was wondering if you could clear it up for us and give us a clear definition. Sure. Well, maybe we'll try. We'll try anyway.

Su Temlett

In its broadest sense, so I think misinterpretations are probably where it gets very narrowed but in its broadest sense, it's a style of education in which students learn via electronic and online media as well as face to face teaching. So it's just a kind of term that encapsulates bringing technology into your face to face teaching for different purposes, but it does mean that for some aspects of the education you are learning face to face generally in the bricks and mortar environment. In our case, K-12 in a school environment.

Simon Hennessy

Okay, pretty concise definition in the broader sense. Unfortunately, now we are going to get down into the narrow, murkier waters, and I was hoping you could outline for us some of the most popular or useful forms that a blended classroom can take.

Su Temlett

Yes, sure. Well, I think at it's heart a blended classroom gives a greater range of opportunities to students than perhaps previously. So, think of it as like an expansion of the classroom so that kids have an increased accessibility to  content, in some ways to the teacher if you've got the content deliverable online. They have some control over pace, place, some style of delivery, some choice – so real blended learning, think of it as a bit of a spectrum, and some blended learning activities can really rely on that sense of choice, so you got the teacher has curated a lot of material, I guess, for a student and they choose their way through it, choose your own adventure kind of thing.  

Su Temlett

But in terms of, that sort of contextualises broadly in terms of, like you said more narrowly, a couple of models that I've done myself, flex model is one that really relies on students working at their own pace through a predetermined set of material, so that the content is mostly online, but you're still in a traditional school setting, so this is your flex model. In that model, teachers act as the guide for students through the learning process, and they provide sort of individual or group helped to the students. I've done this for a term. I've done it for several terms at different times, but generally with flex I do it for like a term or a units length at a time. And the one that I think of when I record this one is the creative writing much all that I did. Six week module did fully flex model and then just run workshops in the class for students who needed particular help with particular styles of writing. And that varied considerably because it was very individual what their creative writing levels/abilities were. So that's the flex model.

Su Temlett

A model that works really well, often lower down the school or where you don't have necessarily one-to-one access to technology and there's a model called rotation, which is either station rotation or lab rotation and in a sort of station rotation, students move between learning stations as it says station rotations. Groups of students essentially move through your lessons or sequence of lessons, and they're engaged in online learning whilst the teacher facilitates activities at different stations. Now that works really well in, say, maybe you've got a primary classroom. It's not one-to-one technology, but you've got, say, seven iPads, something like that. So you've got a desk set up with the iPad activity and kids move, they use the online learning for that particular activity, then they moved to the next station, which might be the teacher teaching them how to write a great structured sentence, for example, then they moved to the next activity. So they're rotating around to different activities. Requires a lot of setup, obviously particularly with younger students. Well, actually, they set up's the same, Well yes of course. But I think the discipline might be different because they've got to obviously be self-directed in some of the different stations. So that's sort of like a rotation model.  

Su Temlett

Again, the teacher is doing small group instruction, individual tuition or sort of projects, that sort of thing. It's very, at a further end of blended learning is flipped. So I know we spoke about that on some other podcasts, but that's where the delivery of content is taken external to the classroom and students come to the lesson prepared for the lesson time to be about application and not about receiving content and the online world often comes into that because you might be using your LMS or a content platform like Atomi to deliver the content sternly to the teacher sort of thing and then bring in the content that they've learned into lesson to do the application. So three there: Flipped, flex and rotation.

Simon Hennessy

Really good systems, kind of and really gives you an idea of the I guess the broad mandate that blended learning covers, you know, different systems falling under the same umbrella group but all following along similar ethos, similar lines and in that sort of idea of broader context to move back into that, I just wanted to explore a little bit specifically what the value of learning is kind of what it came maybe in reaction to and the value that adopting one of the blended learning systems that you've outlined could bring to a student. 

Su Temlett

Well, for me, I think i've always been a sort of technology advocate, but purposeful, not just like the latest app or doing it for the sake of doing it. So I think for me, using blended learning actually gives you sort of a really authentic use of technology in the classroom and with, i've been teaching 17 or 18 odd years. 2002 I started teaching. So yeah, 17. So in that time, there's been drastic changes in technology, obviously, and I think the students of today technology is such a part of their world that teachers need to incorporate it into the teaching and learning and where we fail to do that, we're actually not setting them up for a life external to school as well. So I think one of the sort of issues I guess that we were talking about in the first question you posed here was to actually give an authentic use for technology in the classroom.  

