Sunday, March 28, 2010

Blended Schools: A Topsy-Turvy Mix of Real and Virtual

This year I am using blogs and wikis more and more not only for student interaction, but also for instructional delivery and presentation of assignments and activities.  As I look toward a blended schools model, I envision that much of what has been traditional homework may become classwork and vice versa.  Here's what I mean.
Where now I might present a slideshow in PowerPoint in class, soon students may view it on SlideShare as homework.  Where now I might assign a chapter of a novel to read as homework (with dwindling responses), I may require 40 minutes sustained silent reading in class and post a discussion in response to the reading on a blog for homework.
It sounds a bit topsy-turvy, but it will be based on students' needs.

I'm reflecting on recent studies by researchers at Stanford University, and anecdotal reports in the PBS Frontline documentary Digital Nation, that point out the needs of 21st century learners to not only work with technology, but also to abstain from it.  In a Digital Nation interview clip, Todd Oppeheimer, author of The Flickering Mind, (click here for a review) reminds us that the school is a sort of sanctuary from the busi-ness of the world and instant gratification of popular culture; rather the academy has always been  "a place of  discipline and perserverance," where holding a thought, not just scanning data is a valuable activity.

This past summer I studied at the University of Ghana at Legon. Although much more verdant and necessarily tropical in contrast to my other graduate school haunts of NYU's Washington Square or Oxford's Trinity College, I instantly felt that sense of the academy--that sense that I was in the company of scholars, walking about in converstations, hushed or exhuberant, on topics of intellectual importance.

Despite the arrival of cyber schooling, I believe for most students that a real, in-world place called school will have a vital role to play in learning, creating, and demonstrating a world of ideas long into the future. Although I know my students and I will be collaborating more and more in virtual spaces--and what's thought of as homework and classwork might get topsy-turvy, I also know  what schools can offer offline is irreplaceable.  Schools that genuinely blending the virtual, digital technology with thoughtful purpose will be able to offer that real, traditional sense of  belonging, focus, calm, and rigor that can only come at the discipline of school.

Image credit:  "Home Row." Detail. By Matt Hurst. 14 Oct. 2008. Uploaded 15 Mar. 2009. Flickr. Web. 3 Mar. 2010. Used by permission via Creative Commons Licensing.

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