Su Temlett

Some of the other issues that I think blended learning also tackles because of the different aspects that you can have going on the classroom at the same time is it helps with differentiation because you, the teacher, can be almost working with different groups which you can in a non blending method, but I think it's easier in a blended method because you've got stuff for the  students to do online whilst you're working with maybe a smaller group. I think it helps, incredibly, with engagement as I said students are used to working with computers, and so there's a level of engagement that comes from that itself. And I think that sort of connectivity that students are so used to nowadays, if we're not providing learning in a connective way, then it's almost remote to the rest of their existence, you know. So I think, adding that sort of sense of connectivity. And then we often see in terms of English we'd often have large class sizes. So class sizes of between 25-33 depending on school maximums/minimums, that kind of thing, which brings a variety of needs in a class and in a blended model I find it easier to cater for those needs because you're almost duplicating yourself as a teacher. So by curating content that they can do online or activities or work that can do online as well as being face to face with some students, you kind of duplicating what you can do.

Simon Hennessy

Awesome, yeah plenty of value there, I guess, for a student to bring us back, we talked a little on the top about the idea of misconceptions around the term blended learning but another area where there are a lot of misconceptions is around the role of the teacher in a blended learning classroom. One of the stones that's maybe thrown at blend learning is, you know, people claiming that Oh, this what's the teacher for? You know, it brings them out of the equation. Most people, however, who are in the know, would argue the exact opposite is the case. Could you talk us through a teacher's role in a blended classroom and their value there?

Su Temlett

Yes, certainly. I mean, that's the sort of criticism that's also thrown at self-directed learning, probably more so at self-directed because people then think, what's the point in the teacher if the kid's directing their own learning. But it does translate also into blended learning because really, in a blended learning classroom, if you're walking past it, you generally won't see the teacher delivering from the front. You certainly will, at some points on when I teach in a blended method, there are definitely points in a sequence of lessons where I'm delivering a workshop I'm teaching from the front etcetera, but a lot of time you'll see me is that our next to students or I'm curating the group of students into some sort of activity. So, I think the role of the teacher kind of looks different, but it's actually even more complex than a chalk and talk teacher because you are orchestrating an entire range of activities at any one point in the lesson here, orchestrating a range of differentiated activities as well. If you're going with the flex model or even with mastery, learning where kids are progressing through a pace where they have mastered something then moving on, then there's an awful lot of preparation involved in that into, like, perhaps, within your LMS, actually, what one of the most relearning within an LMS actually put him in prerequisites of learning, and then it opens up like a Pandora's box to the next thing. More prerequisites to that. Then the next thing. It's really orchestrating a learning journey and there's so much more in that than the traditional talking to chalk and talk. So the role of the teacher is hugely important. You're the curator of all these different aspects and It's actually quite draining in the classroom is well because you've got so much going on, you're really engaging but quite draining.

Simon Hennessy

Yeah, you could almost say that the chalk and talk model is almost a structure that's set up to make it as easy for the teacher as possible, whereas a lot of the blended learning system that you're talking about is obviously it's not designed to make it hard for the teacher, but it is designed to make it as easy and accessible as possible for the student, which on the flip side, then puts a whole lot extra responsibility on the teacher to make sure that those systems stay in place.

Su Temlett

Yes, and that's why things like collected teacher efficacy comes into play. Because if you've got other teachers helping to build, what is that your class or several classes are working through, then that's hugely helpful in terms of resources building, mapping out what journey or what this looks like for a class or for a group of classes and then the teacher isn't doing it all themselves, but they're working on a team to do it. So it's great, like if you can in some nonteaching time, which we call holidays, but it's actually teachers actually contracted four weeks of holiday a year, but it's non-teaching time. So you'll often get executive staff telling teachers no this isn't your holiday. This is your non-teaching time. You should be building content you should be marking. Should be etc. could get together in some of that planning and preparation time and build what is the term's worth of what you're going to do in the blended learning classroom? Then it's It doesn't kind of work, I guess if you're trying to chase your tail is what I'm saying. It's got to be hugely prepared and planned. But it's vastly rewarding when you have done that in the relationships and the depth of learning that you get from your students. It just can't be done on a whim, you know can't be done and you walk into class.

Simon Hennessy

We've touched on so far. The differences and advantages and disadvantages between blended learning and the traditional classroom model. I was wondering if we could zero in on that and kind of doing a comparison between, you know, blended learning in general, or even a specific system if you prefer and traditional explicit chalk and talk classrooms and just kind of analyse what the benefits off introducing a blended system are versus that older.

Su Temlett

Yeah, well, I think advantages that students can move at their own pace, which gives them greater opportunity for moving their surface knowledge into sort of a deeper learning role. And I think, as they do, that that's helping them with a whole heap of soft skills as well. You know, like resilience, helping them with things like determination and decision making and that sort of things, particularly if you've allowed them choice and what material is it that they're accessing, prepares them for sort of much more autonomous or self-directed learning, which is really going to help as they go through school for study time and things like that. So I think an advantage is how you can engage students like we all like to have some freedom over what we're doing and when we're doing it. And so we shouldn't think that an 11-year-old is any different. You know, they like to have choice. From a teacher's point of view, I think more time an application in the classroom allows you to move learning from that surface deep into the transfer sort of state because you can actually be working the kids in much more depth because you're not just teaching from the front. You're next to them helping them so you can transfer learning so I always when I've presented on blended learning I always talk about how your teacher time is repurposed and It's almost like you are cloning yourself. So is it? If you have done what I sort of mentioned earlier about curating your content and getting it ready before the unit work, then your time and energy isn't the night before trying to prepare the next lesson is actually working with the students what they've done in terms of the lesson in terms of application and things like that so that repurposing of teacher time for me is really important and then I think another advantage is just It's engaging, you know, like a kid in a bloody learning classroom. There's a variety of things happening. They've got choice. They're generally allowed to move around, which is a big deal. Still in some class. Strange, you know. Thank

Simon Hennessy

Yeah, you think where you sit in the same spot, which particularly for younger children is so difficult.

spk_1

Yeah, Hard. So  I just think it adds that sense of engagement and variety and because they've got some level of autonomy as well, they're mostly they're more likely to come to the party. You know, disadvantages you were saying. It is exhausting for teachers, which is funny if you didn't think like a chalk and talk lesson would be more exhausting because you're just at the board delivering the content. But in many ways, you can do that you know, once you become an experience, you can do that quite easily. So I guess it's mentally exhausting just having so many things on the go at once, but it is rewarding at the same time. So in that way it's kind of not for the faint hearted. But I think a blended classroom is likely to be quite different to a normal classroom, or a traditional classroom you, it's likely to be louder. Students moving around, more inquiry-based, sort of more curious and that gives a different type of atmosphere, still can be totally switched on to learning. But it's not going to be a year sort of. Listen to me work through quite quiet kind of atmosphere. So in some ways, that can be quite tiring. I guess that also can be quite tiring for particular types of students. So you don't need to watch these in the mix as well. You know, there's more kind of reserve students who quite like the quiet times so, another disadvantage which would actually be technology itself. So you don't need a certain there are ways around it of course, they're always are we take. But you do you need a certain sense of a scaffold or backbone or something like that to where your blended learning is going to sit so you can have things with connectivity issues like it all falls down of your WiFi doesn't work for example, you know

Simon Hennessy

That's the same anywhere in the world at this point. WIFI goes and civilisation stops

Su Temlett

It can be expensive. It doesn't have to require a 1 to 1 device because you can use the station rotation model, but it is often easier if it's 1 to 1. You know that in less wealthy schools that can provide issues with equity, you know, you've got to few things like that. You might have some students who don't have WiFi access at home you know, if you're in such a rural school so you got to make sure that with what you do, it still makes a level playing field for everybody. 

Simon Hennessy

I guess it's about being from what I'm hearing from these challenges about being a little bit adaptable with it, too. And, for instance, childhoods, You're talking around WiFi tweaking the approach in order to best fit the class as opposed to the other way around and saying, Oh, I love this blended class on then trying to shoehorn it in when not everything is in place for it to workAnd that's like I used to work in a school in Dural and there was one kid who did not have WiFi because it just did not. Didn't have the Internet. Didn't go to the end of this road because you were what lived like further out into the inn, away from school and so for him, when we were doing activities that were requiring a home, we have two other download them before he went or print them out, and it was like I had to remember to do that or else it wasn't fair on him. You know, I think you have to just make sure that when you are setting that you're aware of all the limitations and all the possibilities. So, yeah, I think the advantage is way out. Why the disadvantages? But there are things to be aware of.

Simon Hennessy

Definitely challenges, but challenges that can't be overcome, worth overcoming. In terms of we talked about the value and value in the overarching sense of what blended learning can bring. I want to get a bit specific in terms of that and ask where you think a blended classroom can add the most value by what it by what I mean by that is are there any subjects that lend themselves, particularly to a blended classroom. Is there an age range of students that suited more classroom size are bigger classes about our smaller fast rooms, that kind of thing, the specific makeup of the class that suits a blended classroom or they or would you say that it doesn't matter?

Su Temlett

No,  so any subject in any age range. I think you can do. There's been an awful lot of work on in the States. So I came in, took her and had the stake her and Michael Horn, on providing loads of examples of where blended learning, works brilliantly in primary schools, particularly Caitlin Tucker and there training students in that model a bit like   We're talking about a different podcast about inquiry learning in K-6 and then continue in that into senior school. So I think it doesn't matter on the age of the kid or the subject. It just matters on how you taylor that to meet their needs, which which you're going to do anyway with anything but the classroom is an interesting one. Last year, when I was doing my masters, I spent a lot of time on looking at redesigning of classroom spaces for blended learning and I think we sort of came to this theory through a lot of academic reading, really, that the physical space actually acts as third teacher. So if you think you've got your teacher, one teacher, your online spaces, a second teacher and then your physical spaces, a third teacher on the physical space. When your kids come to a class that determined your expectations for that class, have a kid comes to class and it's in rows and you're standing at the front. What message are you giving to those students? You're very much giving a message of transmission of your here to soak this in etc.. I the font of all knowledge. I'm at the front of room, you're in rows, and that doesn't work for a blended classroom. So when I was working at Barker, we actually put in a putting a bid that we want to create a blended learning classroom as a prototype and we were using David Thornburgh's 1997 book called Campfires in Cyberspace as a kind of guide, and he puts three metaphors forward for learning. One of those is a cave, which is where kids go to do individual kind of deep work reflection, that sort of stuff. Another one is a watering hole where you have discretion time, group time like animals gathering around a water hole kind of thing, time together. And then the last one is campfires, time spent listening and learning from an expert so a bit like a you know, you gather around a campfire, one person's telling the story, and you're all listening. So those are his three metaphors for learning and if a blended classroom is set out around those so that you're allowing flexibility movement so kids can go okay, I'm going to do this activity that's best suited for a cave. I'm going to find that silent space, that quiet space so I can reflect and do this deep kind of work, you know, maybe an essay or whatever it is that they're trying to really concentrate on. This's a group test. So I'm going to gather around a part of the podium and we're going to work here together. So they've got that choice. But they've also got the space that allows them to dictate that choice and that I think is very, very powerful. So in terms of classroom size, and I think like a large or a small class matter. But the space of the classroom matters in the way that it dictates the learning. What I often used to do was get to class early change the rows into groups, very exhausting because you got to get there early. You gotta put it back at the end

Simon Hennessy

The actual physical effort before you get into it.

Su Temlett

And then so it's lovely of you timetabled into a space that is like that, and most schools have some spaces like that. So if you are going to go down the sort of blended learning route, I would be an advocate to get yourself into one of the newer designed learning spaces where you can sort of do that at ease because it is another teacher in your classroom

Simon Hennessy

It makes sense, And it maybe will be something that most people wouldn't think off straight away the physical space. But now that you headline it the way you have it really does have an impact. Doesn't it.

Su Temlett

Well, it just sets the kids up for what they're expecting and it is very hard to say to a child I'm going to come and work individually with you, and you can't even get behind the rows to come and do that, you know? So you want to be able to have the flexibility to move around. If you got tables that are on wheels fantastic, because you can just really agile, put different groups together, space things around. If you've got a nice little space where you can see it with a group of five kids you often see like half moon tables where a teacher can sit in the middle and put kids around the outside just for the benefit of everyone listening I'm trying to draw that with my fingers

Simon Hennessy

You're doing a fantastic job of that

Su Temlett

The teacher almost sits like a bartender, I guess in the middle, you know the sun around you. But anything like that just allows you to do that group space, that interaction with people on a smaller scale rather than the whole class. I guess

Simon Hennessy

It makes sense bringing it out of the idea of blended learning within the classroom into the wider discourse, as we tend to do towards the end of our podcasts. I wanted to ask, in terms of discussion around blinded learning in the education world. Where do you think the prevailing wind is blowing? Is it more so in favour? More so against our things, slowly changing to more and more people being open to blended classrooms progress slow. Where do you think we are at this point?

Su Temlett

I think it's growing much more positive. I think people's sort of view on technology itself is changing quite a bit anyway, that it's become such a backbone of schools, you know, like teachers using emails all the time, students It's pretty commonplace that they've either got Google classrooms or another mess, or they've got something that they submit work to that kind of thing, so I think it's becoming much more positive. Some models, like flex and flipped are not widely adopted. I think teachers tend to be creatures of habit, and it's quite hard to let go of content delivery and so they aren't as widely used as perhaps just at it's very base incorporating technology into the classroom. When you start looking at different models like I'm going to do this model that then changes to more, much more of a bloody lonely rather than just the very basic definition that we gave the beginning. But I've done both flexed and flips for different terms on for different modules, and it's really encouraging when you do see your students working in different ways and you given the opportunity to kind of show, you show you what they can do, show that show you how they can be responsible for themselves I guess. One of the things that filters down is what happens at universities into K to 12. So in universities blended is being offered more and more, I think I don't think you'd be hard-pressed to find a uni now that is not working on blended learning in the sense that you've got your face to face you know you're going to uni and you actually have your face to face material. But so much of it is also online.

Simon Hennessy

Even if they're not branding, it has blended. Yeah, that's what's happening.

Su Temlett

That is what's happening. Yeah, And I guess online learning is being greatly utilised online being different to blended. But if you take online content and use some of it in a face to face way, that's where you blend it. You know I think that sense of filtering down and being a way of authentically incorporating technology into teaching is not as difficult as it used to be and I think content providers like ourselves are helping teachers to make the content. So it's easier to you know If you plug in, say, Atomi content, you are much easier to do a flip or reflects because you're not making the content for yourself, which is incredibly time-consuming and then you can focus on the deeper level of application and that sort of stuff. So I think looking at external resources to help you as you blend your learning is really important too.

Simon Hennessy

Very important to the process. There you go. Well, the winds of change are blowing the rising tide of blended learning taking over the world. Maybe not quite, but on the way, it's doing well, doing well, motoring along. So that is all we have time for in terms of blended learning. However, before we go, as always, we're going to get Su's hot tip for the week. This is a little piece of advice. Maybe it's an anecdote.or story for teachers out there doesn't have to be that serious. Doesn't even have to necessarily be about education at all. Just a little something from food, suit a book. And so Su

Su Temlett

Okay, so you think which you prefer flip or flex, pick one of them and have a go flew for flex. 

Simon Hennessy

I almost feel you're asking me for a second there.

Su Temlett

But yeah, I just encourage you to actually try one of the models like it's quite invigorating to change your teaching practice and you know I'm not saying you have to do it forever. But, you know, maybe pick a class where you think they are becoming a little bit disengaged and could do with something different. You know, you got the long summer break now so obviously your classes, right. But you'll know the kids that you've got coming up next year, and you've got time to plan so maybe think I'm going to try something a bit different and have the courage to have a go.

Simon Hennessy

Flip or flex, get on it. Alrighty, well thank you, everybody for tuning in and listening to us and thank you to Su and looking forward to having you back in whatever weird and wonderful area of the education world we are in next. Until such time check us out on our main site that getatomi.com for now. It's goodbye from Su and goodbye from me.

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